Tag Archives: Israel

The Counterlife, by Philip Roth

Philip Roth has long been one of my favorite male authors, and in his novel, The Counterlife, I am reminded of his ability to blend the bizarre twists and turns that life throws us into a work of art that resounds with his full range and depth of literary intensity.

Nathan and Henry Zuckerman are estranged brothers, so very different, yet unaware how much alike they actually are. Nathan is an author, Henry is a dentist. For one of them, the reason for living borders on being able to be sexually active. In this respect, he decides to undergo surgery in order to counteract that problem. Even though the surgery could kill him, he elects to take that chance, all in the name of sexual identity. It is his counter life, to fit a desired outcome, a longing for what many of us want, a home, a family, marriage, and the “idealized” life.

Nathan, has long been estranged from Henry, and as an author, seems to live through his brother, writing novels whose characters include Henry. He has a counterlife through his stories, his fantasies and fiction, and his identity is one that is alive due to Henry. Although he is a prolific author in his own right, his works are derived from Henry’s life.

Therein lies the clue in this well written novel. The issue of identity, and what it means to us, is at the core of the story line. What one will do, in order to preserve identity, to create the life we long for, and what we view as our Self, our essence, is the soul of the book. The characters each invent a counter life, a life invented, a life created, in order to transfer their current life, into one they believe is better. The reader is exposed to the characters fears and how they choose to rewrite their own histories.

From travels to Israel, and connecting with one’s Jewish spirituality, to funeral attendance, and delivering a eulogy, from the streets of the U.S, to France, and England, we are confronted with issues of identity, including spirtiual, emotional, sexual, and all the levels and tiers in between. We are confronted with our own questions of identity, who we are, what we believe, and, finally the question of whether the end result is our own creation of ourselves?

Roth writes with humor, with seriousness, and with a profound and intense insight into the humanity, the insecurities, the deep fears, and the identity crises that exists within all of us. Roth’s strong words and strong theme, shows us how a counter life is not always productive, but could produce undesirable effects, in the end. We might not always receive what we wish for, but then again, we might receive it, but it could turn out that our counter life is actually counter-productive. Philip Roth’s The Counterlife is excellent, and his writing is masterful and brilliant, encapsulating the full range of emotions, and writing down to the bare bones, as only he knows how.

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The Same Sea, by Amos Oz

The Same Sea, by Amos Oz, is a captivating, lyrical, mystical prose poem for the heart and mind. Oz’s word-paintings fill our senses with emotions ranging from A to Z.

The novel has several characters whose lives join together and are intertwined, through the root of one particular person. The characters often cross emotional and societal boundaries in their search for peace, fulfillment, love, comittment and their search for Self. Compromises are made and broken, as familial ties and bonds become unhinged, as lives intersect.

Not far from the sea, Mr. Albert Danon lives in Amirim Street, alone. He is fond of olives and feata; a mild accountant, he lost his wife not long ago. Nadia Danon died one morning of ovarian cander, leaving some clothes, a dressing table, some finely embroidered place mats. Their only son, Enrico David, has gone off mountaineering in Tibet.”

The characters in The Same Sea are interesting, and each one has their own narrative to tell on their journey. There journeys are filled with their yearnings and longings for what was, what is, what could be. They all strive for serenity, and also for redemption. One of Oz’s characters, Rico, is on an odyssey of sorts, trying to find his place in a world filled with the void and loss of his mother. Albert, his father, also feels loss, the loss of his wife, and the loss of his son who has left to journey the world, not knowing exactly what he is searching for. Fathers, mothers, wives, husbands, lovers, friends, acquaintances are all entwined in this magical story.

Oz refers to the Bible in The Same Sea, to the beautiful “The Song of Songs“, with the dislpay of eroticism in some of his pages. The novel moves through time and place, legendary figures and geography, and through several generations of one family whose lives interweave with others. There is an ongoing family dispute. The never ending sea, a bird, and the desert are significant factors to which allusions are made. From dry humor to extreme poignancy, The Same Sea is a beautifully written tapestry, each page a thread in the fabric of life, each page almost a prose poem on its own.

Oz has a deep sense of all things unsettling, of the strong human need and quest for inner peace, and the desire for serenity within an environment of chaos and disquiet. He is subtle in his undertones regarding his nation, but nonetheless the hope is there, underlying, between the lines. A vision of peace hovers in the longings of the characters. Oz’s observations on human behavior fill the pages with words of lament. The Same Sea is extremely mystical and magical. Its pages are not only lyrical, but almost musical, evoking the serene sound of a lute or flute between the eloquent lines. The novel is beautifully written with strong imagery, enticing our imagination, beckoning us to read on. It is a novel of dreams, desires and of hope, a sojourn towards peace. It evokes ideas of life, death and dying alone, and of acceptance of the inevitability that life goes on, no matter what occurs. The Same Sea is an extremely crafted prose poem not to be missed in its creative edge. It is an insightful metaphor for life, and for the desire and hope for peace.

All rivers flow to the same sea.”

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