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Growing Up with Israel: Writer Amos Oz

The latest book by Israeli author Amos Oz is A Tale Of Love And Darkness, a memoir of growing up in Jerusalem in the turbulent 1940s and '50s, when a war-torn Israel was achieving statehood. Oz's home life was as intense as the world outside.

The book follows Oz through his mother's suicide to a growing interest in politics and writing. Along the way, he chooses a new name for himself — Oz, the Hebrew word for strength — over his family's name, Klausner.

Oz has written many works of fiction and non-fiction, including A Perfect Peace and To Know a Woman. He is a professor of literature at Israel's Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. He has been honored with the French Prix Femina and the 1992 Frankfurt Peace Prize.

42:00

Other segments from the episode on December 1, 2004

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, December 1, 2004: Interview with Amoz Oz; Commentary on Little Richard's career; Commentary on language.

Transcript

DATE December 1, 2004 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
NETWORK NPR
PROGRAM Fresh Air

Interview: Amos Oz discusses his new book, "A Tale Of Love And
Darkness"
TERRY GROSS, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

Israel's most acclaimed novelist, Amos Oz, has written a new book about
growing up in Jerusalem in the 1940s and '50s in the shadow of the Holocaust
and in fear of Arab attack. His parents had fled Eastern Europe in the early
'30s. In telling his own story, he describes some of the larger issues that
faced Jews just before and after the state of Israel was created. He also
describes life on the kibbutz that he lived in after leaving home at the age
of 15 in 1954. He stayed there through 1986, when he moved to a town in the
Negev Desert, where the climate was preferable for his son's asthma.

Oz's new book is called "A Tale Of Love And Darkness." Although it's
subtitled "A Memoir," Oz says some of the stories he tells about his parents'
and grandparents' lives are based not just on fact and memory but on
considerable speculation. His book has become of the biggest-selling literary
works in Israeli history. Oz is also known for his work as a peace activist
and a proponent of a two-state solution. He co-founded the Peace Now movement
in 1977.

Why did your parents move to Israel in 1933?

Mr. AMOS OZ (Author, "A Tale Of Love And Darkness"): Well, presenting the
question this way suggests that they went to a travel agency and looked for a
country where to live.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. OZ: In fact, there was no travel agency for the Jews in the late 1930s.
They were virtually kicked out of Europe by violent anti-Semitism in Eastern
Europe and the rising of Naziism in Central Europe. No other country wanted
them at that time. There was no kind of least of choices. It's not that they
should have opted for the French Riviera and, by mistake, they opted for
Jerusalem.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. OZ: They were kicked out of Europe. And Jerusalem at this time--the land
of Israel at that time was the only available life raft when no other country
wanted them. They did try. Some members of my family tried to apply for a
French, an American, a Scandinavian, a British, even a German citizenship, and
they were turned down by everybody.

GROSS: I think, you know, a lot of Jewish people who grew up in, say, the
1950s and whose grandparents emigrated closer to the turn of the
century--emigrated to America from Eastern Europe, you know, fleeing the
pogroms. These grandparents often didn't want to talk about the, quote, "old
country"; that they were, for whatever reasons, whether it was painful
memories or the pain of having to leave home and leave family behind, a lot of
grandparents just wouldn't talk about it. Now your parents loved the Europe
they left behind, not loved the persecution but missed that Europe. Did they
talk to you much about it?

Mr. OZ: Never. They censored it the same way people censor an unrequited
love from their children. You don't discuss with your child someone who
dumped you when you were younger, someone whom you loved and dumped you. And
that's exactly how they felt about Europe. Their house was full of syndromes
and signs and clues for their heartbroken love for Europe, but they never
talked about it, except very indirectly. My father used to say from time to
time that one day, not in his lifetime, maybe in my lifetime, `Our Jerusalem
will evolve and develop into a real city.' I couldn't understand what he was
talking about. For me, Jerusalem was the only real city in the world. Even
Tel Aviv was a myth.

Over the years I learned that when my father expressed the words, pronounced
the words `a real city,' he meant a city with a river in the middle, bridges
across the river and dense forests roundabout: Europe, the promised land from
the promised land.

GROSS: How did your parents describe the meaning of Israel to you when you
were growing up?

Mr. OZ: Well, in the 1940s, Israel was still a dream, a vision and a
blueprint. They talked about the impending creation of a Jewish state in
messianic terms: `This state, which is about to be born, will be pure,
angelic, idyllic. It will hold world records in high jump morality; gold
medal in good behavior, in treating minorities, in social justice. It will be
both biblical and modern, both very Jewish and very secular and very
democratic and very socialistic. It will be more everything than anyone.'
But this, of course, was a dream, a fantasy, a vision. And then came the
morning after.

