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Rhyming Life and Death Hardcover – April 14, 2009


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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

In this work of precision satire, Oz, one of Israel’s most prominent writers, portrays a prominent Israeli writer, The Author, and cannily mocks the celebrity status writers acquire. What does a writer know? Why trust him? Stories, after all, possess strange, even dangerous powers. This particular Author is enthralled by his rogue imagination. He’s late to his reading at the “refurbished Shunia Shor and the Seven Victims of the Quarry Attack Cultural Center” because a waitress’ derriere sparks his storytelling impulse, and soon the reader becomes wholly engrossed in her disastrous love affair. Finally onstage, The Author begins to make up stories about people in the audience, all the while wondering about the fate of the revered poet everyone insists on quoting. Hilarious and profound, Oz’s tale of a mischievous tale-teller ponders the eroticism of stories and the mysterious ways language and literature bridge the divide between inner and outer worlds; and it helps us make some sense, however gossamer, of life and death. A slyly philosophical novel. --Donna Seaman

Review

"From the prodigious Oz comes a delightfully elusive if slight story of imagination, talent and the transitory nature of fame...Stamped with Oz's charm and graceful skill in creating rich characters, this is a must for any fan."

-Publishers Weekly

"Israeli novelist Amos Oz performs an exquisite balancing act in his taut, evocative novel Rhyming Life & Death, which immerses readers in the vagaries of the creative process, never letting us forget that there’s an author pulling the strings, making the decisions, however arbitrary, and making us complicit in the illusion that these words on the page somehow represent lives lived, destinies fulfilled and desires thwarted...[A] spellbinding fable."

-Kirkus Reviews, UpFront Review

 "Hilarious and profound, Oz’s tale of a mischievous taleteller ponders the eroticism of stories and the mysterious ways language and literature bridge the divide between inner and outer worlds; and it helps us make some sense, however gossamer, of life and death. A slyly philosophical novel."

-Donna Seaman, Booklist

"Beguiling...funny and philosophical...a surprisingly playful departure for Oz."
 
- Financial Times
 
"The book is a meditation on the art of writing, the relationship between literature and life, between life and death, and also about the nature and significance of literary fame....the work of a master...A book you are likely to return to."
 
- The Scotsman
 
"...it is fascinating to witness this assured and experienced writer address such basic novelistic concerns as life and death, love and sex, language and silence, along a spectrum from cynicism, through humour to candour."
 
- Sunday Telegraphy
 
 
 "...a deft way with quirky deail, a master class in interlocking character sketches, and a fable on themes of sex, death and writing ;pitched somewhere between the fictional universes of JM Coetzee and Milan Kundera."
 
- The Guardian
 
 
"Delectable...Amos Oz's Rhyming Life and Death is a midsummer night's dream."

- Buffalo News
 
 
"...a juicily sadistic fable of creation."
 
- Slate


" Israeli novelist Amos Oz performs an exquisite balancing act in his taut, evocative novel Rhyming Life & Death, which immerses readers in the vagaries of the creative process, never letting us forget that there’s an author pulling the strings, making the decisions—however arbitrary—and making us complicit in the illusion that these words on the page somehow represent lives lived, destinies fulfilled and desires thwarted."
(Kirkus Reviews 2009-03-01)

" Hilarious and profound, Oz’s tale of a mischievous taleteller ponders the eroticism of stories and the mysterious ways language and literature bridge the divide between inner and outer worlds; and it helps us make some sense, however gossamer, of life and death. A slyly philosophical novel."
(Donna Seaman Booklist 2009-03-15)

"Beguiling...funny and philosophical...a surprisingly playful departure for Oz."
(Financial Times)

"The book is a meditation on the art of writing, the relationship between literature and life, between life and death, and also about the nature and significance of literary fame....the work of a master...A book you are likely to return to."
(Allan Massie The Scotsman)

"...it is fascinating to witness this assured and experienced writer address such basic novelistic concerns as life and death, love and sex, language and silence, along a spectrum from cynicism, through humour to candour."
(Sunday Telegraphy)

 "...a deft way with quirky deail, a master class in interlocking character sketches, and a fable on themes of sex, death and writing ;pitched somewhere between the fictional universes of JM Coetzee and Milan Kundera."
(The Guardian)

"Delectable...Amos Oz's Rhyming Life and Death is a midsummer night's dream."
(Buffalo News 2009-03-29)

"...a juicily sadistic fable of creation."
(Slate 2009-04-06)
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 117 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; 1st Printing edition (April 14, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0151013675
  • ISBN-13: 978-0151013678
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 5.4 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,808,822 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Amos Oz was born in Jerusalem in 1939. He is the author of fourteen novels and collections of short fiction, and numerous works of nonfiction. His acclaimed memoir A Tale of Love and Darkness was an international bestseller and recipient of the prestigious Goethe prize, as well as the National Jewish Book Award. Scenes from Village Life, a New York Times Notable Book, was awarded the Prix Méditerranée Étranger in 2010. He lives in Tel Aviv, Israel.

