Elsewhere, Perhaps

By Amos Oz


Amos Oz, born in 1939, is properly regarded by many readers and critics as Israel’s most famous living author. He won numerous international literary prizes, such as the “Peace Prize of the German Book Trade” and “The Israel Prize.” His works have been published in over forty languages in over forty countries. His name originally was Klausner. He adopted the name Oz, which means “courage” and “strength.”

He is a keen observer of human behavior and the psychology, stresses, and environment that prompts the behavior, and he depicts this knowledge extraordinarily well generally in novel ways in his books. He is a non-conformist, he and his family are not religious, and considers religion absurd. He advocates a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict. He lived and worked, often in menial job on a kibbutz, as other members did, even after receiving literary acclaim, for many years until 1986 when his family needed to move to a changed climate because of the health of one of his children. While in the kibbutz, he participated in border skirmishes with Syria. His depiction of life in a kibbutz and religious people in it is somewhat critical and mocking. All of this is reflected among much else in his book “Elsewhere, Perhaps.” This book was published in Hebrew in 1966, as Makom aher, which can be translated “Elsewhere” or “Another Place,” a year before the 1967 Six Day War and the capture by Israel of much territory, and it reflects the activities and mind-set of 1966 and earlier times. The English title “Elsewhere, Perhaps” may suggest that the sometimes bizarre incidences in this book are not unique to a kibbutz.

The book describes the lives of the various members of a socialist kibbutz in northern Israel, located adjacent to the Syrian border. Syrian soldiers on the mountain top overlooking the kibbutz fire rifle shots at the kibbutz from time to time, not to kill, but to harass. The kibbutz has a shelter for ready use for when the Syrians decide to be less merciful. The ownership of a piece of land adjacent to the kibbutz is disputed. The kibbutz decides that the time is ripe to assert their legal right to the land by planting on it. One member loses his life during the brief struggle.

This was a time when the prophet’s metaphor of a wolf lying with a lamb has been fulfilled in a way unforeseen by the prophet: wolves are lying down with wolves.

The lives of the kibbutz inhabitants are told by an unknown member of the kibbutz with frequent mockery. We hear from this narrator about people such as a somewhat elderly male who is having an adulterous relationship with the wife of the kibbutz’s truck driver, who, as everyone else in the kibbutz, knows about the affair. The man’s wife left him for a Jew from Germany who was visiting the couple. She went with this German Jew after repeatedly telling her husband that she cannot stand this man.  The cuckolded truck driver, in turn, is pursued by the sixteen-year-old daughter of the man having sex with his wife, who wants to have sex with this much older man.

The sixteen-year-old had previously been close friends with a boy around her age who still pines for her. He had a brother who was killed during a battle against Arab forces. He wants to join the Israeli army to show his courage to himself and others. His mother does not want him to enlist because she does not want to lose two sons.

These are just a few of the people in this excellent novel.