GROSS: And?

Mr. OZ: Well, the morning after is a disappointment by the finishing. I
maintain that the only way to keep a dream, not only a Zionist dream, any
dream--a sexual dream, a sexual fantasy--the only way to keep any dream or
fantasy intact and rosy and perfect and flawless is never to try to live it
out. Israel is a dream come true; as such, it is destined to be a
disappointment to some extent. And I accept it philosophically. I am glad it
is a fulfilled dream, and I am aware of it--that some of the initial visions
and these expectations and desires and ambitions of the founding fathers and
mothers could never materialize. They were metahuman; they were impossible to
materialize.

GROSS: Your father had utopian hopes for the future of Israel, but he was not
a religious man. You write, `He considered the priests of every faith as
rather suspect, ignorant men who fostered antique hatreds. He suspected
everyone who made a living from religion of some kind of sugared charlatanism.
But he did believe in a vague providence, a residing spirit of the people. He
believed in the wonders of the, quote, "creative Jewish genius."' Can you
talk a little bit about your parents' sense of what it meant to them to be
Jewish?

Mr. OZ: Well, both of them were secular. None of them was a synagoguegoer.
Even my grandparents were very secular. I am at least a third generation of
secularized Jews, for him whom being Jewish is, first and foremost, a sense of
cultural belonging, not a synagogal belonging. Judaism, to me, is a culture:
first and foremost, the Hebrew language, which I think is the crux where every
page--a long line of books, creations; certain sensibilities which I identify
as Jewish sensibilities, although they are not exclusively Jewish; humor and
skepticism; certain anarchism; certain lack of confidence in any regime or
government whatsoever; certain utopian ambitions about world reforming. All
of these I identify--these and more I identify as Jewish heritage, Jewish
sensibilities. And all of those are alive and kicking somehows--sometimes
kicking too hard outside the realm of synagogue.

GROSS: Now you described the Hewbrew language as being at the crux of the
Israel heritage or the Jewish heritage. What languages did your parents speak
to each other and to you in?

Mr. OZ: Now here's a comedy. They would speak between them, Russian and
Polish for me not to understand. Ninety-five percent of the time they wanted
me not to understand what they were speaking about because they were talking
either about the mass murder of their relatives in Europe by the Nazis or
about the disaster, the calamity, the mass murder, which may happened in
Jerusalem once the British pull out and the Arab nations will smash us. So
this was not for the kid. This was Polish and Russian. They read books in
German, French and English for culture. I believe they dreamt their dreams in
Yiddish, but me, they taught Hebrew and only Hebrew as a precaution. They
feared that if I had one European language, I would eventually be seduced by
the deadly charms of Europe. I'll go to Europe and catch my death. So they
did not want me to know any European language for my own safety. And so it
happened that the very first English words I ever learned to pronounce were
the words, `British go home,' which is what we Jewish kids used to shout as we
were throwing stones at the British patrols in Jerusalem in '46, '47 in what
should be regarded, really, as the first original Intifadah in Jerusalem, the
Jewish Intifadah against the British, talking about ironies of history.

GROSS: Did your parents know Hebrew before they moved to Israel?

Mr. OZ: Oh, yes, they both had a Hebrew--Hebraic upbringing in secular
Zionist schools in Ukraine, in Lithuania, respectively, yes.

GROSS: Now you talked about how your parents spoke in the languages of their
countries to protect you from the subjects that they were talking about when
they were talking about the pogroms in Europe or the holocaust in Germany.
What were some of the fears that you grew up with living in Israel during the
holocaust?

Mr. OZ: In the 1940s, I grew up in the shadow of an unpronounced horror, and
the horror was that that which was happening to the Jews in Europe, mass
murder by the Nazis, is going to repeat itself in Jerusalem either because the
Nazi Panzer armed columns will conquer Palestine and put all the Jews in gas
chambers or else because the British will eventually pull out and leave the
small Jewish community in the land of Israel to the mercy of the entire
merciless Arab world. So we feared a mass murder of our own community the
same way it happened to the Jewish communities all over Europe in the '40s.

GROSS: Did you live in a state of fear? Did you have a lot of nightmares?

