SUDDENLY IN THE DEPTHS OF THE FOREST by Amos Oz

Book Quote:

“Just then a cow came toward them, a slow cow, an extremely proud and well-connected cow, a very distinguished cow adorned with black and white spots. She trudged and swayed her way slowly, filled with self-importance, past the sleepy tigers, nodding her head two or three times as if she was totally and completely and entirely not surprised, absolutely not surprised, on the contrary, all her calculations had been correct and all her early assumptions had proved to be accurate, and now she nodded also because she was pleased she was right and also because she definitely agreed with herself fully and utterly and always, and without the slightest shadow of a doubt.”

Book Review:

Review by Roger Brunyate В (MAR 21, 2011)

Any writer who can so completely capture the essence of cowness, even in translation (here by Sondra Silverston) is most certainly worth reading, and I am entirely pleased to make the acquaintance of Israeli novelist Amos Oz. Never mind that this airy little story of 2005, which the author describes as “A fable for all ages,” is almost certainly merely a footnote to Oz’s work, barely reflecting what I understand to be the seriousness of his major work, let alone the outspoken commitment of his political writings. It is still a story worth reading once for its charm and twice for its meaning.

The appearance of this gloriously self-satisfied cow is significant because the story opens in a village entirely without animals. A few older inhabitants, such as Emanuella the teacher or Almon the Fisherman, still remember what dogs, cats, and goats looked and sounded like, but people treat their memories with unconvinced indulgence. Almon, of course, is no longer a fisherman because there are no longer fish to catch; he spends his days talking to his scarecrow, even though there are no birds to scare away. No woodworm, either, to send him to sleep with the sound of their gentle chomping on his furniture. One night, all the animals suddenly disappeared, taken up presumably into the dark forest-clad mountains surrounding the village. The inhabitants lock their doors securely at night, for Old Nehi the Demon is liable to come prowling and snatch children away, as he has already taken the animals.

One child does disappear into the forest: Little Nimi with the gap between his buck teeth and the snot hanging out of his nose, who was never really part of the other groups of children, though eagerly tagging along behind. Little Nimi, who disappears one day only to come back three weeks later, whooping like an owl but insanely happy to be going his own way. Which was all very well, since of course he could not go back to school with his whoopitis, or even to his home. Two other children, Matti and Maya, also stay a little apart from the others, because they share a secret: that once, in the depths of a very narrow pool in the river, they saw a small, silvery, but very live fish. One day, Matti and the even bolder Maya decide to go up into the forest to see for themselves; the second half of the book tells of what they found there.

A fable for all ages? Perhaps. I could certainly imagine reading it to children, although they might get bored with the first part of the book, which moves slowly, telling much the same thing over in only slightly different ways. But it certainly builds an atmosphere, a brooding sense of fear, sterility, and repression. By contrast, the book moves almost too quickly at the end, as its targets multiply well beyond the simple moral of acceptance. More than once I was reminded of Browning’s Pied Piper. Children whose interest ends with the rambunctious rounding-up of the rats would be too young for the Oz. But those who can be moved by the pathos of the final scene where the children disappear, all except for the one who was too lame to keep up, would find a lot in this little book.

The best fables always do work for adults too. While nothing is every crassly hammered home, there are resonances of many kinds. Is it, for example, a fable for our century, with climate change and the loss of biodiversity? Is it about people haunted by their past but unable to embrace it? Is it a political parable for a nation living in fear of its neighbors? I feel it is almost insulting to put these things in such stark terms, for Oz is far from simplistic. But the resonances are there, and I look forward to reading some of his other books where he addresses them more directly.

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-3-5from 27 readers
PUBLISHER: Harcourt Children’s Books; 1 edition (March 21, 2011)
REVIEWER: Roger Brunyate
AVAILABLE AS A KINDLE BOOK? YES! Start Reading Now!
AUTHOR WEBSITE: Wikipedia page on Amos Oz
EXTRAS: Reading Guide and Excerpt
MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION: Read our review of:

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March 21, 2011 В· Judi Clark В· No Comments
Tags: ,  В· Posted in: Allegory/Fable, Speculative (Beyond Reality), World Lit

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