cover image Scenes from Village Life

Scenes from Village Life

Amos Oz, trans. from the Hebrew by Nicholas de Lange. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $22 (192p) ISBN 978-0-547-48336-8

There's something rotten in Tel Ilan, Israel, and in each of these eight finely wrought pieces of Oz's novel-in-stories, he skillfully delineates the looming forces threatening to fissure the serenity of this idyllic village. Founded 100 years before, the "pioneer village" has changed from a farming community of vineyards and almond trees into a place of boutiques and art galleries. In the first story, "Heirs," a stranger appears at the home of Arieh Zelnik claiming to be a relative who wants to convert the family land into a "health farm" for paying customers; while in "Singing," a Friday night communal choral group intent on the Sabbath is oblivious to the rumble of air force planes returning from bombing "enemy targets." Most chilling is "Digging," in which a young Arab student writing a book comparing Jewish and Arab village life comes to stay in a back shed belonging to the widow Rachel Franco, whose aged, bitter father, a former Member of the Knesset, becomes obsessed with digging sounds he hears at night. Is the Arab digging for some proof that the land really belongs to him? wonders the old man, who mourns the days when "there was still some fleeting affection between people." Oz (Rhyming Life and Death) writes characterizations that are subtle but surgically precise, rendering this work a powerfully understated treatment of an uneasy Israeli conscience. (Oct.)