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November 25, 1988 - Image 19

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1988-11-25

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

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reason Alec gives his money
away so freely is that he is dy-
ing of cancer. When he comes
to Zikhron to die, Ilana takes
Yifat and nurses him through
his last days.
Michel, convinced the cou-
ple has resumed conjugal
relations, removes Yifat and
begins divorce proceedings. li-
ana explains the situation
fully to Michel, but he is un-
moved by her appeals to take
her back when Alec dies.
The ultimate exoticism of
the novel is expressed in two
ways.
One is the verbal power in-
vested lyrically in Ilana's role
and dynamically in Alec's
role.
Nowhere has Oz written
more brilliantly than in the
exchanges of letters between

She is not likely to
be a favorite of
women readers
and many men will
view her with one-
dimensional
contempt.

these two. They are filled with
dazzling similes and
metaphors, with soaring pro-
se poems of gret beauty,
detailing both the anguish of
the human heart in Ilana's
remarks and the cruelty of a
proud and powerful man's ex-
tended wrath after his years
of sexual humiliation.
In the end, as they begin
finally to understand one
another, there is some soften-
ing, some tenderness.
Power-laden as Oz's
language is, the most graphic
manifestation of exoticism is
in Ilana's characterization as
a goddess.
She carries out all the func-
tions of the fructifying
feminine spirit. Not hemmed
in by patriarchal concepts of
dominance, she has freely
bestowed her favors on scores
of men so that the whole
earth might be enriched.
Like women in ancient
times who gave themselves to
strangers on the pagan tem-
ple steps, Ilana expects to find
a god in them. It is to that god
she pays her respects, not the
mere mortals she services.
She gives birth to a boy and
a girl, lives close to the earth,
celebrating its seasons, its
turns and returns, waits pa-
tiently for renewal, nurturing
with her maternal strength
all who come within her sway.
And, traditionally, she

fulfills the woman's role in
readying the male for his
burial by tending to Alec's
needs, washing and dressing
him, feeding him, cleaning
him when he no longer can
control his functions.
Clearly, Ilana is the positive
mother in one aspect, but she
is no less the destroying god-
dess in her negative role —
deceptive, raging and
treacherous.
She is not likely to be a
favorite of women readers and
many men will view her with
one-dimensional contempt.
What Oz intends to give us
is a modern incarnation of an
ancient Mediterranean earth-
goddess in full dress. She is
primal, archetypal, universal.
This, I think, is the main
point to be made in assessing
the worth of this new novel.
Other critics, both in Israel
and America, have pondered
the meaning of Black Box,
arguing that it is more
political than literary — that
it is, for example, Oz's protest
against the land-expansionist
policies of the Likud
government.
But Oz has repeatedly
disclaimed being polemical in
his fiction, and we should
take him at his word.
Times do change, but some
things like the elusive com-
plexity of the human psyche
remain constant and any in-
sight a sensitive and percep-
tive author like Oz can con-
tribute is as welcome as the
recovery of a black box — an
airplane's flight recorder —
after a crash for what its con-
tents can reveal about the
disaster.
Ilana, Alec and Michel have
"crashed," and in probing the
psyches of these exotic
pragmatists the Black Box ex-
plains their disaster and
makes it understandable to
us in a new Israeli parable
about the frailty of human
relationships.
(c) 1988 Joseph Cohen

Unemployment
Up Sharply

Jerusalem (JTA) — The
Cabinet was jolted by the
latest unemployment figures
Sunday.
The number of jobless in
Israel now stands at 26,000,
compared to 16,000 a year
ago, the ministers were told.
That represents an increase
in the unemployment rate to
7 percent in the third quarter
of this year from 5.6 percent
in the last quarter of 1987.

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THE DETROIT JEWISH NEWS

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