Some years later, as he faced his life backwards, this writer was to remember the week he welcomed Fania Oz and her husband, and then his father passed. At that time it was all so sudden, the events were so recent they lacked names, and in order to name them it was necessary to point. This is a rough but daringly ambitious paraphrasing of the opening lines of “One Hundred Years of Solitude” by Gabriel García Marquez, as translated by Gregory Rabassa. Other openings come to mind, literal: “I was born and bred in a tiny, low-ceilinged ground-floor flat”, by Amos Oz in “A Tale of Love and Darkness”; or, “I am writing this because people I loved have died”, also by Amos Oz in “My Michael”. What is it about opening-lines that draw me so; what is it about closure that awes me so.
One cannot know, nor even venture, how some random facts come to connect at one point in one’s life. If one were a true believer of God one would call these coincidences His workings. But if one is merely a seeker of notions of the unnamed, a reader or a writer of sorts, one has to face these connections and attempt to work them out. Looking for starting points might be a path into some kind of insight and some certainty for closure.
In the three quoted novels it is all a matter of Time. Fiction is attractive and captivating as Literature because it resembles life while it can play, twist, and transform time as we perceive it. When two significant facts happen in a short period of your own time on earth, and if you’re well-read enough, you cannot but remember and make your own the lines somebody else wrote, sometime ago. Not for you, but for your benefit.
When I first read “One Hundred Years of Solitude” I was living away from home; that is Uruguay, South-America. The novel hit me as a portent of language and imagery; its ending struck me in all its fatalism. At that time my father was younger than I’m now, working, making a living for all of us, and had buried his dreams and ideals deep into responsibility and obligation.
When I first read “A Tale of Love and Darkness” I was my father’s age of 30 years before, 52. I had also, although very reluctantly, buried my dreams and become a father and a provider. The novel hit me as a personal story that could very well be my own; as Borges would put it, “only the circumstances were different, the time, and one or two proper names” (“Emma Zunz”). Despite the ultimate acceptance of what is to be, it impressed me deeply in all its sweet, consoling, hope.
When finally real life overcame fiction Amos Oz Z’L had passed 10 months before, while my father was to pass that week. As expected as can be, death is full of sadness and significance; sadness is for all, significance for those who seek it. In the end, it is all about consolation and hope.
Fania Oz and her husband Eli Salzberger came to Montevideo for the 10th anniversary of my blog www.tumeser.com. We didn’t know each other, but knew of each other through Twitter, this new resource for mixing fiction and reality for the better or the worse. We all bet on the better, we aim at the best.
During their stay with us, aside from her lectures, we had plenty of time to share and bond as individuals, as Jews, and as Zionists. Fiction invaded reality when I made conversation out of Oz’s novels, not realizing that this Fania, even if she bears her grandmother’s name, is well ahead of that time. There’s a story beyond the novel and beyond Amos Oz “the myth”. Fania and Eli are prominent academics in their fields, fully compromised with their ideals, and looking towards the future with hope and determination.
In the midst of the week we were going to spend together my father’s health deteriorated sharply and he passed.
My father had been one of the pioneers Amos the child imagined beyond the mountains. When it was time for his life to end, we had brought into our lives, here in the Diaspora, the very best of that Israel, the Israel which is not in the news, the Israel of idealism, humanism, and social justice.
As I look at pictures of my father in Jerusalem in 1950, when he attended the Machon Lemadrichim, I cannot but think it was not that far from the Jerusalem of Amos Oz in the 1930’s and 1940’s. The Yemin Moshe windmill still stands still and alone on the rocky hills in my father’s picture as it did in the Klausners’ walk through Jerusalem in chapter seven of the novel (“To our left we could see the sails of the windmill…”). I’m sure my father could also feel, back then, “a wordless tension as we left the confines of the Hebrew city, as though we were crossing an invisible border…”; there’s a silent picture of the walls of Old Jerusalem and the Tower of David that testify to that. I know my father saw all of that, but it was Amos Oz who put it into words.
It all came together during these days of November 2019, Cheshvan 5780. As I waited, never knowing when, for my father’s last breath, I was immersed in and blessed by the discourse of my beloved “good ol’ Eretz Israel” in the words of Fania Oz; the Israel my parents taught me to love, the one that made me a Jew in the first place, the one that makes me a Jew at heart because nothing, and only now I know, nothing moves me as a Jew as Eretz Israel does. Even if I’ve learned to pray, or Halacha, and even if I don’t live in Israel.
“One Hundred Years of Solitude” ends as follows: “everything written (…) was unrepeatable since time immemorial and forever more, because races condemned to one hundred years of solitude did not have a second opportunity on earth.” On the other hand, “A Tale of Love and Darkness” ends like this: “… the bird Elise called to her in wonderment and called to her again and again in vain and yet it went on trying over and over again and it still tries sometimes.” As Jews we tend to move between a notion of fatalism and a notion of redemption, between “everything written” and “it still tries sometimes.” We belong to hundreds of years of solitude and still tell tales of love, and darkness.
This is no small consolation when one as loved as a father is loved has left forever. That somehow all, or at least many, of the events of one’s life come finally together as one stands by the grave. Consolation lays in memories but transcendence arises from the building of significance. And that is left to us, the living, to do.
In memory of my father Iosef ben Pinhas and Sara.