Monday, 17 July 2006

Review: A Perfect Peace, Amos Oz (1985)

Yonatan is restless — he wants to quit the kibbutz life and travel to a far-away place; perhaps overseas. Oz has created a taciturn, irrascible man with a petite, retiring, slightly simple wife who he's sick of. In fact he's sick of the whole life of the kibbutz, the meddling, the lack of freedom, the constant back-biting. What were you thinking, he asks her, just before we got married? Rimona, for her part, is engaging and demure — the only character in the saga with whom we can really sympathise. Perhaps she really is simple. But she at least treats people with respect, avoids conflict, and attempts to soothe situations as they get out of hand.

Yonatan is the eldest son of the kibbutz secretary — Yolek — and one winter's night Yolek is suddenly in the presence of a strange, young man, recently discharged from the army, where he was bullied. His name is Azariah. He's the second godsend for the reader. Garrulous and overapologetic, he nevertheless injects much-needed humanity into the story, and gets his just deserts.

He is a mechanic, and it just so happens that the kibbutz' mechanic has recently left. So they take him on. Eventually he acquires full membership of the kibbutz. Unlike Yonatan, who wants to roam the world, Azariah only wants to settle down and make a life in one place, a good life. And that's what he does, although his means to his end are slightly unconventional, to say the least, taking the rather unconventional aspects of kibbutz life to their logical extreme.

This is a wonderful book. It is full of life and a great, deep humour. Accompanied by a great sense of sadness. There is something so affecting about Oz' methods. The last book of his that I read, Fima, was also mesmerising. Highly recommended. Here's a short quote for an example of Oz' style:

The promise of [Rimona's] touch and the lilt of her voice set Azariah to rummaging frantically through his pockets. He found a pen-knife but no handkerchief. Flustered, he couldn't find any cigarettes either. Yonatan, sensing what he was after, offered him a smoke and he lit one for himself. I'll break every bone in your body, you little grasshopper, he thought, but reversed himself at once. Never mind. Tomorrow I'm taking off and leaving her behind. She'll be yours for the asking, you dumb grasshopper, because you'll be all that she'll have. And all you'll have is a stuffed kewpie doll.

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