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Tragic, comic, and utterly honest, this extraordinary memoir is at once a great family saga and a magical self-portrait of a writer who witnessed the birth of a nation and lived through its turbulent history.

It is the story of a boy growing up in the war-torn Jerusalem of the forties and fifties, in a small apartment crowded with books in twelve languages and relatives speaking nearly as many. His mother and father, both wonderful people, were ill-suited to each other. When Oz was twelve and a half years old, his mother committed suicide, a tragedy that was to change his life. He leaves the constraints of the family and the community of dreamers, scholars, and failed businessmen and joins a kibbutz, changes his name, marries, has children, and finally becomes a writer as well as an active participant in the political life of Israel.

A story of clashing cultures and lives, of suffering and perseverance, of love and darkness.

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    It did take me a while to get going - until chapter 28 it felt like a patchwork of intimate recollections more suited to a diary than to a memoir, with lists of names of family friends and acquaintances orphan of any note or description. They obviously meant a lot to the author, but as a reader I could not "get them" until I was well into the book. And then you will see that this is a very intimate memoir which feels very much like a necessity for Oz, who lays bare thoughts he hasn't shared with anyone so far, which gets more and more personal as we get to the end of the book. At some point I was ashamed at all this intimacy being laid out, and outraged at how he bares it all, I felt like being forced to spy through a keyhole, then just accepted the narration as an arm offered by a stranger to help you go through difficult terrain. Oz's writing is beautiful (I read the English translation by Nicholas de Lange): he describes places, situations, people and feelings with great precision and I did feel like a fly on the wall of his small, cramped apartment. The "dark years" separating the lives of its three occupants show at the same time great love and great sorrow. Humour is there, too, and at least three episodes (which I won't spoil for you) made me laugh out loud. This very personal history of family ties also peers into the political debates raging around the time of the institution of the state of Israel, and the difficult choices and moral dilemmas this carried with it. I am very glad I persevered, as this is a book that will stay with me for a long while.


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