Mr. OZ: That was a subterranean fear. You have to imagine a city under
siege. You have to imagine a town where British curfew used to be imposed at
7 PM almost every night. You have to imagine a city where the Jewish
underground terrorist groups blew up British military installations almost
every night. You have to imagine a Jewish Jerusalem surrounded by Arab's
towns and villages, most of them very hostile. You have to imagine the
insecurity of the days and of the nights and you have to bear in mind that
everyone was a refugee from some inferno or another, not only from Europe.
There were those who were kicked out of the Arab and Islamic countries. Those
who survived, by the skin of their teeth, the Arab and Islamic hatred for
Jews, and they also came to the land of Israel. So as I often say, Israel is
essentially a refugee camp, so is Palestine, which is what makes this conflict
so tragic. It's a conflict, tragic conflict between two victims, between two
refugee camps.

GROSS: My guest is Amos Oz. His new book is called "A Tale Of Love and
Darkness." We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is writer Amos Oz, and his new
book is part novel, part memoir about growing up in Israel and about his
parents' and grandparents' lives.

What was it like for you watching holocaust survivors come to Israel and
seeing the state that they were in and just sensing what they had lived
through, what they had narrowly survived?

Mr. OZ: Well, I'm ashamed to tell you, but I did tell this in a "A Tale Of
Love And Darkness," so I have to repeat it in this interview. We looked down
at those survivors. We thought of them as sissy, weak people. While we
Israeli Jews fought back, repelled the enemies, practiced with submachine guns
even in times of the British mandate as part of an illicit defense force, they
went, quote, unquote, "like sheep to the slaughter." It took me years to
understand what an idiot I was in looking down at those holocaust survivors
for not fighting back. How could they fight back? Who on earth could fight
back the Nazi machine when you have no country, no allies, no weapons, no
chance in hell to defend yourself. So, yes, I'm ashamed to confess that we
were patronizing the holocaust survivors and we were saying to them--we,
native Israelis were saying to them, `Wait, we will teach you how to be proud,
how to be strong, how to fight back, how to get something.'

GROSS: Was that the general attitude?

Mr. OZ: Quite widespread, quite widespread. But then it's not unusual for
Israelis to look down at each other from different angles.

GROSS: When Britain decided to end its rule in Palestine and then fighting
broke out between Israelis and Arabs, part of Jerusalem was under siege and
cut off from the rest of the country. What was it like for you to be a boy
caught in that?

Mr. OZ: Jewish Jerusalem was under siege for several months. Starved, cut
off from the water supply and heavily bombarded by the regular artillery of
the Transjordanian army and for a while, also by the Egyptian Army from the
south. Of course, in my head, I was the prime minister, I was the general in
chief. I commanded the battlefield on a mat in the corridor. But actually we
lived like moles behind sandbags in the basement, hungry, thirsty, dirty,
terrified, terrified to death because in our heart of hearts we did not really
believe that Jews were going to win that war. And in our heart of hearts, at
least in this part of the country, in Jewish Jerusalem, which was very much
like an east European shtetl. We feared that the Jews will lose the war and
will be eradicated, slaughtered the same way they were slaughtered by their
enemies in Europe. So I remember those months of the siege with pain and
anger and frustration and yet with a special tenderness about how my father
and mother, two not very strong people in any way, how in the last analysis,
courageous and decent they were.

GROSS: Did they try to prepare you for the worst?

Mr. OZ: Indirectly, yes. They said some of the grownups will say, `Enjoy
your life, kid. You know, not every kid grows up to become a person,' which
is why I developed a fantasy of growing up and becoming a book, not a novelist
but a book. I knew how easy it is to kill people. I knew it was very easy to
kill authors. I knew it was very easy to burn books. But books are stubborn.
Some God-forsaken copy may survive in a faraway library somewhere in Iceland
or in Paraguay or in Australia. So it would have been safest to grow up and
become a book; not an author, but a book. That was one of my childhood
fantasies. And this fantasy is a result of deep insecurity.

GROSS: And also I think the fantasy is a result of the fact that you grew up
around books. Wasn't your father a librarian?

Mr. OZ: Oh, he was a librarian, but he was more than that. He was bookish.
Everyone was bookish.

GROSS: What are your memories of Israel's Independence Day? You write that
your father told you to take it all in because this is something you'd be
talking about to your children, to your grandchildren.

