Rhyming Life and Death

by Amos Oz, Nicholas De Lange

An ingenious, witty, behind-the-scenes novel about eight hours in the life of an author.

A literary celebrity is in Tel Aviv on a stifling hot night to give a reading from his new book.While the obligatory inane questions ("Why do you write? What is it like to be famous? Do you write with a pen or on a computer?) are being asked and answered, his attention wanders and he begins to invent lives for the strangers he sees around him. Among them are Yakir Bar-Orian Zhitomirski, a self-styled literary guru; Tsefania Beit-Halachmi, a poet (whose work provides the novel’s title); and Rochele Reznik, a professional reader, with whom the Author has a brief but steamy sexual skirmish; to say nothing of Ricky the waitress, the real object of his desire. One life story builds on another—and the author finds himself unexpectedly involved with his creations.

  • Format: Paperback
  • ISBN-13/ EAN: 9780547336244
  • ISBN-10: 0547336241
  • Pages: 128
  • Publication Date: 04/26/2010
  • Carton Quantity: 24

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About the Book
About the Authors
  • About the Book
    In this deft, masterly book, Amos Oz turns his attention away from his family—the subject of the internationally acclaimed A Tale of Love and Darkness—and toward his profession, writing. The plot: eight hours in the life of an author. The setting: Tel Aviv, a stifling, hot night. A literary celebrity is giving a reading from his new book. And as his attention wanders, he begins to invent lives for the strangers he sees around him: here, a self-styled cultural guru, Yakir Bar-Orian Zhitomirski; there, a love-starved professional reader, Rochele Reznik; to say nothing of Ricky the waitress, the real object of his desire. One life story builds on another, and the author finds himself unexpectedly involved with his creations . . .


