Judas

Amos Oz, trans. from the Hebrew by Nicholas de Lange. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $25 (320p) ISBN 978-0-544-46404-9
Oz raises fundamental questions concerning Israeli politics, religion, ethics, and history in this novel about a young Jewish scholar adrift in 1959 Jerusalem. Graduate student Shmuel Ash decides to abandon his studies and perhaps leave Jerusalem; when his parents can no longer support him, his girlfriend marries her ex-boyfriend, and even his Socialist discussion group breaks up. Answering an advertisement for a live-in companion in an old Jerusalem neighborhood, Shmuel finds a welcome retreat in the home of Gershom Wald, a 70-year-old retired schoolteacher suffering from an unnamed degenerative disease. Gershom’s primary caregiver is his son’s widow, Atalia, and Shmuel’s job consists mainly in providing Gershom with spirited debate. The old man’s favorite topic—the formation of the state of Israel—proves somewhat sensitive in that Atalia’s father, David Ben-Gurion opponent Shealtiel Abravanel, had opposed the idea of establishing a Jewish state without first addressing Arab concerns adequately, a position for which he was deemed a traitor. Gershom and Shmuel also discuss the famous traitor that Shmuel has been studying, Judas Iscariot. As Shmuel researches Abravanel and Judas, Oz (A Tale of Love and Darkness) suggests each might be less a traitor than an idealist with an alternate point of view. Oz’s appreciation for multiple perspectives underlies powerful descriptions of Judas at the crucifixion, the brutal murder of Atalia’s husband’s during Israel’s War of Independence, and Shmuel with Atalia at King David’s tomb. Through the story of one young man at a crossroads, Oz presents thought-provoking ideas about traitors, a moving lament for the cost of Israeli-Arab conflict, and a heartfelt call for compassion. Agent: Andrew Wylie, Wylie Agency. (Nov.)
Reviewed on: 09/05/2016
Release date: 11/08/2016
Genre: Fiction
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