Monday, 9 December 2019

Book review: Where the Jackals Howl, Amos Oz (1980)

Originally published in Hebrew in 1965, this is the author’s first published work of fiction and it is ravishingly good on that account. Oz died in 2018 and I have written about his work before but it always strikes me, when I read his prose, how competent he was at what he did. I can’t understand why he never got the Nobel.

This collection of stories derives for its inspiration from the desert, where Oz lived for part of his life on a kibbutz. The jackal follows the reader from one story to the next, popping up like a refrain to enliven your experience. And you can feel the author’s youth in these stories – he was about 26 at the time they were first published in his native tongue – and there furthermore is a kind of ellipsis in some of them, a gap where things seem to happen outside the reader’s sight. Violence is never far from the surface and the thing that is left out is usually some form of extreme action that serves to turn the narrative in a new direction.

Having spent some time in Israel and in other Middle Eastern countries, I intuitively recognised the characters that Oz creates. For me, reading this book at this time, it was like returning to a place I had already been to.

The last story in this collection – ‘Upon this Evil Earth’ – is different from the others as it is not set in a modern Israel, rather, instead, it is a kind of parable set in a mythical past. It is stupendous, however, a great shining jewel of a story ..

My copy of the book is part of an edition brought out by Vintage in 2005, and I bought it from the Co-op Bookshop.

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