Friday, October 03, 2008

Amos Oz at Columbia University

I went to hear Amos Oz last night at the Miller Theatre at Columbia University. He was outstanding! This year he's been nominated for the Nobel Literature Prize. He spoke on the topic of his book, A Tale of Love and Darkness, (with excerpt) recently translated into Arabic. In 2007, A Tale of Love and Darkness was nominated one of the ten most important books since the creation of the State of Israel.

Here's a 2004 New Yorker profile. What was utterly captivating was the care and precision with which he spoke and the tenderness in his description (from the book) of his grandmother's view of "the Levant" when she arrived in Jerusalem in the 1930's announcing soon after that she would wage daily war on microbes and germs. She took scalding baths three times daily and when the doctor said to her late in life that he could not be responsible for her health if she continued this practice, she died in the bath of a heart attack.

How can he peal back with certainty the layers of her fears and motivations? How does he know that behind her phobia of microbes lay an attraction to masculine sweaty bodies and the earth? And that behind the phobia lay an anger that she was attracted to such things? Because, he said, he asked his genes that were also her genes. And these genes told him enough about her for him to write of her.

He said that if asked to describe in one word the topic of all his books, it would be "family." After listening to his exquisite diction for fifteen minutes, I felt as though I could trust everything he said and wrote. I've never had that experience before.

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