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Book review and recommendation: Amos Oz, Suddenly In The Depths Of The Forest

my painting Dvori (Medium: oil paints on paper)

I'm a big fan of Amos Oz. Every book of his that I have read so far, I have fallen in love with. While I'm reading his books, I always have a feeling of entering a magical world of his creation. These worlds of his always enchante me, I do wish I could stay in them for longer periods of time. Oz is a great writer, no doubt about that. What I feel that I get by reading his books, however, is something that goes beyond reading a talented author or enjoying in an example of excellent writing. I feel like Oz lets us glance into his soul. A loving, tender and kind soul. I feel like he allows us to roam freely in his heart and soul. I wondered if it had anything to do with the autobiographical elements that are to be found in his writing. Nevertheless, I remembered that not all of his novels had those elements, even if most did. While I was browsing the Hebrew literature department in my local library, I came accoss this title: Suddenly In The Depths Of The Forest. So, when I say that he has written a fairy tale I knew I have to read it. I saw it, took in in my arms and naturally I haven't thought twice about whether I should take it with me. I borrowed it from the library and read in an hour or so. I was mersmerized, I was touched. Once again, I was in love.

“The best way to know the soul of another country is to read its literature.” ― Amos Oz

How would I describe this book? I would have to say that it is one of the most beautiful fairy tales that I have ever read! Please note that I have read quite a few. I love fairytales and this one is simply wonderful. This book is one of those rare achievements, a profound work of literature that is accessible to both children and adults. I can't tell you how much I enjoyed reading it! Like in some classic fairy tale, its protagonists are two brave children, a boy and a girl. They live in a village that is like any other village, except for one detail. It is devoid of animals. This creates a void in the hearts of its inhabitants. From this village all the animals disappeared long ago. Adults refuse to talk about this event, but they can’t help to recall it at times. Only two adults, an old man and a spinster school teacher still talk about animals. That is the village these two kids are growing up in.

If other adults won’t admit that there were animals among them, if they don’t approve children learning or inquiring about them, they cannot completely hide a sense of emptiness and sorrow that accompanies the mere mentioning of other creatures. The adults can’t help alluding to animals, mentioning them at least occasionally, thus confusing the children more. The disappearance of animals can have many metaphorical meanings. When you read this book, I’m sure you’ll be able to come up with many interpretations yourself. For the sake of an introduction, perhaps it is enough to say that the disappearance of animals is a taboo. Oz managed to present a society that is ruled by fear, that is unable to face its past or speak of its taboos. A society that won’t admit that there is something wrong. Now, isn’t this often the case with human societies? 

“I believe that if one person is watching a huge calamity, let’s say a conflagration, a fire, there are always three principle options.
1. Run away, as far away and as fast as you can and let those who cannot run burn.
2. Write a very angry letter to the editor of your paper demanding that the responsible people be removed from office with disgrace. Or, for that matter, launch a demonstration.
3. Bring a bucket of water and throw it on the fire, and if you don’t have a bucket, bring a glass, and if you don’t have a glass, use a teaspoon, everyone has a teaspoon. And yes, I know a teaspoon is little and the fire is huge but there are millions of us and each one of us has a teaspoon. Now I would like to establish the Order of the Teaspoon. People who share my attitude, not the run away attitude, or the letter attitude, but the teaspoon attitude – I would like them to walk around wearing a little teaspoon on the lapel of their jackets, so that we know that we are in the same movement, in the same brotherhood, in the same order, The Order of the Teaspoon.” ― Amos Oz

I mentioned that our protagonists are brave. As funny as it may seem, the foundation of this bravery seems to be fear. These two children aren’t afraid to admit they are afraid. Both of them are outcasts in a way. What makes them outcasts is nothing extraordinary. The boy, for instance, dreams of animals. He tells his dreams to other children, even if he knows he will be mocked. This boy and this girl are willing to face their fear. They are aware there are things they do not know about but they don’t let that stop them. I think children will find it easy to relate to them. Their portrayal and character development is wonderful. Little by little, we get to see more, we get to know the souls and hearts of these two children.

There is simplicity in the writing, but the fact that it is written for children doesn’t take anything from the beauty of the writing. Even without using big words, this novel is written in a very lyrical way. Its prose is enchanting and it flows ever so naturally. It invokes strong sensations and emotions, yet it does it so softly and effortlessly. Sinking into this world is so easy and it feels so natural, almost like falling to sleep and dreaming a beautiful dream. Once you finish reading this novel, you’ll have a feeling that you’ve woken up from a dream. Not just any dream. One of those deeply meaningful dreams that made you realize something you failed to grasp while you were awake. One of those dreams that make your heart full. 

I would make this book a mandatory reading in schools everywhere. Its speaks about bullying without bitterness, it speaks about love and friendship without sentimentality, it speaks about the need to overcome our fears without being pretentious. This fairy tale manages to explore in depth so many difficult yet important subject, that I cannot call it anything else but amazing. The story is well constructed and is surely capable of keeping the full attention of reader (whatever age he/she might be). Moreover, it conveys such a powerful message of hope. I read it in a heartbeat. It warmed my heart. It uplifted my spirit. Read it to your children. If you don’t have any, read it to your baby cuisines or children of your friends. Read it to yourself. Let the message sink in deep. 

****** I published  a similiar review on goodreads some time ago (you can see it here).  The only difference is that this one is slighty longer and that I decided to include some quotes by Amos Oz.

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