When a famous author dies, publishers are quick to launch a new edition of his short stories or an unknown early work. Amos oz, who was one of the most important israeli writers, died on 28. December died.
And indeed, suhrkamp already has a new work by him on the way. But "what is an apple??" does not belong to this category of dispensable leftover recycling. The book by amos oz and his editor shira hadad is the opposite of that.
"What is an apple" is like a podcast with an hour-long conversation in which oz and hadad exchange ideas about the author’s work and life – including, in the last chapter, his idea of death and dying. And that on a high level, but so entertaining that you want to listen on and on.
Hadad is the kind of editor a writer could wish for: she knows his work as well as he does, she appreciates his literature, she is genuinely interested in him, but she also questions what he tells her. One senses the closeness between the two, but also that shira hadad has not given up her ability to criticize in exchange for it. That’s what makes the exchange so exciting and so worth reading.
The two began talking in the spring of 2014, while hadad was editing his novel "judas" on the writing table. Afterwards, both felt that there was still a need for discussion. "We continued to meet at oz’s house and talk about books and authors, inspiration and influences, writing habits and guilt, marriage and parenthood," writes shira hadad in the foreword.
And at some point, there was also a recording device on the table. The book was written from these notes. It is not simply a transcription of the conversations, but rather a new composition, thematically arranged. "In the course of this joint work we became friends."
It is about the topics that moved amos oz in his writing: his flight from his family as a teenager after the suicide of his mother, his life in the kibbutz, where he had to fight for the freedom to write, his role as an author in israeli society, and the relationship between fantasy and literature.
Oz recounts a telling anecdote about this: as a young boy, he accompanied his parents to a meeting with friends at a cafe. But as soon as the adults were among themselves, they talked for what felt like "at least seventy-seven hours" about topics that did not interest him. "In order not to go crazy with loneliness, i started spying on the neighboring tables," says oz. "I stole sentences from conversations, looked to see who ordered what, who paid, guessed what relationship the people sitting there had to each other." and this is how he did it again and again later on.
In addition to insights into the practice of writing, the book also deals with the author’s self-image in writing. The title hints at that. What makes an apple an apple, oz asks himself?. "Water, earth, sun, an apple tree and some fertilizer ? The apple does not resemble any of these things. They all make him, but he is not similar to them.That’s the way it is with stories," explains the writer. "They probably consist of the sum of encounters, experiences and a lot of listening."
Amos oz with shira hadad: what is an apple?? Suhrkamp verlag berlin, 174 pages, 20.00 euros, ISBN 978-3-518-42873-3