Yair Ben-Zvi's Reviews > Fima

Fima by Amos Oz
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's review
Dec 14, 2011

it was amazing

Amos Oz's most frustrating, inane, gross, boring, and conceited novel may also be his most brilliant, erudite, funny, and deeply profound work.

Let me be frank: this book is absolutely tortuous to get through at times, actually, for most of its length it seems to be everything a book shouldn't be. The protagonist is almost completely unsympathetic sometimes being so self-obsessed and condescending to those around him that you want spit on the page just to spite him. And the few spots of potential evolution and even personal redemption planted throughout the text serve only to cause more frustration as he, inevitably and (kind of spoiler I guess) falls right back into the same annoying character patterns that the reader has come to know and scream at.

The eponymous protagonist Ephraim "Fima" is surrounded by characters equally unappealing as each, in turn, serve only to enable and exacerbate Fima's issues while simultaneously using him as a distraction in their own misguided and frustrated lives. Fima to them is basically the dumb ass clown who, they do admit, is smarter than most if not all of them with the potential to be 'better' but is kept from being so by his numerous failings, namely his lack of direction and near pathological apathy.

On the surface the story drags and drags. Similar to Joyce's "Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man" Fima, for thirty chapters, alternates between rising and falling actions. Fima fails, usually because of himself and even despite his infinitesimal and occasional efforts, but unlike Joyce's book the victories and defeats depicted in the story are almost all universally mundane and apparently meaningless. From the trials of a filthy apartment with dead bugs, spoiled food, and dirty laundry, all the way up to the biggest issues regarding the state of Israel's involvement with the 'territories' and how these issues affect the way people act, dress, and even speak, down to the most minute changes in the language used to describe both it and simple everyday life, Fima lives as a slug, observing and commenting but doing nothing otherwise despite his stated (and well described) boundless potential.

The intellectual analyses running throughout the story serve as commentary both for the main character and the various situations he finds himself in, but are all crushed under the inherent apathy and disappointment of not only the inaction and frustrated confusion of the aging 'modern' generation of Israelis but of the condescending and sanctimonious attitude of the previous generation of 'founders' who seem to now exist only to be disappointed.

Now, the story is clearly more than just the basic story. The metaphor between Fima and his friends and family as both characters and concepts is well shown, and Oz navigates the cast admirably.

But where this book not only shines but eventually explodes in literary incandescence (and I only really felt this way after finishing the last page though there were pangs and tremors of this feeling brewing from a little after the first quarter or so of the book) is in its depiction of the liberation of a tired intellect from the atrophied confines of disinterest, disappointment, and frustration. Fima's mind goes from being mired and listless in a purgatorial swamp to (after repeated attempts both half hearted and otherwise) being forcefully pulled out of the sludge and the quicksand (I can't help but think of a bright and glorious star somehow being magnificently pulled by a man barehanded from the deepest foulest most filthy and disgusting pit and being placed in the heavens) not only finally accepting responsibility for the future of both the individual (Fima) and the nation (Israel) but also to acceptance of both man's limitless potential seemingly counterbalanced by some ineffable negative truths about the human condition, namely the before mentioned pit falls of apathy and ennui along with a shattering evaluation of both what the achieving of the Zionist dream accomplished along with not only what it failed to do but what it was doomed to failing at before the whole enterprise even started.

At first I thought this book was just an established author trying something 'a little different' and would be just a quiet and enjoyable bit of literature from a man who, I feel, is a "writer's writer". But, whether intentionally or not, Amos Oz has produced a work that through the struggle of not only the mind of the reader but of the main character himself, has successfully navigated the pitfalls of the most popular understanding of nihilism and emerged from that pit, wearied, near dead from exhaustion, but infinitely brighter in every sense of the word. Think of a man battling the world of Camus' "The Stranger" with Dylan Thomas' 'Do Not Go Gently into that Good Night'as an, at first, quiet refrain, but eventual warriors call to victory.

A mammoth frustration but a brilliant and mandatory read for all lovers of fine literature.

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Reading Progress

December 14, 2011 – Started Reading
December 14, 2011 – Shelved
December 27, 2011 – Finished Reading

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