Amos Oz
(Mariner Books, 1994, 336 pp., $14.00 paper)


“Fima got out of bed in his sweaty underwear, opened his shutters a crack, and looked out at the beginning of a winter day in Jerusalem.” I’ve read the novel Fima by Amos Oz three times, and yesterday I saw that everything I love about it is contained within this sentence.

In a sense, it’s always a winter day for Fima in Jerusalem. He’s an Israeli journalist in his early 50s, and his passionate springtime hopes for his native land have long been battered by the harsh winds of its tragic history. Yet he hasn’t given up. Despite political despair, despite his romantic failures and the accumulating indignities of aging (the sweaty underwear), he is still prone to flashes of profound love for the people around him, Jews and Arabs alike.

Toward the end of the book, Fima has a kind of kensho. Watching the winter light illumine everything he can see from his window, he realizes that “ultimate wakefulness [is] the most longed-for ideal.” A few pages later, he is once again dealing with his chronic midlife urinary difficulties. In its union of sacred and profane, this book is for me an eloquent embodiment of my favorite koan: “Outside the temple gates, a dog is pissing to the skies.”

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