Friday, July 28, 2017
Amos Oz - Judas (Chatto & Windus, 2016) **
Shmuel Ash is a jewish student in the Jerusalem of 1959, and although he was writing a university text on early christianity and the role of Judas, he drops out and becomes the assistant of an old man, to keep him company when the old man requires. Shmuel falls in love with the old man's 40-year old lively yet mysterious daughter-in-law, Atalia Abravanel. Her deceased father used to be one of Israel's traitors, a man who advocated for one single state under international control where jews and arabs could live together. As a vocal anti-zionist his named and reputation had been smeared. Like Judas, he was the traitor of his own heritage and culture.
The concept of the novel sounds good. Different layers are at work, past and present, myth and reality, personal lives and historic facts, with often differences in perspectives, including during the long discussions between Shmuel and the old man. The shifting perspectives on the concept of traitor of course also surface. Was Judas a traitor, or was he the one without whom the crucifixion and resurrection could not have taken place?
So far so good, but all this does not make the novel really a strong literary achievement. The characters are dull, with the exception of Atalia, the story is without inherent tension, and stylistically it is not very special. What remains is a novel of ideas. Strangely enough, the deep sense of anger caused by betrayal, the confusion it creates, the uncertainty about whether or not to go against the own group, the cowardice or courage are all very strong and deep emotions that deserved a better story than the one offered. But maybe that's just another layer. That the distant reporting by the uninteresting characters is in itself a betrayal of the deep personal human crisis that betrayal constitutes.