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Land of Oz

The newest book by Israeli writer Amos Oz was published three days ago - "Scenes from Village Life."

The name of the particular Israeli village is Tel-Ilan, a pioneer village "in the Manasseh Hills" with "vineyards and fruit orchards" and "tall cypresses in the cemetery," according to an Arab visitor much taken with its beauty in one of the stories. Other residents of the village, though, see desolation and decline. Which makes their 72-year-old Israeli chronicler one of the more provocative writers in the world, perhaps the bard of the essential parallax of Arab-Israeli relations in world literature (and therefore, a perennial Nobel candidate).

The facile -- and erroneous thing -- is, no doubt, to suspect bloodlines with the stories of Isaac Bashevis Singer and Sholem Alechem. In fact, the primal literary experience of a teenage Amos Oz on a kibbutz was Sherwood Anderson's "Winesburg, Ohio."

Oz told the New Yorker that as a writer he was like "the Tom Sawyer or Huckleberry Finn of history. To me it was like sailing alone on a raft on the Mississippi River, except it was a river made of books and words and stories and historical tales and secrets and separations." He's also said that being an Israeli his age is like "being an American who is 250 years old."

For Oz, then, to visit America and read from his work couldn't possibly be more natural. His primal influence was American. Oz will read from his work at 8 p.m. Thursday in Kleinhans Music Hall, as part of the Babel Literary series.

-- Jeff Simon

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