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The Israeli writer Amos Oz has crafted a book of connected short stories that are all set in the fictional village of Tel Ilan. "Scenes From Village Life" is almost a novella. In these stories, the mundane routines of village life, belie all sorts of fractured lives.
The mayor's wife has left him with a note and no clue as to where she's gone. The doctor's nephew was not on the bus she expected him to be on. An old Labor Party politician rants about former colleagues and rivals who sold out the cause, and complains of a mysterious digging sound under the house.
Amos Oz joins us now from Tel Aviv. Welcome to the program once again.
AMOS OZ: Thank you.
SIEGEL: In these stories of the village of Tel Ilan, nothing ever seems to be satisfactorily resolved. People are lost, they're not found; a strange intruder manages to intrude. Why is life in this fictional, picturesque Israeli town so unsettled?
OZ: These are stories about people who have lost something, or rather hid something from themselves. And they are searching for the loss in the attics, in the basements; everywhere and all the time. Not finding it because this is the human condition. Most of the time we hide something ourselves and we don't really find it.
SIEGEL: Your publisher says you've written a parable of modern Israeli life. Have you or is it something more universal than that?
OZ: Well, I think it's more about human condition than about the Israeli condition. It's about love and loss and loneliness and longing. It's about death and desire. It's about desolation and disillusionment. The basic things, the simple and great things.
SIEGEL: Now, at the end of "Scenes From Village Life," after this realistic description, these shorts, you add a very dystopian kind of postscript. Suddenly, you're writing about a place of poisonous vapors and putrefaction. A healthy, handsome stranger arrives at the village and the women say we must kill him. What's going on at the end?
OZ: It's a nightmare that I had some six or seven years ago, and I wrote it just as I had it. It's not an allegorical story, nor is it a disguised statement about anything. It's just a rendering of a nightmare.
SIEGEL: A nightmare that could well have been in the same fictional village that you're writing about?
OZ: Not necessarily. It's called "In A Different Time and In A Different Place, In Another Place and In Different Time." So it's not necessarily the same village. But because it is a village nightmare, I found it right to included it in this collection of stories, or rather novel in stories.
SIEGEL: So I want to ask you something. I want to explain something about Israel, real-life Israel of the news that we read about in the news, and Tel Ilan, your village of fiction. This week, after five and a half years of being held hostage in Gaza, Gilad Shalit was released. The country agreed to free more than a thousand prisoners to bring them home, and Israel rejoiced like a big village. It was the very sort of happy ending that your characters never get.
OZ: Yes, it was a happy ending and a very heavy cost because for the release of Gilad Shalit, Israel had to release more than 1,000 terrorists, convicted terrorists, including some mass murderers. So, this was a big drama and the Israelis responded like one big happy family to the release of Gilad Shalit.
But I'm not about writing happy endings. I think stories with happy endings, OK, are very scarcely. And I think the story of Gilad Shalit with a happy ending is a happy ending for Gilad Shalit, not necessarily a happy ending for the bereaved families of the victims of those mass murderers.
SIEGEL: Are you confident about things in Israel nowadays, or does it worry you? Do you have nightmares about what the future might be for the country?
OZ: I'm worried about the future. I'm always worried about the future. I think every Israeli is worried about the future. And yet, deep down below, I believe that in the end of the day, there will be an historical compromise between Israelis and Palestinians simply because there is no alternative to such a compromise.
There will be a state of Israel next door to the state of Palestine, not at love but in peace and coexistence, simply because the Palestinians are not going anywhere and the Israelis are not going anywhere. They will have to divide the land, to divide the housing into two smaller apartments. I think it's called in English a semi-detached house. And I think this solution is impending. I can't tell you how soon. I'm not a prophet. But I think the solution is impending.
SIEGEL: But, you know, I think the other time when I interviewed you, a novel had just come out in English. But it was in the early days of the Oslo process. And you were pretty upbeat then, too, and felt that this was - we should understand this not as a marriage between two people, but as the divorce through which Palestinians and Israelis would disengage from one another's lives. Hasn't been a very encouraging couple of decades since then.
OZ: Well, in the Middle East, when people say never or forever, or for the rest of eternity, they usually mean something between three years and 30 years.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
OZ: I have traveled to Egypt with an Egyptian visa stamped in my Israeli passport. I have traveled to Jordan with a Jordanian visa stamped in my Israeli passport. This is much more than I would have dreamt of 30 or 40 years ago. So, things are changing in the Middle East. And I believe that despite all the obstacles created by fanatics on both sides, there will, at the end of the day, be a historical compromise.
SIEGEL: And you're telling us against the grain of much supposed conventional wisdom, in the Middle East, forever is actually a very short time.
OZ: Forever is a very short time. And that's why when the leaders, the fanatical leaders of the Arabs and of the Israelis, vow that they will never make these concession or never recognize Israel, or never give up East Jerusalem, I am very suspicious about the length of those nevers.
SIEGEL: Well, Amos Oz, thank you very much for talking with us once again.
OZ: Thank you for your very good questions. Thank you very much.
SIEGEL: Mr. Oz spoke to us from Tel Aviv. His new book, which he calls a novel in stories, is called "Scenes From Village Life."
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