Mr. OZ: Yes, this was a euphoric night for me. I was about nine year old
when the General Assembly of the United Nations, then in late success,
resolved by a two-thirds vote to divide Palestine into two sovereign states,
Palestinian Arab state and Israeli Jewish state. This, in brackets, is going
to be the bottom line of several decades of conflict. In the end, Israelis
and Palestinians will come back to a two-state solution, close brackets. Now
for me that night is a memory which I will carry for the rest of my life.
Never in my life, either before or after have I seen such a burst of public
euphoria, euphoria combined with fear of the future. No one was certain of
the results. No one was certain whether we are going to re--survive the
impending battle with the Arab world.

But this euphoria that the Jews will become an independent nation for the
first time in 19 centuries, since the eradication of ancient Israel by the
Roman armies, by the Roman Empire, that once again there will be a Jewish
regime, a Jewish government and a Jewish law, a Jewish sovereignty, the kind
of vindication of people who have always been an oppressed and loathed
minority wherever, everywhere except perhaps in the United States of America,
but everywhere else. The feeling that at last we are going to have a home.
It may be very small, it may be a home the size of a handkerchief or a postal
stamp on the map of the world, but nonetheless, it's going to be our home.
This euphoria of that night, the singing, the dancing in the street, the
hugging between total strangers, the tears, the vows, this I'll never forget
just as I will not forget the deep, sad silence which dawned on the Arab
neighborhoods. Our joy was their catastrophe, their fear and trembling and
despair and anger and bewilderment. I will never forget how while half
Jerusalem celebrated with fireworks and singing and dancing, the other parts
of Jerusalem were erupting darkness, silence and sadness.

GROSS: What--did you know Arab children at that time? Did you have any Arab
friends or acquaintances?

Mr. OZ: Yes, I did have some. It was not an everyday thing for a Jewish kid
to go to the Arab neighborhoods. Tension existed even before the creation of
the state of Israel, and even before the much-condemned Israeli occupation of
the West Bank and Gaza there was tension, hatred and violence. One or two, I
would say, short stories within "The Tale" I recollect some of my encounters
with Palestinian people and Palestinian children. One or two of them were
quite disastrous.

GROSS: Disastrous in what way?

Mr. OZ: Well, at the age of nine, I tried to impress in a very immature
materialistic way, a 12-year-old Palestinian femme fatale. She was 12, I was
nine. I wanted to show off. I climbed a tree and I caused
a--unintentionally, I caused an accident in which her little brother was
injured. I meant well. I meant to show off. I meant to prove to her that
some Jews are Tarzans. They can climb trees. I meant to show her that I am
the new type of a Jew. I am the physical Jew, which I was not, and I am not,
but that's the impression I wanted to project on this 12-year-old little
seducer. So it ended up in a fiasco and in pain and in injury.

GROSS: I want to pick up on something that you just said, you know, that you
wanted to prove that you were a different kind of Jew, you were a physical
Jew, which you are not. What did that mean to you to try to prove that you
were this different kind of Jew, physical?

Mr. OZ: Part of the ethos of early Israel was we have to be born again. If
the whole world hates us Jews for being talkative, intellectual, bookish, full
of ideas, but not very physical, we have to--all of us, we have to be born
again into a nation of silent, tough, strong, tractor drivers and soldiers who
fight back and punch back twice as hard when necessary, who plow the land,
shut up and don't read too many books and don't talk too much.

GROSS: Amos Oz, his new book is called "A Tale Of Love And Darkness." He'll
be back in the second half of the show. I'm Terry Gross and this is FRESH
AIR.

(Announcements)

GROSS: Coming up, Amos Oz talks about his mother's suicide when he was 12. A
couple of years later, he left home and joined a kibbutz. Also, rock
historian Ed Ward looks back at the mid career of Little Richard when he
briefly turned to gospel music.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross, back with Amos Oz, Israel's most
popular and internationally acclaimed writer. He also co-founded the Peace
Now movement in 1977 and remains an advocate of a two-state solution. His new
book, "A Tale of Love and Darkness," tells the story of his boyhood in
Jerusalem just before and after the creation of the state of Israel. His
parents fled to Jerusalem from Eastern Europe in the early '30s. Oz was born
in 1939.

This is the first time you've written about your mother's suicide. She was, I
think, 38 when she died. You were about 12 1/2. You say she'd never really
taken to life in Israel. Why not?

Mr. OZ: I think her years in Jerusalem felt like exile for her. She didn't
like the climate, she didn't like the atmosphere, she didn't like the company,
and she was forever grieving for her hometown in the Ukraine, which she had to
leave because anti-Semitism became unbearable. But many of her Jewish and
non-Jewish friends were left there, behind, in fact most of them. And the
non-Jewish friends were involved in killing the Jewish friends once the Nazis
conquered this township of Rovno, where 25,000 Jews were shot dead in two
days. You know, 25,000 Jews is more than the overall number of Jews who died
in 100 years of conflict with the Arabs; 25,000 people, a whole town, in two
days. For my mother, this was an everlasting trauma.

