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Amos Oz, Acclaimed Israeli Author, Dies At 79

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

The Israeli novelist Amos Oz died today at age 79. He's one of Israel's most widely read authors with books translated into dozens of languages. He was also an advocate for Israeli-Palestinian peace. NPR's Daniel Estrin has this remembrance from Jerusalem.

DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: Amos Oz published a lot of fiction, but his most celebrated book is about himself, "A Tale Of Love And Darkness." Natalie Portman directed and starred in a film based on the book. It tells the story of Israel through the story of his upbringing. Oz was born in Jerusalem in 1939. He told NPR in 2004 that he grew up surrounded by literature.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

AMOS OZ: The whole of Jerusalem was sitting and writing day and night. So this was the air I breathed, really. Bookshelves, lines and lines and lines of books in languages I couldn't read - these were the landscapes of my childhood.

ESTRIN: In his book, he describes the night in 1947 when the news broke that the United Nations had voted to partition Palestine into two states, Jewish and Arab.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

OZ: It was a burst of excitement, fear, hope, almost messianic fervor. But then five or six hours later, the fighting began between Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs, the same fighting that has not seized until this very day.

ESTRIN: He wrote several dozen books in Hebrew, won international literary prizes and was rumored to be on the shortlist for a Nobel Prize. In Israel, his novels are beloved. His political writing is more controversial. He wanted to see a Palestinian state alongside Israel. His book of essays about fanaticism in Israel called "Dear Zealots: Letters From A Divided Land" was published in English last month. In an interview I did with Amos Oz in 2013 for Tablet Magazine's podcast, I asked him if he was optimistic about seeing peace in his lifetime.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

OZ: I don't know if I'm optimistic about my own life expectancy. I don't know how much I still have to live. But I believe that peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians is unavoidable. How soon it will happen I don't know. It's difficult to be a prophet in the land of the prophets. It's too much competition in the prophecy business around here. But it's unavoidable, and it will come.

ESTRIN: His family said he died Friday of cancer. Israeli President Reuven Rivlin called Amos Oz a literary giant. Daniel Estrin, NPR News, Jerusalem. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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