Scenes from Village Life

Type: short stories

First Published: 2009

In the village of Tel Ilan, something is off kilter. An elderly man complains to his daughter that he hears the sound of digging under his house at night. Could it be his tenant, a young Arab? But then the tenant hears the mysterious digging sounds too. The mayor receives a note from his wife: “Don’t worry about me.” He looks all over, no sign of her. The veneer of new wealth around the village—gourmet restaurants and art galleries, a winery—cannot conceal abandoned outbuildings, disused air raid shelters, rusting farm tools, and trucks left wherever they stopped.

Amos Oz’s novel-in-stories is a brilliant, unsettling glimpse of what goes on beneath the surface of everyday life. Scenes from Village Life is a parable for Israel, and for all of us.

Link to book on Amazon

Editions of the book: 24

Translated into: German, Dutch, Portuguese, Spanish, Polish, Italian, French, English, Danish, Swedish, Romanian, Hungarian (soon Bfotogalit, Albanian, Czech, Croatian, Greek, Korean, Bulgarian, Hungarian, Chinese).

Full Book Reviews


Scotsman, UK
New York Times, USA

Book Review Extracts


Israeli reviews

“Amos Oz writes honestly, in a clear, simple and patient voice; he writes about what haunts him.”

Omri Herzog, Haaretz

“Each event in these eight stories might be interpreted at the reader’s choice – and this is their magic…the stories are heart-capturing; they touch a fine, sensitive, painful nerve in every human being.”

Dan Margalit, Israel Today

“The most important things in “Scenes from a Village Life” are those which remain unsaid but at night, in the silence, they can be heard.”

Nurit Gertz, Haaretz

UK reviews

“Let us not beat about the bush, burning or otherwise. Amos Oz is one of the greatest writers at work in the world: wise, elegantly eloquent and unfailingly humane. For the past five decades he has given us beautiful and necessary literature, not least his remarkable, ultimately heart-rending, memoir A Tale of Love and Darkness.

Scenes From Village Life perfectly epitomises this conundrum: do we read it as fiction of the highest calibre or disguised political comment? The book is a sequence of eerie, perfectly observed, open-ended tales, redolent with loss, longing and loneliness, Seven closely interlinked stories, accompanied by a seriously disquieting coda, are set in the lovingly depicted village of Tel Ilan, a Jewish village a century old. …The tone is pitch perfect. Each protagonist is made manifest with just a few brushstrokes, the maestro at work. The translation from Hebrew by long-time Oz collaborator Nicholas De Lange is pellucid, there's not a jarring note. The music shifts key effortlessly. The whole collection is a masterclass in the paradoxical art of invoking the unspoken, exquisitely, in words.

I propose it is enough, more than enough, simply to listen to the enchanting, subtle, sad melody of this book, let its melancholy, moving notes slide into the mind and soul. Informed by everything, weighed down by nothing, this is an exquisite work of art.”

Catherine Lockerbie, Scotsman, UK

“…a portrait not just of a place but of a species. The book’s atmosphere of desolation and disquiet is bewitching, and its single-mindedness is impressive””

Leo Robson, The Times

 “The stories resemble an echo chamber of recurring themes, steeped in a strangeness and danger that lingers on like a dream.”

Claire Allfree, Metro

 “This is a very strange book. But apart from his memoir, A Tale Of Love and Darkness, it may be the best in Oz’s long and brilliant career. …That is the trick of these stories: they are simultaneously very odd and very real.”

Carole Angier, Literary Review

 “…an impressive and very affecting achievement, …They are enigmas of everyday life, experienced by people you mind about. These stories, in their humanity, may do more for Israel than any of the decisions we have been led to expect of its leaders in the months to come.”

Karl Miller, New Statesman

 “It is one of the most powerful books you will read about present-day Israel”.

David Herman, The Jewish Chronicle

 “I enjoyed Amos Oz’s Scenes From Villlage Life a great deal. Collections of short stories linked by theme and character don’t usually work but this one does, as it explores what is universal, what is entirely idiosyncratic, about daily life in Israel away from the obvious conflicts.”

Adam Mars-Jones, The Observer

 “Oz beautifully captures the interplay of tensions in each character. …in this book, he recognises “a kind of reminder of the destruction of our hearts””.

Helen Brown, The Telegraph

 “Oz’s fast-paced dramas are gripping. Oz is also powerful in his evocation of the inexplicable. 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

 “These stories are written with a sparse clarity, and suffused with a sad empathy for the contradictions that confound us. They have both force and mystery, and they cast a quiet spell”.

Hannah McGill, Scotland on Sunday

 “Wonderfully compelling”

John Harding, Daily Mail

 “Oz is a master story teller and these linked short stories build into a surreal picture of Israeli life.”

Kate Saunders, Saga

“The landscape and routines of Tel Ilan are sumptuously evoked. Oz’s characters might be drawn from Chekhov: their lives seem an irresoluble muddle of sorrow, baffled hopes and missed chances; his compassion for them makes the reader care deeply about them, too. This is a wise, beautiful and enduring book.”