Add to this the dreariness of a rather pedestrian marriage. Add to this
unfulfilled artistic ambitions or yearnings. Add to this a certain
intellectual and emotional finesse for which Jerusalem of the '40s was just in
the wrong place, and you end up with sadness, loneliness, despair, desolation
and longing.

GROSS: We should also add the migraines and insomnia.

Mr. OZ: Well, they were the result of it. It's not the migraines and the
insomnia that caused her sadness, it's her sadness and desperation that
caused, I think, the insomnia and the migraines.

However, "A Tale of Love and Darkness" is very much written with the ambition
to resolve an enigma. How could the marriage between two kind, gentle,
well-meaning, civilized people end with such a colossal tragedy? How can good
plus good produce tragedy? This was the enigma that set me writing, not the
birth of Israel, not the significance of the Jewish state, the enigma of how
can two very good people cause such a disaster together?

Now I have a confession to make. In the course of writing, I lost interest in
solving the enigma. If any of my readers hope to find, after more than 500
pages, in the last page who was the murderer, don't read my book. If any of
my readers hope to find in the end of the book who was the good guy and who
was the bad guy, don't read my book. I found more and more empathy in me for
both of them, for my mother's sadness, despair and loneliness and for my
father, my kind, gentle father's inability to help her, hard as he tried, and
my own inability to save her.

GROSS: Do you think that the problem, too, might have been beyond the
marriage? It might have been that she was just given to depression?

Mr. OZ: That would be too simplistic. I mean, this would be the kind of
professional definition of her condition, perhaps. Depression is such a vague
and wide term, covering so many things, whereas in "A Tale of Love and
Darkness," I wanted to describe in great detail what is behind her specific
personal, one woman's depression, namely, the desolation, the unfulfilled
dreams, the yearnings and the mourning for the dead, the alienness she felt in
Jerusalem.

GROSS: How did she kill herself?

Mr. OZ: She swallowed an overdose of medicines, indiscriminately, all the
medicines she could find in her sister's home where she went for a weekend.
She went there because I presume she wanted to die away from home and away
from her 12-year-old son, to spare me the sight. She had many different
sleeping pills prescribed by overdevoted bunch of doctors. She had a variety
of medicines, this and that. She swallowed everything, fell asleep and never
woke up.

GROSS: In your book, "A Tale of Love and Darkness," you write about your
reaction, when you were 12, to your mother's suicide, and I'd like you to read
a passage from that description.

Mr. OZ: (Reading) `I was angry with her for leaving without saying goodbye,
without a hug, without a word of explanation. After all, my mother had been
incapable of parting even from a total stranger, a delivery man or a peddler
at the door, without offering him a glass of water, without a smile, without a
little apology and two or three pleasant words. All through my childhood, she
had never left me alone at the grocer's or in a strange courtyard or in a
public garden. How could she have done it? I was angry with her on Father's
behalf, too, whose wife had shamed him thus and shown him up, had suddenly
vanished like a woman running away with a stranger in a comic film. Throughout
my childhood, if I ever disappeared, even for an hour or two, I was shouted at
and punished. It was a fixed rule that anyone who went out always had to say
where they were going, and for how long and what time they would be back. At
least they had to leave a note in the usual place under the vase, all of us.
Is that the way to leave, rudely, in the middle of a sentence? She herself
had always insisted on fact, politeness, considerate behavior, a constant
effort not to hurt others, attentiveness, sensitivity. How could she? I
hated her.'

GROSS: You write in your book that after going through a period of being
really angry at your mother, you went through a period of being really angry
at yourself and blaming yourself for what happened.

Mr. OZ: Well, I lived in a vicious circle for many years. I hated her for
walking away on me, I hated my father for losing such a wonderful wife and I
hated myself, thinking that if I'd only behaved myself, if I was better at
school, if I would really wash behind my ears every evening without cheating,
she would still be there. I felt there must be something terribly wrong with
little me, or else she wouldn't walk away on me. So there was a cycle of
anger, hatred, resentment and silence, which is why for many years I never
discussed her death with anyone, never with my father, until his dying day,
never; never with my wife and children.

