Submitted by Alice on Wed, 2017-04-19 17:15
Amos Oz reveals his all-time favourite literary creation is Don Quixote and translator Nicholas de Lange tells us how he has been researching the history of Jewish–Christian relations for the past 50 years.
This is part of our series of Man Booker International Prize 2017 longlist interviews.
Amos Oz, author of Judas
This interview with Amos Oz originally appeared as part of Words without Borders' 2017 Man Booker International Prize Interview Series.
Tell us about how you became a writer. Was it a vocation, an accident? How has your relationship to writing changed over time? Have your goals and objectives changed throughout the years?
As a little boy I was short, very thin, and hopelessly shy. I was no good at school, no good at sports, no good at pranks and games. My only way to impress the girls was to invent and tell all kinds of stories. This is how I became a writer, and maybe this is still the main reason why I enjoy telling stories and writing them in books.
How do you see your writing within the larger context of your country’s/language’s literary tradition? What influences/writers/groups of writers there do you draw on, or what literary currents does your work disavow?
I never see my writing in a larger context. When I work, my sights are not set on civilization, society, culture, or ideology. I shed a lot of sweat on writing, erasing and rewriting again and again in search of the right noun; the right verb, adverb, adjective; the rhythm of a sentence; and the sharpness of a piece of dialogue. My work is molecular. As a political thinker, as an Israeli Jew, as a peace activist, and as a teacher of literature, I do have ideas about many big issues, but this is already answering a different question.
What’s your favourite book from a literary tradition other than your own and how has it influenced your writing?
My all-time favourite literary creation is Don Quixote. I read it time and again, every few years. I love the hero who is also the antihero of the first novel, which is also the first modern novel, and which is also the first postmodern novel, and even the first deconstructionist novel. Don Quixote’s genes can be found in thousands and thousands of literary and cinematic figures created since. Maybe some of his genes are present in every single post-Quixotean human being.
Nicholas de Lange, translator of Judas
What has it been like to be longlisted?
I’m happy to think this translation will reach a wider circle of readers.
What did you like most about translating Judas?
A number of themes came together for me in this book. A serious part of it is about the history of Jewish attitudes to Jesus down the ages. I have been researching the history of Jewish–Christian relations for the past 50 years, so I was very familiar with the subject matter and interested to see Amos Oz’s take on it. I spent half a year living in Jerusalem when I was a research student, a few years after the time the book is set in, and it was a nostalgic experience to be taken back in time and place. I have been working closely with Amos for more than 45 years and have translated most of his fiction. From translating earlier books (such as Touch the Water, Touch the Wind) I was familiar with his interest in the New Testament. I have also translated an earlier book of his on the theme of betrayal (Panther in the Basement), which is also one of the keynotes of this book.
When did you first become aware of the book, and were you excited to be translating Oz’s work again?
Amos Oz sent me the Hebrew original at the beginning of 2014. At the time I was very busy with another project, so it was a while before I could set to work on it. It’s always a pleasure to work with Amos. ‘Excited’ is not the right word. ‘Delighted’ would be better.