Customer Reviews

3.5 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
When the Author, the otherwise unnamed main character of Amos Oz's newest work, arrives as the special guest for a literary evening at a community center in Tel Aviv, he expects the usual sorts of questions from his audience--Why do you write? What role do your books play? How would you define yourself? What his audience never suspects is that the author, while answering their sometimes intrusive questions about himself, is secretly inventing names and imaginary lives for them, connecting them to each other, and even continuing his musings about them well after the meeting is concluded. Approximately thirty-five characters, either in the audience or peripheral to their stories, dominate the Author's interior life, even as the real humans behind these stories are talking with him about his work.

Among these characters is Tsefania Beit-Halachmi (also known as Avraham "Bumek" Schuldenfrei), an (imaginary) elderly poet who is the author of a poetry collection called "Rhyming Life and Death." These poems echo throughout the book--mostly doggerel--as both the narrator/Author and the book's author, Amos Oz, explore serious questions of life and death, and eventually some less serious questions of sex and death.

After the meeting, the Author escorts the unattractive and painfully shy Rochele Reznik home to her apartment, hoping for an evening of passion. His failure leads him to explore the ideas of Arnold Bartok, a part-time philosopher (invented) who has noted that "It is not life and death that came into the world as a pair, but sex and death." Death, Bartok believes, appeared when sexual reproduction was created, and it is sex that has led to aging and death.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By G. Dawson on September 8, 2009
Format: Hardcover
This slim, inventive novel covers an 8-hour period in which a well-known author (referred to, simply, as the Author) participates in a reading from his recently published book. All the while, the Author concocts fictional personalities and stories about the real people he encounters during the course of the evening. Two men in a café, observed as the Author eats a pre-reading omelet, become "a gangster's henchman" and his "agent of sorts, or perhaps a hairdryer salesman." The waitress is cast in a week-long romance with "the reserve goalkeeper of Bnei-Yehuda football team."

During the reading and afterwards, as the Author walks the city until 4 a.m., his stories spin out into ever greater layers of complexity and interrelatedness, and it becomes increasingly difficult to distinguish fact from fiction. Through it all, the Author questions why he writes and discovers his art has become his only connection to the world:
"[H]e continues to watch them and write about them so as to touch them without touching, and so that they touch him without really touching him. ... He is covered in shame and confusion because he observes them all from a distance, from the wings, as if they all exist only for him to make use of in his books. And with the shame comes a profound sadness that he is always an outsider, unable to touch or to be touched ...."

Rhyming Life & Death is an interesting conceptual novel. Oz's deconstruction of the creative process is unsettling because it reveals just how quickly we, the readers, will adopt a story line as a kind of "reality," at least with respect to the protagonist. While this book's cerebral pleasures are many, its emotional resonance falls flat. It's difficult to care much about the Author's roughly-drawn characters and sketchy stories, making Rhyming Life & Death more of an engaging philosophical exercise than a novel.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By James W. Fonseca on November 6, 2013
Format: Hardcover
An aging Israeli author is making the rounds of local book groups. (The brief book, 150 pages, is translated from the Hebrew.) We are treated to his mental peregrinations as the author sits there listening to his introduction, a reading of his work and a critic's response before he makes his remarks. Mostly he does what authors do: he imagines lives for the people in the audience. He also tries to pick up the waitress in the coffee shop (no success) and, after the event, the woman who reads his work. Success! Or not? He gives us both scenarios. This is fiction, after all, and the author is asking us "why should you believe everything I write?" A sample of the writing from the waitress's musings: "...men can't help themselves, that's just the way they are made, but women in her view are actually not much better, and that's why love is something that one way or another always turns out badly." A good, quick read.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Shalom Freedman HALL OF FAME on October 16, 2012
Format: Paperback
Amos Oz' greatest book 'A Tale of Love and Darkness' is an autobiography. But the greatest part of his literary career has been given to fiction, stories and above all novels. Here he writes a long story, or perhaps novella about what it is to be a well- known author, and how the imagination of such an author works. The author at the center of this work who attends a reading and discussion of his latest book engages in a game of imagining the lives of all the people he glances. One of these is the reader of the poems a woman who reads with special intensity and emotion who he then walks home. He has to decide whether or not he will have a small romantic adventure with her. He leaves her and then returns. And the description of their encounter is in a sense the emotional heart of the story. There is a detailed analysis of his feelings during the encounter. The element of psychologizing is strong here and throughout this imaginative enterprise.
One problem however for me was that characters imagined which we are told are imagined do not have the compelling power of characters we believe real. The work in spite of its fine and precise language and power of perception thus reads as a kind of exercise. It does not compel. And the writer who plays these games seems far less sympathetic than say the child depicted in a 'Tale of Love and Darkness.'
This is not to say this work does have its moments of pleasure but rather that it reads as if it is something the reader can choose to live with, and can as readily choose to live without.
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