It was only after many years that I could view things with a different
perspective and the anger and the insult and the rough gave way to curiosity,
compassion, humor, irony and warmth. I could only write about my mother's
death, my parents' tragedy, when I reached the age where I could view my
parents as if they were my children, where I could write about my grandparents
as if they were my grandchildren, with a parently compassion and parently
smile at their follies, at their shortsightedness, at their inability to
conduct their marriage, although they were both very kind, very gentle and
very devoted to one another.

GROSS: My guest is Amos Oz. His new book is called "A Tale of Love and
Darkness." We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guest is Israel's most popular and internationally acclaimed
writer, Amos Oz. His new book, "A Tale of Love and Darkness," is about
growing up in Jerusalem. When we left off, we were talking about his mother's
suicide when he was 12.

There is an element of mystery here. I mean, you print a letter that you got
later from one of your mother's friends, and the letter said, `If you only
knew how much your mother wanted to be an artist, to be a creative person,
from her childhood. If only she could see you now. And why didn't she manage
it? Maybe in a personal conversation I could be more daring and tell you
things that I don't dare put in writing.' What do you think that was?

Mr. OZ: Well, I think it was her deep disappointment from the fading away of
life. She grew up with an intensely romantic manual. In this manual, she was
supposed to grow up into a pianist or maybe a poet. She was supposed--she was
expecting to grow up in an artistic milieu, in a peaceful country, in a
civilized society, in a central European cultured atmosphere. She found
herself housewifing, trapped in poverty, lower middle-class, insecurity, in
sun-scorched, hot, dusty, fanatic Jerusalem.

I know this now because as I wrote "A Tale of Love and Darkness" I actually
invited all those dead people to my home for a cup of coffee and a cake. I
said to my mother and my father and my grandparents and half the neighborhood,
all of those who are dead now, I said, `Sit down. Have a coffee, have a cake.
Let us talk. We have never talked when you were alive, not on things that
mattered, not on emotions, certainly not about sensuality and sexuality, not
about shattered dreams, not about your unrequited love for Europe. Let's talk
now.' And I talked to the dead, and after talking, I said, `I want to
introduce you to my wife and children. They have never met you, you have
never met them. It's just as well that you meet.'

And then after this session, I said to the dead, `Now go away. You're not
going to live in my house. You may drop by from time to time for coffee.'
That's the mode in which I wrote "A Tale of Love and Darkness," not to score
my accounts with them, not to punish them, not to get back at them, not to
show to the world that the fact that I'm imperfect is to be blamed on my
unhappy childhood or my terrible parents; not at all.

GROSS: Is the...

Mr. OZ: It's a book of compassion and forgiveness.

GROSS: Is the letter that I quoted a real letter that you got?

Mr. OZ: Yes.

GROSS: Now at age 15 you left home--this was a couple of years after your
mother's suicide--you left home and moved to a kibbutz against your father's
will. You quote your father as saying, "The kibbutz may be a not
insignificant phenomenon, but it requires manual workers of average
intelligence. You know by now that you are decidedly not average. You will
not be able to develop there. Consequently, I'm afraid I cannot agree to this
in any way, and that's that, end of discussion." Did you worry about this too,
that manual labor wasn't about who you were, and that it wouldn't be a place
in which you could develop intellectually?

Mr. OZ: I rebelled. I decided to be born anew. It's not only that I
decided not to be what my father wanted me to be, I decided not to be what I
really was. I decided to change my name from Klausner to Oz. I decided to
get suntanned in two weeks. I decided to get strong, tall, muscular,
good-looking, silent and very impressive to the girls. It cut a lot of ice
for me, you know. I was self-changing. I am being very ironical in "A Tale
of Love and Darkness" about this whole aspiration of being born again and
starting a fresh new leaf and start a new life and change yourself completely.
I know there is no way.

GROSS: Now paradoxically, you go to the kibbutz to re-create yourself and to
kind of tone down the more, you know, intellectual part of yourself and tone
up the more physical part of yourself, but you end up staying at the kibbutz
from 1954 to 1985. I mean, clearly you found a real home for yourself there,
and is it fair to say you developed into a writer there?

Mr. OZ: Indeed. Kibbutz Hulda has been my home, and my good home, for
decades. It was not only home, it was the best university I could ever hope
to attend in this world, because living in a small, tight community, very
gossipy, where there are very few secrets, where I had a chance to know who
cheats on whom with whom and how often, where I had the chance to see the
genes at work from one generation to another, for a novelist, for a
storyteller, this was the best preparation, the best university, the best
education I could hope for. Of course, the penalty I was made to pay is that
too many people knew too much about my private life, but this is only fair.

