Two Kids Head Off in Search of Truth

Amos Oz dedicated the book to his four grandchildren - Dayan, Nadav, Alon and Yael, who, he says, helped him write the book.

Anyone wondering what author Amos Oz would write about after publishing "A Tale of Love and Darkness," his broad autobiographic novel that could be deemed the pinnacle of his work, now has the answer. Oz has turned in a totally different direction, and has written a tale for children and adults, "Pit'om Be'omek Haya'ar," (Suddenly, Deep in the Forest), published by Keter Books.

The new book was to have been released as a children's book, but then the publisher decided to use a cover that would also appeal to adult readers. It seems like a break from Oz's usual personal, national and realistic subjects. In this book, Oz turns to the genre of fantasy and addresses an underlying social problem: attitudes toward those who are different in a society that suffers from the "sickness of contempt for and mockery of others," as he puts it.

At the heart of the story are two children, Mia and Mati, growing up in a small and frightened village in the heart of the forest. One day, all the animals in the village disappear following a strange incident that no one dares talk about. Mia and Mati decide to leave the village limits, enter the forest and search for the truth - where are the animals, why did they disappear and who is the night demon that all the village residents fear?

Oz dedicated the book to his four grandchildren - Dayan, Nadav, Alon and Yael, who, he says, helped him write the book. "I tell my grandchildren all sorts of stories," he says, "and they don't just sit and listen - they also enhance and improve it. This is one of the stories I told them, and they returned it to me with interest. They came up with ideas and suggestions - it's almost a joint production of me and my grandchildren as well as their parents - a production of the whole tribe."

Oz is an active grandfather. How does he see his grandchildren compared to the child that he was? "I think they're being raised better than I was," he says. "My parents were refugees - terribly frightened, very unhappy with their lot, people who couldn't find their place. This was true of them, but it's less true of me and even less true of my children and grandchildren. They can find their place. That doesn't mean they live in harmony with what's going on here or that they voted for the present government, but they're totally from here. That's the major change."

Oz wanted to write a fantasy for a long time. "Until now I was deterred," he says, "because legends are something sweet and we're living in a bitter period. Why shouldn't I sit down and write something about what's going on in Hebron or Jabalya or right here. When I wrote this legend, I had pangs of guilt, but even if I hadn't written it, I'd have pangs of guilt. It's a not good situation when the only way to write about reality is documentary."

The book has quite a few echoes of various stories, for example the story of the Garden of Eden, Noah's Ark, the tales of King Solomon and even the Pied Piper of Hamelin. The common thread in all of them is a society that is punished for improper behavior. Which society is it that is afflicted with "the sickness of contempt for and mockery of others?"

"Today, there is a lot of mockery and bad will hovering in the air, and there are also people who create almost nothing else, including those who in many respects have similar opinions and ideologies to me and I go with them to the same demonstrations," says Oz. "But I hear a lot of scorn in the air. Perhaps when you are frustrated, when things aren't good, when you want to succeed and reality doesn't march to our beat - we tend to mock those who think that reality is marching to their beat."

On August 28, Oz received the prestigious Goethe Prize in Germany. "I really like to receive prizes, and anyone who tells you otherwise would not be telling the truth," he says. "It's really nice to get prizes, but there's always this little worm telling you that it's not right, because they gave me a prize for something I'd have done even if they'd given me a fine for doing it.

"It's as if they came and awarded a prize to someone for breathing - could he have refrained from breathing? I can't not write, ever since I was little. And if instead of the Israel Prize or the Goethe Prize, there was an Israel Fine or a Goethe Fine, I'd pay the fines and keep on writing."