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Oz, Amos

OZ, AMOS (1939– ), Israeli writer. Oz was born in Jerusalem, the son of Yehuda Arieh and Fanya Klausner. At the age of 14, after his mother's suicide, he went to live in Kibbutz Ḥuldah, where he finished high school and stayed on as a member for two decades. From 1986 he lived with his family in the southern town of Arad, in the Negev desert. Oz studied Hebrew literature and philosophy at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

Oz's first collection, Arẓot ha-Tan (Where the Jackals Howl and Other Stories, 1981), appeared in 1965, followed a year later by his first novel, Makom Aḥer (Elsewhere, Perhaps, 1985). The short stories received high praise from critics, and his popularity soared with the publication of his second novel, Mikhael Sheli (1968; My Michael, 1972). Oz became one of the leading figures in the "New Wave" movement in the 1960s (other prominent writers in this group are Amalia *Kahana-Carmon, A.B. *Yehoshua, and Aharon *Appelfeld) and the most popular author of his generation. From his earliest fiction, his writing has been marked by a unique, recognizable style. The stories are constructed as concentric circles, focusing on a psychological conflict, a psychic drama. That drama, the struggle between the ego and its shadow, is typically the kernel of the story. Around this inner ring the narrative builds a family drama, which is a projection of the tensions within the psychic drama. Wider circles radiating from this dramatic center are society, landscape (the kibbutz and the jackals around it), and politics (the tensions with the Arabs). The outermost sphere is the divine one, manifesting the same contending forces found within the psychic drama. Although the religious element in Oz's work is usually camouflaged, it is one of its most important themes. Tensions between the different psychic forces are reflected in the struggle between the dull, humdrum, secure existence within society's borders and the vibrant, alluring, and destructive experiences that lie beyond those borders. These conflicts are manifest in Oz's subsequent work in the struggle between light and darkness, life and death, God and Satan, mind and body, man and woman, Jews and Arabs, culture and nature. Other collections of stories include Ad Mavet (1971; Unto Death, 1978), Har ha-Eẓah ha-Ra'ah (1976; The Hill of Evil Council, 1978). Among Oz's novels are Menuḥah Nekhonah (1982; A Perfect Peace, 1986), Kufsah Sheḥorah (1987; Black Box, 1989), Lada'at Ishah (1989; To Know a Woman, 1991). Typically, Oz's novels and novellas open with a clash between two sworn enemies (be they psychological, societal, or political), then progress toward a reconciliation of those opposites, so that previously antagonistic forces are seen as complementary, needing each other for their very existence. Thus the seemingly binary relations reveal themselves to be dialectical. The idea that the enemy is also one's brother can be found in Oz's early story "Before His Time," and throughout his oeuvre. It underlines the fact that, unlike S.Y. Agnon, A.B. Yehoshua, and many other Israeli authors who were influenced by Freud, Oz is a follower of Carl Gustav Jung. Jung's ideas are reflected in Oz's work in three principal areas. First, in the structure of the psyche: the ego is depicted as a weak and unstable element at the top of a pyramid whose main volume is the collective unconscious, the latter being the reservoir of primordial urges, creativity and supreme intelligence. Second, the major psychic processes portrayed in Oz's fiction are typically Jungian: the "self " is attained only when the protagonist is reconciled with the dark aspects of his personality; the "self " reveals the image of God in human beings; the "treasure hunt" represents the search for "self." Third, Jung's writing, and to a great extent his interpretations of the alchemists' texts, furnished Oz with a huge reservoir of symbols. Oz uses these symbols in conjunction with others taken from different mythological traditions (Christianity, Judaism, Greek mythology). Most of the mythological symbols employed by Oz are in keeping with Jung's interpretation of them. The psychic processes mentioned above, conveyed through typical Jungian symbols, form the core of most of Oz's stories and novels from his earliest writing.

Oz's texts can be read on many levels, which explains why they are popular despite their complex themes. Black Box is a case in point. The psychological content of the novel is camouflaged (the protagonists are implicitly characterized as "anima" and "animus" figures, and the novel as a whole is an examination of male-female relations). However, it was the overt social context (the tensions between Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews, right wingers and leftists, etc.) that drew the attention of both readers and critics. These social aspects were underscored in the theater and film versions of the novel. Thus Oz's work is a unique example of a complex modern literary text that has also great appeal to the general public. Other novels by Oz include Ha-Maẓav ha-Shelishi (1991; Fima, 1993); Al Tagidi Laylah (1994; Don't Call It Night, 1996); Oto ha-Yam (1998; The Same Sea, 2001). Oz's first books were extolled by critics and scholars. Even though certain critics have argued that his later novels lack the creativity and originality of his earlier fiction, Oz's popularity in Israel has not diminished. His autobiographical novel Sippur al Ahava ve-Ḥoshekh (2002; A Tale of Love and Darkness, 2004) was enthusiastically received by critics and readers alike.

Since the Six-Day War in 1967, Oz has been active in the Israeli peace movement and with groups and organizations that advocate a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He has been a spokesman for the *Peace Now movement since its founding in 1977. His numerous essays about Israeli politics and culture were collected in the following books: Be-Or ha-Tekhelet ha-Azah (1979; Under This Blazing Light, 1996), Poh va-Sham be-Ereẓ Yisrael (1982; In the Land of Israel, 1984), Mimordot ha-Levanon (1988: The Slopes of Lebanon, 1990), Kol ha-Tikvot ("All Our Hopes," 1998), and Be'eẓem Yesh Kan Shetei Milḥamot ("But These are Two Different Wars," 2002). Oz also published books for young readers, including Sumkhi (1978; Soumchi, 1980) as well as two collections of literary essays: the first, Shetikat ha-Shamayim ("The Silence of Heaven," 1993; German translation 1998), discusses the works of S.Y. Agnon; the second is entitled Matḥilim Sippur (1996; Beginning a Story, 1998).

Oz is one of Israel's most popular novelists. His books have been translated into more than 30 languages. He has won several literary prizes in Israel (among them the Brenner Prize in 1976, the Bialik Prize in 1986, and the Israel Prize in 1998) as well as worldwide. He has been named Officer of Arts and Letters in France and in 1997 was awarded the Knight's Cross of the Legion d'Honneur. In 1992 he received the Frankfurt Peace Prize, in 2004 the Literature Prize of the German daily Die Welt, and in summer 2005 the prestigious German Goethe Prize. For detailed information concerning translations into various languages, see the ITHL website at A bibliography of Amos Oz's works and translations (1965–2002) appeared in 2004.


N. Gertz, Amos Oz (Monograph, 1980); A. Balaban, Between God and Beast: An Examination of Amos Oz's Prose (1993); R. Kalman (ed.), Amos OzBibliography 19841996 (1998); G. Shaked, Ha-Sipporet ha-Ivrit, 5 (1998), 205–229; A. Komem and I. Ben-Mordechai (eds.), Sefer Amos Oz (2000); Y. Mazor, Somber LustThe Art of Amos Oz (2002).