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Amos Oz, 74 Years Old and a National Treasure, Still Dreams of Life on the Kibbutz

In a wide-ranging conversation, Israel’s greatest novelist talks about working the land, making art, and Natalie Portman

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Amos Oz, 2013.(Daniel Estrin)
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OZ: No, it fascinates me, it intrigues me.

ESTRIN: Your autobiographical novel A Tale of Love and Darkness was translated into Arabic, as you were showing me on your bookshelf behind you here. The translation was paid for by a Palestinian whose father and son were both killed in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He said Arabs needed to read your book to, in a way, understand Israel’s soul. And I want to ask you what books do you think Israelis, or anyone, should read to understand the Palestinian soul.

OZ: They should read Palestinian literature period. Poetry, especially poetry, but also Palestinian prose. They should read Arabic prose, they should read Lebanese and Syrian and Egyptian prose. They should read as much as they can read, and unfortunately we don’t have enough in Hebrew translation.

ESTRIN: Any writer you want to point out especially?

OZ: Well, obviously the greatest Arab writer of the 20th century is the late Naguib Mahfouz and I was a great admirer of Naguib Mahfouz. I have even been in direct contact with him before the establishment of peace between Israel and Egypt, but we never met.

ESTRIN: Wow, what was that contact like, if you can talk about it.

OZ: That was an American journalist who interviewed me, and interviewed him, and then exchanged messages or passed on messages from Mahfouz to me, and from me to Mahfouz.

ESTRIN: A little bit more celebrity gossip. I understand that the actress Natalie Portman is going to be writing the screen adaptation of A Tale of Love and Darkness, which she plans to direct and star in. What’s your involvement in that project?

OZ: Very little. I read the script, which Natalie Portman wrote for A Tale of Love and Darkness. I liked it, but that doesn’t mean much, because reading a film script is like reading musical notes; if you are not a musician, you don’t really know what the music is going to be like.

ESTRIN: Was it important for you to sign off, to make sure you’d be comfortable with the adaptation before she moved on?

OZ: No, it’s going to be her movie, not my movie, and I give her perfect freedom to adapt and to change and to abbreviate. It’s her field not mine. It’s based on my novel, but it’s going to be her field.

ESTRIN: Amos Oz, thanks so much.

OZ: Thank you for having me.

SARA IVRY, HOST: That was reporter Daniel Estrin speaking with Israeli wrier Amos Oz in Oz’s apartment in Tel Aviv. Amos Oz’s new book is called Between Friends. It’s out now from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. I recommend it; get a copy.

Vox Tablet is produced by Julie Subrin. I’m your host, Sara Ivry. Thank you so much for joining us, please join us again next time.

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Amos Oz, 74 Years Old and a National Treasure, Still Dreams of Life on the Kibbutz

In a wide-ranging conversation, Israel’s greatest novelist talks about working the land, making art, and Natalie Portman

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