Sunday, March 15, 2015

Jewish Book Review - "Between Friends" by Amos Oz

For those of you don't know, Israeli writer Amos Oz has a bunch of short stories set in a fictional kibbutz in Israel. Between Friends is a collection of such short stories. Normally I don't read short stories very much, but my local bookstores are seriously lacking when it comes to Jewish books, and at the time Between Friends was the only one of Amos Oz's books that I could get my hands on. That said, I'm glad I read it. Not all of the stories resonated with me, but the ones that did, resonated strongly.

One such story is "Two Women." It starts simply enough, with a brief narration of how Ariella "stole" Osnat's husband from her, but then is told mostly through notes passed between the two women over a period of several days. At first Osnat just instructs Ariella in the proper feeding of and caring for her husband, but Ariella's notes get progressively more emotional, until finally Ariella (as this bisexual reads it) declares her love for Osnat. We're only told that Osnat doesn't respond. This really spoke to me, as it probably speaks to any LGB people who've been attracted to a same-gender straight person. (I seem to be exclusively attracted to straight women, gay men, and asexual/aromantic non-binary people. And Loki. Seriously, those movies are an abomination, but he is so hot. Look at that:

So is Scarlett Johansson,  but she comes under the category of straight women.)

But I digress. I have to say, Amos Oz seems to have a type of man who shows up in his writing: meek, mild-mannered, quiet, and honestly kind of pathetic, but written very sympathetically. At first I could empathize with them, but after he started showing up a little too often, it got kind of old. The husband in one of Amos Oz's novels is like this, but it's written from the point of view of his wife, who isn't at all sympathetic towards him, so it isn't as grating.

The other story that spoke the most strongly to me was "Little Boy," which is about a five-year-old boy who's bullied both by the other kids in the kibbutz and by his teachers and unsympathetic mother. Honestly, he's basically a younger version of the kind of man I talked about above, but such traits are much more heart-rending in a little kid than they are in a grown man. It also had one of my favorite lines: "[The boy's father] believed in his heart that, here, cruelty is sometimes disguised as self-righteousness or a dedication to principles, and he knew that no one was completely free of it. Not even he himself." Yes. That.

The other quote that I loved was from "Father," a story of a Sephardi boy who lives on the kibbutz because his mother is dead and his father is sick. Two of the Ashkenazi kibbutzniks discuss him behind his back, saying that, "One the whole, I have a very optimistic view of the Sephardim. We'll have to invest a great deal in them, but the investment will pay off. In another generation or two, they'll be just like us." You can practically hear the irony in Amos Oz's voice when you read that line.

All in all, Between Friends is definitely worth a read, especially if you like reading about shy, timid, lonely men who live unhappy lives, but even if you don't. Yes. I'm kidding. I'm kidding, but I mean it--kidding on the square, as another famous Jew likes to say. Seriously, though, read it. "Two Women" is enough to be worth the price of the book.

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