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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Panther in the Basement

Amos Oz

general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Panther in the Basement

Title: Panther in the Basement
Author: Amos Oz
Genre: Novel
Written: 1995 (Eng. 1997)
Length: 147 pages
Original in: Hebrew
Availability: Panther in the Basement - US
Panther in the Basement - UK
Panther in the Basement - Canada
Panther in the Basement - India
Une panthère dans la cave - France
Panther im Keller - Deutschland
Una pantera in cantina - Italia
Una pantera en el sótano - España
  • Hebrew title: פנתר במרתף
  • Translated by Nicholas de Lange

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Our Assessment:

B+ : fine novella from a child's point of view

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The NY Rev. of Books . 5/3/1998 J.M.Coetzee
The NY Times Book Rev. . 26/10/1997 Lee Siegel
TLS A 15/8/1997 Julia O'Faolain
World Lit. Today A Spring/1998 Michael Shuval

  From the Reviews:
  • "Unfortunately, the novel sometimes labors under the weight of its own frankly public impulses. Published in the wake of the Oslo peace accords' promise of an entente between Israel and the Palestinians, it seems intended as a vindication of the author's dovish political position. (...) But underneath its rather transparent purposes, Panther in the Basement is an insightful, inventive and lyrical expression of this writer's forbearing vision of life under the aspect of mortality. Its effect is not that of a powerful, steady torrent, as in some of Oz's other novels, but that of an intermittently fine, stinging rain." - Lee Siegel, The New York Times Book Review

  • "(E)ntrancing (.....) Telling their story may betray his characters, reflects Proffy, a worrier to the last. "Or . . . would I have betrayed them if I had not told it ?" Luckily, Oz overrides him and lets us have this endearing, subtle and stimulating novel." - Julia O'Faolain, Times Literary Supplement

  • "Amos Oz has done an outstanding job here of re-creating Jerusalem in the last year of its domination by the British. More significantly, he has brought to life a household and neighborhood replete with vivid characters. Finally, he has bridged more than four decades in ways designed to beguile us. So compelling and true is the author's art that we let young Proffi Oz take us into his confidence: who can resist ?" - Michael Shuval, World Literature Today

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Panther in the Basement is narrated by Proffy, "short for Professor, which they called me because of my obsession with checking words", looking back to some episodes when he was just over twelve, shortly before the British left Jerusalem and the state of Israel was founded. The story is told by an adult looking back, but the narrator nevertheless slips easily into that mind of a child, and relates most of the events from that vantage point.
       Young Proffy is caught up in the nation-building fervour and the prevalent anti-English sentiment, and has even founded an organisation called FOD -- 'Freedom Or Death'. There are only two other members, but they have grand ambitions -- but the book begins with Proffy accused of being a traitor by his comrades.
       He has, indeed, been fraternizing with the enemy -- a Sergeant Stephen Dunlop, who wants to learn Hebrew and in turn teaches Proffy English. Dunlop isn't much of an enemy: even Proffy says he is "scatterbrained and shy", and his bookish, religious Hebrew is strictly old school, making him sound slightly ridiculous (if also a bit grand). Proffy is torn between his principles and this opportunity to learn -- not just English, but to gain insight into this foreign world through contact with this man. He rationalises his actions to himself, saying he is picking up information for the cause (not that any of it is anything he can really use), but also feels considerable guilt, wondering how deep his betrayal goes -- and ultimately, who he is betraying.
       Guilt weighs heavily on Proffy anyway, including confusing adolescent passion (the older girl next door) and the occasionally truly dangerous politics of the time: there is a curfew, arrests, a dangerous package his parents hide in their house. On every level, these are difficult times. Proffy is a young twelve, bookish but still childishly innocent, despite what he sees and overhears (never quite enough to take that innocence). But he's not entirely innocent, and in this game of betrayal and confession even the reader has to wonder where he stands: Proffy proudly notes that he betrayed no secrets to Dunlop: "I didn't even tell him my name" -- but, it turns out, the name by which Dunlop knows him (Proffy) is also the only one readers know of.
       Proffy is struggling to find his role in a world in turmoil, seeing himself as a 'panther in the basement' (a made-up film typical of the sort shown in Jerusalem in those years), but not certain that it is the role for him. It is a book filled with questions, specifically about betrayal and trust. Proffy's actions figure foremost, but others' raise the same questions. Oz also manages to offer a fairly broad portrait of the last days of the British occupation in the smaller stories that are related almost incidentally -- though note that the tone (and many of the descriptions, including especially the figure of the father) seem almost straight out of Oz's (later) memoir, A Tale of Love and Darkness.
       An enjoyable, nicely-related novella, though it perhaps does not probe quite deeply enough, posing the right questions but a bit scared of truly finding the answers.

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Panther in the Basement: Reviews: Amos Oz:
  • The complete review's Amos Oz page
Other books by Amos Oz under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Israeli author Amos Oz (עמוס עוז) was born in 1939.

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© 2005-2013 the complete review

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