GROSS: I've managed to spend all of our time talking about your past as
described in your new book. I don't want to let you go without squeezing in
one or two questions about the present. You co-founded Peace Now in 1978, and
you've been an advocate of a two-state solution for years, and an advocate of
the point of view that the Israelis and the Palestinians represent two
oppressed people who are both in the right, and they must come up with a way
of compromising. Yasser Arafat has died. There are elections in January for
a new president of the Palestinian Authority. Do you think that things might
change with new leadership in the Palestinians?

Mr. OZ: It's no secret that Yasser Arafat was not my hero. It's no secret
that Ariel Sharon is not my hero. I think both the Palestinians and the
Israelis deserve a more pragmatic, more compassionate, more imaginative
leadership, and I hope this is impending on both sides.

GROSS: So you think things aren't going to change, really, with Sharon in
power?

Mr. OZ: You know, I'm not a political analyst, but let me give you some good
tidings, because you hear the bad news all the time. Let me be the bearer of
good tidings. The vast majority of the Israeli Jews and the vast majority of
the Palestinian Arabs know now that in the end of the day, there is going to
be a two-state solution. Even individuals on both sides who reject and object
this solution know that it is impending, and this is not my gut feeling. This
is--these are the findings of public opinion surveys, both in Israel and in
Palestine, week after week after week, for a long time now. The parties know
what's going to happen. People do know that the country will have to be
divided, that the house will have to be divided into two smaller apartments,
whether we like it or not, whether they like it or not, whether this is an
aesthetic solution or not, whether this is an idyllic solution or not. It's
not an idyllic solution, but it's the only pragmatic solution.

GROSS: Do you think it's going to happen?

Mr. OZ: Of course it's going to happen. The only thing I cannot tell you
is who soon, because coming from the land of the prophets, it will be too
risky for me to try to prophesy, as there's too much competition in the
prophecy business where I come from.

GROSS: I know the Bush administration had said that it hoped that the war in
Iraq would pave the way for democracy spreading through the Middle--through
that area of the world, including to the Israelis and Palestinians, you know,
reaching an accord, and I'm wondering if you think that the war in Iraq has
had any positive or negative impact on the Middle East.

Mr. OZ: It's a big question. I'll give you a short answer by saying that, in
my view, the only power in the world which can contain fanatic Islam is modern
Islam. This is true, by the way, of other fanatic movements and phenomenons.
Everything that encourages and strengthens moderate Muslims is good, for the
world, for the Arab world. I am not sure the war in Iraq was a reinforcement
of moderation in Islam and in the Arab world.

GROSS: Amos Oz, thank you so much for talking with us.

Mr. OZ: Thank you for having me.

GROSS: Amos Oz's new book is called "A Tale of Love and Darkness." It's about
growing up in Jerusalem, and it's just been published in America.

Coming up, rock historian Ed Ward on Little Richard and the brief period,
mid-career, when he played gospel music. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Profile: Little Richard's post-hits career
TERRY GROSS, host:

Rock historian Ed Ward ran into Little Richard earlier this year at the South
by Southwest Music Festival, and that, along with Sony's reissue of some of
Richard's mid-'60s sessions for Okeh Records, got Ed thinking about Little
Richard's post-hits career.

(Soundbite of "She Knows How to Rock")

LITTLE RICHARD: (Singing) I'm going downtown about ...(unintelligible) .
Well, let my baby rock me all the way ...(unintelligible). She knows how to
rock me. Yeah, you rock me. Well, we'll all be rockin', you know just what I
mean. Well, now my baby she's gettin' kind of funny, she don't want to rock
till I give her my money. She knows how to rock, man, yeah...

ED WARD (Rock Historian): In late 1957, Little Richard was coming off of a
yearlong string of hits like "Tutti Frutti" and "Long Tall Sally," but he was
in turmoil. A whole galaxy of confusing things seemed to be whirling around
in his head, and late that year, he quit show business during a tour of
Australia in which he proved his sincerity by taking off a ring with a huge
jewel in it and tossing it into Sydney Harbour. Some said he'd been unnerved
by the Soviet satellite Sputnik, imagining it whizzing above his head as he
flew to Australia for this tour. Others said he'd found God and was devoting
his life to the ministry. Richard himself now claims he was so appalled by
the treatment he'd gotten at the hands of his record label that he was going
to go to business school. Whatever the case was, "She Knows How to Rock," his
last record cut before the tour, is awful, a mishmash of his previous stuff,
clearly the product of an artist who'd hit a dead end.

