NPR’s Tom Ashbrook interviewed Israeli novelist Amos Oz this week. Besides Oz’s outspoken calls for a two-state solution, it was intriguing to hear about Oz’s new book Scenes From a Village Life, and how he was influenced by the American writer Sherwood Anderson, author of the Winesburg, Ohio series.
Oz eschews the “world of CNN,” writing that the way to understand the human condition is to examine the very local, simple things:
When I was 16 and hoping to become a writer, I felt I was trapped in a Catch-22 situation. I thought that in order to become a famous writer I had to first live in a big city like London, or New York, or Paris — but in order to afford to live in a big city, I had to be a famous writer first. … Then I read the Hebrew translation of Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio, and he taught me that for a writer, the place that you are is the center of the universe. This is anti-Copernican. … This liberated my writing hand and set me going.
On why “place” in literature matters:
Almost all my favorite writers, my mentors, were provincial writers, who wrote about small-time people in small places, in villages or small towns. Chekhov, Garcia Marquez, Sherwood Anderson, Faulkner, and many others. I strongly believe that a novel — the more provincial it is, the universal it may become; the more local it is, the more universal it may become; even the more parochial it is, the more universal it may become. This is in the nature of good literature. It tells the story of small-time people in a small place, in a remote place, and somehow it hits a chord of solidarity in the hearts of many, many readers.
On different kinds of readers:
Unhappy readers are my best readers. … The Israelis are not like the Americans. The Americans read a novel to enjoy it. The Israelis read in order to get worked up. They read to disagree; they read to differ.
You can listen to the whole interview here.