Simon Louvish spots flaws in an Israeli hero

Panther in the Basement by Amos Oz, Vintage, pounds 6.99

In our "obligatory review" culture, a narrowly defined canon of fiction is given space, regardless of merit, to the detriment of books judged surplus to requirements. Thus the Israeli novelist Amos Oz has been elevated by reviewers ignorant of Hebrew writing to a status as "the conscience of Israel". "One of the greatest prose writers in contemporary fiction," said The Times. Oh yeah? The success of Oz, both abroad and in Israel, has come about, in my view, because of his special talent for packaging banal concepts in an elegant and impeccably liberal format. Here is a case in point: a novella about a 12-year-old Jewish boy in Jerusalem in the last days of British colonial rule, around 1947, who is obsessed by his peers' accusations of treachery against him for his alleged friendship with an English soldier.

The young "Proffy", son of a scholar of Polish history, is playing out the game of Hebrew resistance against the deadlier, real terrorist activities of the underground Irgun movement. He is a typical nerd of his period, full of gauche ideas about girls and the kind of cliches of patriotic sacrifice that made successive Israeli generations blind to the damage inflicted on their Palestinian neighbours.

Oz has opted out of dealing with any of the hard consequences of this adolescent idiocy, and chosen a soft, rites-of-passage narrative. At times it achieves genuine poignancy, as in the boy's description of his father's prodigious library, carried forth from a world which pretended to value ideas but drowned itself in blood. But the whole thing is mostly harmless froth, though elegantly rendered, as always, by Oz's loyal translator, Nicholas de Lange. Nevertheless, Oz's latest bittersweet spoonful of nostalgia will do for a summer afternoon.

The dedicated foreign reader may be aware that Israel has produced other writers - such as David Grossman - whose works go far deeper. But the lottery of translation excludes huge swaths of more challenging writing. Even when translated, good works are still ignored. Most criminally, the two astounding Proustian novels of Ya'akov Shabtai, Past Continuous and Past Perfect, were both published in the US to familiar commercial disdain. Another popular writer, Meir Shalev, has also failed to penetrate the English-speaking realm. Readers may know of AB Yehoshua, Oz's twin, but not of Yitzhak Ben-Ner, Sami Michael or a host of others - such as the maverick Emile Habibi, whose Arabic work, in the Hebrew renditions by Anton Shamas, was sufficiently recognised as a force in modern Israel to earn him the prestigious Israel Prize.

For those crazy enough to want to get a handle on a literary world that fully reflects the turmoil and diversity of contemporary lsrael, I suggest an order note to City Lights Books at 261 Columbus Avenue, San Francisco, CA 94133, US, for Ammiel Alcalay's Keys to the Garden (a snip at $18.95). This fascinating anthology of work by Israel's "Sephardic" writers includes segments by such talents as Albert Swissa, Erez Elitton, Amira Hess, Bracha Serri and Samir Naqqash. Uniquely, Naqqash is a Jewish writer who writes in Arabic, in Israel. He'll never get into the New York Times Book Review that way!

Arts and Entertainment
The starship in Star Wars: The Force Awakens
filmsThe first glimpse of JJ Abrams' new film has been released online
The Speaker of the House will takes his turn as guest editor of the Today programme
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
The cast of Downton Abbey in the 2014 Christmas special
Arts and Entertainment
Jude Law in Black Sea


In Black Seahe is as audiences have never seen him before

Arts and Entertainment
Johnny Depp no longer cares if people criticise his movie flops


Arts and Entertainment
Scare tactics: Michael Palin and Jodie Comer in ‘Remember Me’

TVReview: Remember Me, BBC1
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Hope Fletcher
booksFirst video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Damien Hirst
artCoalition's anti-culture policy and cuts in local authority spending to blame, says academic
Arts and Entertainment
A comedy show alumni who has gone on to be a big star, Jon Stewart
tvRival television sketch shows vie for influential alumni
Arts and Entertainment
Jason goes on a special mission for the queen
tvReview: Everyone loves a CGI Cyclops and the BBC's Saturday night charmer is getting epic
Arts and Entertainment
Image has been released by the BBC
Arts and Entertainment
Will there ever be a Friends reunion?
Harry Hill plays the Professor in the show and hopes it will help boost interest in science among young people
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
A Van Gogh sold at Sotheby’s earlier this month
Arts and Entertainment

MusicThe band accidentally called Londoners the C-word

Arts and Entertainment
It would 'mean a great deal' to Angelina Jolie if she won the best director Oscar for Unbroken

Film 'I've never been comfortable on-screen', she says

Arts and Entertainment
Winnie the Pooh has been branded 'inappropriate' in Poland
Arts and Entertainment
Lee Evans is quitting comedy to spend more time with his wife and daughter

Arts and Entertainment
American singer, acclaimed actor of stage and screen, political activist and civil rights campaigner Paul Robeson (1898 - 1976), rehearses in relaxed mood at the piano.
filmSinger, actor, activist, athlete: Paul Robeson was a cultural giant. But prejudice and intolerance drove him to a miserable death. Now his story is to be told in film...
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is dominating album and singles charts worldwide

Arts and Entertainment
Kieron Richardson plays gay character Ste Hay in Channel 4 soap Hollyoaks

Arts and Entertainment
Midge Ure and Sir Bob Geldof outside the Notting Hill recording studios for Band Aid 30

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

    Christmas Appeal

    Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
    Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

    Is it always right to try to prolong life?

    Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

    What does it take for women to get to the top?

    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
    Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

    Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

    Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
    French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

    French chefs campaign against bullying

    A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

    Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
    Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

    Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

    Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
    Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

    Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

    Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
    Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

    Paul Scholes column

    I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
    Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

    Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

    So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
    Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

    Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

    The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
    Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

    Sarkozy returns

    The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
    Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

    Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

    Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
    Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

    Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

    Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game