But Little Richard has never exactly been a shrinking violet, and it was hard
for him to stay out of the spotlight. Maybe he needed money for school, but
within a few months of renouncing his career, he was in New York cutting a
deal with George Goldner's End label to record a couple albums' worth of
gospel music.

(Soundbite of music)

LITTLE RICHARD: (Singing) Yes, I'm going to walk, walk that milky white way,
oh, child, one of these days.

Backup Singers: (Singing) One of these days.

LITTLE RICHARD: (Singing) Yes, I'm going to walk, my Lord, that milky white
way, Lord, one of these days. Well, well, well, well, I'm going to walk, my
Lord, taking my stand, Lord, I'm going to join, Lord, that Christian band,
that's when we walk, walk that milky white way, oh, child, one of these days.

Backup Singers: (Singing) One of these days.

Unidentified Man: (Singing) Bum, bum, bum, bum, bum...

LITTLE RICHARD: (Singing) I'm going to meet my...

WARD: The white-bread backup singers notwithstanding, this was a whole new
Little Richard--not the religion; gospel was always part of what he did, and
he clearly got his trademark falsetto cry from Professor Alex Bradford. No,
Richard was actually singing. The passion of his rock 'n' roll delivery was
there, but there was less shouting and more control. These gospel sides he
cut are hard to find, but they're worth seeking out.

Eventually he made up with Specialty, his old record company, and cut some
old-timey sides for them with titles like "Annie's Back" and
"Bama-lama-bama-lou." Maybe it's the stereo recording, but he sounds better
here, too.

(Soundbite of music)

LITTLE RICHARD: (Singing) Well, all right!

Backup Singers: (Singing) Well, all right!

LITTLE RICHARD: (Singing) Well, all right. Baby, I love you, and you know my
love is true. Yes, I'd swim the ocean, ...(unintelligible), any old thing for
you. It's all right. Don't you know it's all right. Whoo! Each and every
day you can hear me say it's all right. Let me tell you now, you've been
so...

WARD: The trouble is, these records were cut in 1964, hot on the heels of The
Beatles, and only one of them charted, and it only made it to a humiliating
number 82. Actually, Richard's heart was elsewhere, in the gospel-drenched
soul he was performing on the road, backed by a band that included young Jimi
Hendrix.

(Soundbite of "I Don't Know What You Got")

LITTLE RICHARD: (Singing) You never treat me kind. You party all the time.
You don't mean me no good, I'd leave you if I only could. Baby, I don't know
what you got. Honey, I don't know what you got, but it's got me. I believe
it's got me. You're not there...

WARD: "I Don't Know What You Got (But It's Got Me)" did even less well than
"Bama-lama-bama-lou," only making it to 95 on the charts, but what a great
performance it is, all four minutes of it. Although that may be Jimi Hendrix
you hear at the beginning, more likely it's Don Covay, who wrote the song and
sings those amazing harmony vocals. Jimi's in there, though, down in the mix.

In 1967, Richard latched on to what looked like a good thing. Columbia
Records had reactivated its OK label for soul music, and Johnny "Guitar"
Watson and Larry Williams were detailed to put together a house band and sign
some artists for what was going to be called the Angeltown Sound. While this
was sort of like asking a couple of foxes to install air conditioning in the
hen house, they did manage to sign Richard, and he cut two albums for them.

(Soundbite of music)

LITTLE RICHARD: (Singing) A little bit of somethin' sure beats a whole lot of
nothin', baby. A little bit of somethin' sure beats a whole lot of nothin',
baby. You better hold on to what you got, because what you think is nothin'
to someone else may be a lot. Yeah...

WARD: Unfortunately, the material Larry Williams wrote for him wasn't so hot,
although Richard put as much effort into it as he could, reaching some sort of
weird peak with a passionate rendition of the theme song to Otto Preminger's
film, "Hurry Sundown." Angeltown Sound was dead on delivery, although he still
cut a real good live "Greatest Hits" album with the house band before the
whole enterprise collapsed.

It would be three more years before Richard's career was rescued by producer
Richard Perry, and that's another story. But listening to these lost years
records by one of rock 'n' roll's originals, it's clear that the years where
he made his mark only saw him using a fraction of his talent, and I wish more
of the stuff he recorded during this period would come out.

GROSS: Ed Ward is a writer living in Berlin.

(Soundbite of music)

LITTLE RICHARD: (Singing) Ah, rock it some, rock it some more, rock, rock...

(Credits)

GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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