Click here to read the abstract of the story on The New Yorker webpage (this week’s story is available only for subscribers). Amos Oz’s “The King of Norway” was first published in The New Yorker‘s January 17, 2011, issue. It was translated from the Hebrew by Sondra Silverston.
For the third time in a row, The New Yorker‘s fiction is a very short piece, and again it is from an established author; Amos Oz’s name comes up every October in conjunction with the Nobel Prize. However, as short as it is, this story, with its fabular pace, is slower than the last two, and that is not a bad thing. We recognize it is a fable from the tone in the very beginning:
On our kibbutz, Kibbutz Yekhat, there lived a man, Zvi Provizor, a short fifty-five-year-old bachelor who was given to blinking. He loved to convey bad news: earthquakes, plane crashes, buildings collapsing on their occupants, fires, and floods.
Zvi is the kibbutz gardener, and apparently he is very good (“Thanks to him, the kibbutz bloomed.”). Each morning he gets up early to work and carries around a transistor radio “that provided him with a constant stream of disastrous news.” Due to his strange hobby of watching the news in order to report all of the tragedies, Zvi is well known by everyone in the kibbutz, but no one likes to be around him. They call him the Angel of Death. They also deride him, saying “that he didn’t have, and had never had, an interest in women. Or in men, for that matter.” They mimic his voice.
In the dining room, they rarely joined him at his table. On summer evenings, he would sit alone on the green bench at the foot of the large lawn in front of the dining room and watch the children playing on the grass. the breeze billowed his shirt, drying his sweat. A hot summer moon shone red as it rose aboe the tall cypress trees.
In the course of the story, Zvi greets a forty-five-year-old widow named Luna Black: “Did you hear? In Spain, an orphanage burned down and eighty orphans died of smoke inhalation.” She says simply, “That’s horrible.” Zvi and Luna become quite close and soon are meeting every evening. Everyone quickly notices: “Roni Shindlin said in the dining room that the Angel of Death had spread his wings over the Black Widow.” Zvi and Luna carry on, hardly caring that they are the object of gossip and sarcasm. It only goes bad when Luna gets a bit too close:
One evening, as he regaled her with an affecting description of the starvation in Somalia, compassion for him so overwhelmed her that she suddenly took his hand and held it to her breast. Zvi trembled and pulled it back quickly, with a gesture that was almost violent. His eyes blinked frantically.
He leaves quickly. The rest of the story — about a fourth of it — is the weeks and months afterwards when Zvi completely avoids Luna: “At lunch, Roni Shidlin told his tablemates that the Angel of Death had cut his honeymoon short and, from now on, they were all in danger.” It’s a sad little fable, told by the community — the “we” the “our” — about this strange, tragic old bachelor.
Now, to be honest, I need your help here. I haven’t come up with a satisfying interpretation of all that goes on here, as much as I enjoyed just letting the story take me in.