Date completed: May 7, 2012
How I found this book: I have an interest in intentional communities (co-ops, communes, eco-villages and so forth), so for Israel I specifically wanted to read a book set in a kibbutz. When I asked the internet for Israeli kibbutz novels, the author Amos Oz came up first.
A Perfect Peace is a novel about people living in a kibbutz in Israel in the 1960s, during the time leading up to the Six-Day War. Overall, I found the book itself rather irritating. The writing periodically shifts in voice from third person to first or even second person in the middle of a chapter. I would have to stop reading and look for hints to figure out which character this “I” was referring to. I suppose this was intended as some sort of literary device, but I found it very distracting. I also found the book to be overly male-centric. The female characters, though several of them were central to the story, were given very little attention and weren’t . I don’t have a problem with books which focus predominantly on male characters or predominantly on female characters- there may be a good reason to do so. However, if you’re going to write a book with a love triangle between a woman and two men as a major plot element, then you really ought to give that woman some semblance of a personality!
All that said, the book was interesting for its description of life in Israel and on a kibbutz at that time. A kibbutz is a co-operative society, usually agricultural, in which the community works together to provide for itself. All property is held communally. I love the idea of having a community dining hall where everyone comes together to eat. So much more nicer than having to cook for yourself all the time! On the other hand, being allotted a lifetime total of three weeks of international travel would be big negative. (This was an innovation that was approved by the kibbutz in the book. Before that presumably, there had been no provision for international travel at all.) The older generation in the book were the pioneers who founded the kibbutz before the state of Israel even existed. They struggled to build a stable and self-supporting community and dreamed that their children would grow up in an ideal society and live untroubled lives. Not surprisingly, the children, now young adults, have troubles of their own. Without the struggle for existence, it is all just a lot of hard work repairing tractors and working the fields, without any sense of a larger meaning.
Even though it is a time of peace, the shadow of conflict is always present. Near the kibbutz is a former Arab village that was destroyed in recent memory. The village is a recurring image in the book, a constant reminder of the violence that came before. At the same time, references to rising tensions with Egypt and Jordan are forebodings of further violence to come. Something that particularly struck me was that when a group of young people went out for a spring picnic, the men were extremely uncomfortable with the fact that they were unarmed. Needing a gun for protection outside of the confines of the kibbutz says a lot about the feelings of insecurity. Thus the conclusion appears to be that there is no perfect peace, neither for countries nor for people.