Richard Davenport-Hines, The Spectator

US reviews

“”Scenes From A 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 it’s almost a taste in the mouth. And insofar as Oz articulates the existential condition not only of individuals but of society, his is an agonized cry. In dark times, this is a very dark book indeed. …”Scenes From A Village Life” is a brief collection, but its brevity is a testament to its force. You will not soon forget it.”

Claire Messud, The New York Times

 “Oz writes characterizations that are subtle but surgically precise, rendering this work a powerfully understated treatment of an uneasy Israeli conscience.”

Publishers Weekly

“And Gili Steiner’s disposal of the baked fish dinner which she had cooked for him, her few rough minutes sitting at the kitchen table with his childhood kangaroo, crying until the moment she abruptly “stopped, took the laundry out of the dryer, and …ironed and folded everything and put it away” is one of the most realistic portraits of the mystery of love and loneliness ever written”.

The Oprah blog (Book of the Week)

 “Oz writes so finely and expressively that he momentarily stops our breath. … “Scenes From A Village Life” is likely one of the best books of the year, harshly merciful in delivering its insights into the human condition.”

Cleveland.com, Ohio

 “In these powerful linked stories of longing and disappointment, Oz returns to a spare, almost allegorical style”.

New York Times list of 100 notable books of 2011

Dutch reviews

“The story about the old Kedem, who spends his last years in the village Tel Ilan with his daughter Rachel, is one of the most beautiful stories in Dorpsleven by the Israeli writer Amos Oz. Oz describes in a series of independent stories the nervousness and tension below the surface of the serene, almost boring life in the little village. …a lively novel, wonderfully translated into Dutch by Hilde Pach.”

Volkskrant

 “Every time Oz finds the right tone, a grand tone. A tone of a storyteller of world proportions who has the courage to balance on the edge of fiction. In ordinary, clear language, barely polished with metaphors, he knows how to get to the core of somebody’s nature with a quick sketch like a Chekhov.

At the same time Amos Oz plays with the edges of fiction. By writing a long monologue for example, or by repeating details over and over which makes them mythical and conjuring or even humorous effect. There is no cynicism, no sarcasm, just friendliness. That makes Dorpsleven a warm world, where it’s good. Better than reality.”

Financieele Dagblad

 “This year the Israeli writer Amos Oz (1939) did not receive the Nobel prize for Literature. But still, Oz is a literary genius. Each of his books affects, moves, endears. Dorpsleven is no exception. Tel Ilan is a spot in the hills of Manasse. The villagers live their daily lives. But behind those seemingly normal lives hides a lot of loneliness and pain. And no one can penetrate a tragedy deeper and with more tenderness than Amos Oz.

He looks through a microscope at the village, which was situated in an empty thistle field a hundred years ago and has now grown into a tourist spot. In strategic places he puts people with questions, doubts and secrets, and when he takes a picture of a villager, behind his shoulder the past rises up like a wrinkled but familiar face.

The stories connect, but they also proudly stand on their own. Besides that, the stories are so rich each of them could generate enough inspiration for a novel. Here Oz shows one of his biggest qualities. When he introduces a character, he does it so simply and precisely, he only needs a few strokes of the pen.

Oz doesn’t need much to arouse curiosity, because each character is surrounded by a mysterious aura from the beginning. What is wrong with them? What troubles them? What do they hope to find? The answers are unwrapped with the greatest caution. Even when Oz touches an open nerve, he stays modest and understanding.

On first glance the style is as discrete as the life of the villagers. But this is the key to the genius of Amos Oz. The sentences are spun like silk, the narrative tone is of a staggering sensitivity and the rhythm adjusts effortlessly to each heartbeat of the characters. The translation by Hilde Pach tributes to the magic of Amos Oz.

Dorpsleven is a masterful storybook of a writer at the top of his abilities.”

De Morgen

Brazilian reviews

“Oz deals with the conflicts of the country through its most homely and everyday effects. He manages, thus so, to portray the psychology of war by the characteristics of their characters. That makes him an outstanding writer. (…) In clear language, Oz reminds us that, in the undergrounds of life, there is always a secret. Nothing that will change the face of the planet. Which is a small treasure, however, that constitutes us as men.”

Jose Castello, Revista Epoca

“”This book couldn’t have been written by someone young”, says the author. And it couldn’t have been written by anyone other than a great writer.”

Moacyr Scliar, Folha de S. Paulo

“Instead of exploring major themes, (Amos Oz) prefers to study how they manifest themselves in acts of hatred and affection. As if we were all made of the accumulation of pains and joys.”

Jonas Lopes, Revista Bravo

“The first thing that draws attention (and gains the reader) from “Scenes From A Village Life”, by Amos Oz, is the structure of the book. They are eight short stories that can be read independently, although, reading them in the right sequence is more rewarding. There is an overlap of stories, with characters from one that appear in another, a narrative thread which is very interesting”.

Marta Barbosa, UOL site

“It is a thoughtful draft of something as complex as the human condition”.

Ubiratan Brasil, O Estado de S. Paulo