Book Review : Scenes from Village Life by Amos Oz
30th October, 2016
In a quiet corner of Israel is the village of Tel Ilan. Each villager has a story to tell. An old man keeps hearing digging noises at night. A 17 year old falls in love with a thirty year old divorcee. An aunt waits for her nephew to arrive from Tel Aviv. A boy shoots himself underneath the bed of his parents and they sleep through the night unaware of the fact.
My first encounter with Amos Oz was in a short story that was published in The New Yorker – My Curls Have Blown All the Way to China. To admit the truth, Scenes from Village Life attracted me because of its cover. The cover somehow gave an illusion of being a serene novel, the one that you would love to relax with. But as I finished the last pages, I could feel a churning of uneasiness in my heart.
The book is a collection of short stories that talk of the different inhabitants of the village of Tel Ilan. The stories function well as stand-alones. Save for the fact that characters occasionally get a mention in the other stories, there is no connection between them, so you can read in any order.
To those who are not familiar with Amos Oz’s style of writing, his stories echo silence and quietness. He has an eye for details which is another aspect I loved in this collection. He pays attention to the minute details which makes the scene he is describing come alive in your head. Tel Ilan is a village, more of a small-town, away from the hustle and bustle of the city. It is the kind you would want to go to to escape from the mundane requirements of a city life. However the theme of loneliness casts its shadow in different forms in all the stories. The stories have no revelations at the end and some do not have a definitive ending either. This is a good book to read for those who crave descriptive passages told in quiet prose with occasional disclosures.
There are some stories that I liked more than the others in the collection.
In Heirs, a man tries to convince another to get rid of his ageing mother so that he can sell the house. This is the first story in the collection and the hushed silences frightened me.
Relations is the story of the village doctor, Gili Steiner, waiting for her nephew who is supposed to come in a bus from Tel Aviv. The story takes us through how their relationship had grown stronger over the years and Gili’s fears when he doesn’t turn up that night. The portrayal of emotions and love between relatives is done so well in this story.
My favourite story in the collection is Lost where a man wants to buy a house and is extended an invitation by the grand daughter to see around. The house transforms from a lifeless building seen through the eyes of the buyer to a home where the family lived and thrived as she leads him on into the deeper narrow passages in the house. The ending took me by surprise which was just the kind of climax wanted to jolt the reader to reality.
Strangers is the story of seventeen year old Kobi who has feelings for the thirty year old divorcee, Ada Davash. She works as a postmistress as well as librarian and Kobi, being an avid reader, sparks off a conversation about books. The story is told through the internal thoughts of both the characters. Again, another beautifully well done story in the collection.
Waiting is the story of a husband waiting for his wife to come home. As he waits the story of their marriage is told through flash backs. By the end, the reader feels a silent agreement in his/her heart to wait alongside.
Final Verdict :
I enjoyed the book. I would recommend the read to those who are not adamant about definitive beginnings and endings in stories. Those who love stories of the likes of Anita Desai will surely enjoy this book. Open the pages expecting to see snippets of life of the neighbourhood of Tel Ilan and you will end up being a very satisfied reader.
Title : Scenes from Village Life
Author : Amos Oz
Publisher : Vintage
Published : 2012 (Originally 1998)
Language : English
Pages : 265
Rating : 4/5
Have you read any stories by Amos Oz? Any recommendations?
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Amos Oz is an Israeli writer, novelist and journalist. He is regarded as Israel’s most famous living author. He has written both fiction and non fiction as well as several short stories. His latest work is Judas