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  • About the Author
  • Excerpts
    THESE ARE THE MOST COMMONLY ASKED QUESTIONS. Why do you write? Why do you write the way you do? Are you trying to influence your readers, and, if so, how? What role do your books play? Do you constantly cross out and correct or do you write straight out of your head? What is it like to be a famous writer and what effect does it have on your family? Why do you mostly describe the negative side of things? What do you think of other writers: which ones have influenced you and which ones can’t you stand? And by the way, how would you define yourself? How would you respond to those who attack you, and what do the attacks do to you? Do you write with a pen or on a computer? And how much, roughly, do you earn from each book? Do you draw the material for your stories from your imagination or directly from life? What does your ex-wife think of the female characters in your books? And, in fact, why did you leave your first wife, and your second wife? Do you have fixed times for writing or do you just write when the muse visits you? Are you politically committed as a writer, and, if so, what is your political affiliation? Are your books autobiographical or completely fictional? And above all, how is it that, as a creative artist, you lead such a stolid, unexciting private life? Or are there all sorts of things that we don’t know about you? And how can a writer, an artist, spend his life working as an accountant? Or is it simply a job for you? And tell us, doesn’t being an accountant totally kill your muse? Or do you have another life, one that’s not for publication? Won’t you at least give us a few hints this evening? And would you please tell us, briefly and in your own words, what exactly you were trying to say in your last book?
    There are clever answers and there are evasive answers: there are no simple, straightforward answers.
         And so the Author will sit down in a little café three or four streets away from the Shunia Shor Community Center building where the literary evening is to take place. The interior of the café feels low, gloomy, and suffocating, which is why it suits him rather well right now. He will sit here and try to concentrate on these questions. (He always arrives half an hour or forty minutes early for any meeting, and so he always has to find something to do to pass the time.) A tired waitress in a short skirt, and with high breasts, dabs a cloth over his table: but the Formica remains sticky even after she has wiped it. Maybe the cloth was not clean?
         While she does it the Author eyes her legs: they are shapely, attractive legs, although the ankles are a little on the thick side. Then he steals a look at her face: it is a pleasant, sunny face, with eyebrows that meet in the middle and the hair tied back with a red rubber band. The Author detects a smell of sweat and soap, the smell of a weary woman. He can make out the outline of her underpants through her skirt. His eyes fix on this barely discernible shape: he finds a slight asymmetry in favor of the left buttock exciting. She notices his look groping at her legs, her hips, her waist, and her face expresses disgust and entreaty: just leave me alone, for heaven’s sake.
    And so the Author politely looks away, orders an omelet and salad with a roll and a glass of coffee, extracts a cigarette from its packet, and holds it unlit in between the second and third fingers of his left hand which is supporting his cheek: an intensely cultured look that fails to impress the waitress because she has already turned on the heels of her flat shoes and vanished behind the partition.
         While he waits for his omelet, the Author imagines the waitress’s first love (he decides to name the waitress Ricky): when Ricky was only sixteen she fell in love with the reserve goalkeeper of Bnei-Yehuda football team, Charlie, who turned up one rainy day in his Lancia in front of the beauty parlor where she worked and swept her away for a three-day break in a hotel in Eilat (of which an uncle of his was part-owner). While they were there, he even bought her a sensational evening dress with silver sequins and everything, that made her look like a Greek singer, but after two weeks or so he dropped her and went off again to the same hotel, this time with the runner-up in the Queen of the Waves contest. Eight years and four men later, Ricky has never stopped dreaming that one day he will come back: he had episodes where he would seem to be terribly angry with her, really scary, dangerous, as if he was about to go crazy, and she was quite alarmed at times, but suddenly, in an instant, his mood would lighten and he would forgive her, cuddling her with childlike happiness, calling her Gogog, kissing her neck, tickling her with his warm breath, gently parting her lips with his nose, like this, which gave her a warm sensation that crept over her body, like honey, then suddenly he would toss her up in the air, hard, like a pillow, until she screamed for her mother, but he always caught her at the very last moment and hugged her, so she wouldn’t fall. He liked to tickle her with the tip of his tongue, slowly for a long time behind both ears and inside her ears and on the nape of her neck where the finest hairs grew, until that feeling crept over her like honey again. Charlie never raised a finger against her or called her names. He was the first man who taught her to slow-dance, and to wear a micro bikini, and to lie naked face down in the sun and think dirty thoughts, and he was the first man to teach her what drop earrings with green stones did for her face and neck.
         But then he was forced to return the Lancia and wear a plaster cast on his fractured arm and he went off to Eilat again but this time with a different girl, Lucy, who almost won the Queen of the Waves competition, and, before he left, he said to Ricky, Look here, Gogog, I’m really really sorry but try to understand. Lucy was before you, Lucy and I didn’t really break up, we just had a bit of a spat and somehow it turned out that we didn’t see each other for a while, but now we’re back together again and that’s that, Lucy said to tell you that she’s really not mad at you, no hard feelings, you’ll see, Gogog, after a while you’ll gradually get over our thing together and I’m sure you’ll find someone who suits you more, because the fact is, you deserve someone better, you deserve the best there is. And the most important thing, Gogog, is that you and I only have good feelings about each other, no?
    Eventually Ricky gave the sequined dress away to a cousin and relegated the bikini to the back of a drawer, behind her sewing kit, where it was forgotten: 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.
         Charlie hasn’t played for Bnei-Yehuda for a long while. Now he has a wife and three children and owns a factory in Holon making solar water heaters?—?they say he even exports them wholesale to the Occupied Territories and to Cyprus. And what about that Lucy? With her skinny legs? What happened to her in the end? Did Charlie throw her away too when he’d finished using her? If only I had her address, or her phone number, and if I had the guts, I’d go and look her up. We could have a coffee together. And talk. We might even become friends, the two of us. It’s strange how I don’t give a damn about him anymore but I do care a bit about her. I never think about him at all, even with contempt, while I do sometimes think about her: because maybe she’s become a bit like me now? Did he call her
  • Reviews

    "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