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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

     

Scenes from Village Life

by
Amos Oz


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

To purchase Scenes from Village Life



Title: Scenes from Village Life
Author: Amos Oz
Genre: Novel
Written: 2009 (Eng. 2011)
Length: 182 pages
Original in: Hebrew
Availability: Scenes from Village Life - US
Scenes from Village Life - UK
Scenes from Village Life - Canada
Scenes from Village Life - India
Scènes de vie villageoise - France
Geschichten aus Tel Ilan - Deutschland
Scene dalla vita di un villaggio - Italia
Escenas de la vida rural - España
  • Hebrew title: תמונות מחיי הכפר
  • Translated by Nicholas de Lange

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Our Assessment:

B : atmospheric, inconclusive

See our review for fuller assessment.




Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Age . 29/10/2011 Catherine Ford
Forward . 11/11/2011 Dan Friedman
FAZ . 30/12/2009 Anja Hirsch
The Guardian . 5/8/2011 Alfred Hickling
The Independent . 19/8/2011 Julia Pascal
NZZ . 17/4/2010 Stefana Sabin
New Statesman . 11/7/2011 Karl Miller
The NY Times Book Rev. . 6/11/2011 Claire Messud
The Telegraph . 2/8/2011 Helen Brown
Times Literary Supplement . 22/7/2011 Tadzio Koelb
The Washington Post . 10/10/2011 Carolyn See


  Review Consensus:

  Kafkaesque, dark, puzzling

  From the Reviews:
  • "These are luminous stories and, on a matter of such profound hopelessness, they resonate as essential, necessary fictions." - Catherine Ford, The Age

  • "As Oz has aged, his political aphorisms and literary allegories have distilled to seem ever briefer and wiser. Kafkaís parables of the human condition centered on the cities of the Hapsburg empire: Oz has shown that their display can take a village." - Dan Friedman, Forward

  • "Das Unheimliche, das alle Geschichten dieses Bandes grundiert, tritt nicht so sehr als das schlechthin Fremde ein. Es ist, ganz im Sinne Freuds, vielmehr das Vertraute, das die Magie dieser Erzählungen hervorbringt." - Anja Hirsch, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "Although composed at different times, these stories are structurally of a piece, written in a spare, elliptical manner impressively conveyed by Oz's long-time English translator, Nicholas de Lange. The only discordant note is sounded by a final narrative which shifts forwards (or possibly backwards) in time to an era in which the village is no more than an inhospitable swamp." - Alfred Hickling, The Guardian

  • "Although the scenes are set today, he evokes a Chekhovian atmosphere of tragic lives misled on haunted ground. (...) Oz leaves us no resolution. His device of connecting separate lives by having a leading character in one tale turn up as a bit player in another offers a kind of symmetry. But what is most arresting is the cumulative effect of his narratives and the relationships between three generations of Israelis in a territory that has too many ghosts." - Julia Pascal, The Independent

  • "Wie in «Ein anderer Ort» verzichtet Oz auf eine herkömmliche Handlung und stellt allein aus der Beschreibung von Beziehungen und Befindlichkeiten eine Spannung her, die von einer Geschichte auf die nächste übergeht. So gewinnt Oz dem banalen Alltag eine allgemein menschliche Dimension ab." - Stefana Sabin, Neue Zürcher Zeitung

  • "Admirably rendered in English by Ozís longtime translator, Nicholas de Lange, these linked stories prove achingly melancholy, a cumulative vision of anomie and isolation in an apparently cozy Israeli village. (...) Scenes From Village Life is like a symphony, its movements more impressive together than in isolation. There is, in each story, a particular chord or strain; but taken together, these chords rise and reverberate, evoking an unease so strong itís almost a taste in the mouth." - Claire Messud, The New York Times Book Review

  • "Oz beautifully captures the interplay of tensions in each character." - Helen Brown, The Telegraph

  • "Itís easy to get fed up with this little book of short stories, even though Amos Oz is a perennial contender for the Nobel Prize and Israelís preeminent author. You have to put up with a heavy dose of magic realism (.....) By the end, if you can stick with it, Scenes From Village Life packs a kind of nauseating punch, as if youíd been smacked hard in the solar plexus and then sent for a ride on a roller coaster." - Carolyn See, The Washington Post

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:

       The village in which Scenes from Village Life take place is Tel Ilan, "old and sleepy, a hundred years old or more", a pioneer village in Israel. The novel consists of eight loosely overlapping stories: characters from one appear in another, for example; only in the last episode, In a Faraway Place at Another Time is it markedly different: the location is the same, but this future (or past) incarnation one where a: "stench of putrefaction comes even from the living".
       Scenes from Village Life is also less a village- or community-portrait than a series of dark vignettes with titles such as Lost and Waiting. These tales also rarely offer much in the way of resolution: whether the sounds of mysterious digging or a person who does not appear as expected, or another who disappears, readers are left with the mystery and without an explanation.
       Some of the stories are told in the first person, others from the point of view of an omniscient narrator. The book opens with a story that seems to present a straightforward if uncomfortable encounter with a pushy stranger who wants to convince a local to get in on some real estate speculation in the village -- but the turn it takes, and bizarre conclusion (which, as in all the stories, is hardly conclusive, but merely a stop on the road) is positively surreal.
       The tension between change and stasis is one constant throughout. There are many very old characters, still hanging on, and also forces that seem to want to turn this village into something different: the buying and selling of houses is a recurring theme, with one character noting that at this rate: "Tel Ilan would stop being a village and become a holiday resort for the wealthy."
       Discord extends to families, too: there are numerous family members who have completely broken their ties -- though here again explanations are rarely given. Oz presents the situation as it is in this present, and little else.
       One Arab student is spending time in the village, observing. He wants to write a comparative study (there is a lot of writing being done in this village, too, creative and otherwise) -- and he diagnoses what ails the Jewish Israelis here:

     "Our unhappiness is partly our fault and partly your fault. But your unhappiness comes from your soul."
     "Our soul ?"
     "Or from your heart. It's hard to know. It comes from you. From inside. The unhappiness. It comes from deep inside you"
       Indeed, there's a lot of dissatisfaction in this novel, and its bleakness can be wearing. It feels cryptic, too, with episodes that move forward but do not resolve themselves. And arguably too much is in the vein of:
A bird called twice. What it meant there was no way of telling.
       Indeed.
       There's no denying a certain power to these evocative narratives, but they come with their share of frustrations too. Ultimately, Scenes from Village Life is hard to fully embrace.

- M.A.Orthofer, 8 November 2011

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Links:

Scenes from Village Life: 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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© 2011-2013 the complete review

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