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Suddenly in the Depths of the Forest

Suddenly in the Depths of the Forest

4.0 2
by Amos Oz

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In a gray and gloomy village, all of the animals—from dogs and cats to fish and snails—disappeared years before. No one talks about it and no one knows why, though everyone agrees that the village has been cursed. But when two children see a fish—a tiny one and just for a second—they become determined to unravel the mystery of where the


In a gray and gloomy village, all of the animals—from dogs and cats to fish and snails—disappeared years before. No one talks about it and no one knows why, though everyone agrees that the village has been cursed. But when two children see a fish—a tiny one and just for a second—they become determined to unravel the mystery of where the animals have gone. And so they travel into the depths of the forest with that mission in mind, terrified and hopeful about what they may encounter. 

From the internationally bestselling author Amos Oz, this is a hauntingly beautiful fable for both children and adults about tolerance, loneliness, denial, and remembrance.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Oz's slim but beautiful fable adroitly addresses the nature of hope and despair, filtered through a lens of societal trauma and conformity. In a remote village, all the animals—from the wild fish, birds, and game to domesticated pets—vanished many years ago. Now, the village's children barely remember animals, scoffing at the adults who talk about them, and the threat of Nehi the Mountain Demon keeps the villagers—children and adults alike—locked away in fright. When two children, Matti and Maya, think they spot a fish in the river, they set off on an adventure that leads them into the mountains, to a secret garden, and to a revelation about what really happened to the animals. Oz (Soumchi) presents many melancholy characters, from schoolteacher Emanuella (who lost her cat as a child) to elderly Ginome, living as an invalid since the animals vanished. But it's the conformity of the schoolchildren—which they learned from their parents—that presents the real horror of this story. It's through Matti and Maya's willingness to challenge everything that Oz channels hope. Ages 10–14. (Mar.)
From the Publisher
"From the whispered tales of a local monster to the brash, spunky heroes on a quest, internationally acclaimed Israeli author Oz litters his story with fairy-tale tropes that give this narrative a fable-like quality; the atmosphere is intriguingly secretive and shadowed, but the prose is measured and accessible and the length manageable....There is plenty to discuss here, making it a useful classroom companion when tackling issues of historical and contemporary conflicts." —The Bulletin

"It's through Matti and Maya's willingness to challenge everything that Oz channels hope."—Publishers Weekly

"Oz creates palpable tension with a repetitive, almost hypnotic rhythm and lyrical language that twists a discussion-provoking morality tale into something much more enchanting." —Booklist

Praise for Suddenly in the Depths of the Forest from the UK: "If you're a reader... you'll be prepared simply to be enchanted. You'll recognize no one, and see only yourself." —The Guardian

"Both a children's fable and an allegory for adults. It may be a fast read, but it has enormous resonances." —The Independent

Praise for Rhyming Life and Death:

"From the prodigious Oz comes a delightfully elusive...story of imagination, talent and the transitory nature of fame...Stamped with Oz's charm and graceful skill in creating rich characters, this is a must for any fan." —Publishers Weekly

"Hilarious and profound, Oz’s tale of a mischievous taleteller ponders the eroticism of stories and the mysterious ways language and literature bridge the divide between inner and outer worlds; and it helps us make some sense, however gossamer, of life and death. A slyly philosophical novel." —Booklist

Children's Literature - Denise A. Lockett
A small village with an eastern European aura is haunted: not by ghosts, but by memories. The memories are those of laughter, joy and animals. Missing from the humble village are both wild and domesticated beasts. It has been years since the villagers heard the songs of birds or enjoyed a glimpse of their resplendent feathers. The sight of dogs curled on doorsteps are but in distant dreams and memories. Best friends Maya and Matti are the only children courageous enough to try to venture into the darkness that surrounds the town in order to understand what may be beyond its borders and to try to unlock the secret of what happened to the animals. This dark but compelling fable exposes the numbing and insidious cruelty inflicted by taunting and ostracism, particularly by bullying. The tale is one in which the tables are turned on villagers who allow an unusual child to be picked on incessantly. Layers of individual narrative and loss slowly reveal themselves, from Matti's mother, the widow baker Lilia, to the lonely teacher Emanuella who remembers the animals and tries to teach the children about them but is considered crazy for doing so. Danir the Roofer still mentions animals when under the influence of drink, and Almon the fisherman longs for his once-faithful companion, Zito the dog. Despite dire warnings about the dark woods beyond the town, said to be haunted by Nehi the Mountain Demon, Maya and Matti venture out to discover what lies in the haunted woods. In doing so, they discover the stark truth of the social and individual cost of exclusion and ridicule. This resonant and haunting fable speaks to one of the fundamental concerns of childhood, bullying, through a subtle and yet deeply affecting tale. Reviewer: Denise A. Lockett
VOYA - Devin Burritt
In a small, isolated mountain village, every single animal and insect has disappeared. The adults claim, on the rare occasion they are willing to discuss it, that Nehi the Mountain Demon came down one evening and stole them all away. One day, Matti and Maya discover a fish in the pond and feel drawn to the forest to further investigate. It is here they find the secret of where all the animals went and why they will never return. Oz delves into the philosophical issues of tolerance and acceptance, and the hate and bitterness caused by the lack thereof. To address these issues he has crafted a small tale to illustrate each of the points he would like to make. While the story of Matti and Maya has its moments, it is not a novel that will keep you riveted to your chair. Instead, the real gems in this book are the thought-provoking moments slowly and carefully induced by the author. The story may not have the mass appeal of the typical supernatural mystery, but the gentle, eloquent statements regarding social norms and denial of the past will make the careful, socially-conscientious reader happy. This would make a great classroom education tool. Reviewer: Devin Burritt
VOYA - Leah Kihn
Young adults would not voluntarily pick up this book because of its slow beginning. There is not much action, but the message comes out clear: people should be less cruel and more understanding. This is not a page-turner, but it is an easy read. Characters are well-developed, and readers can definitely relate to them in many ways. Reviewer: Leah Kihn, Teen Reviewer
School Library Journal
Gr 5–9—In a gloomy isolated village in the mountains, all of the animals have disappeared, carried off by Nehi the Mountain Demon. The village children are warned against going out at night, and parents lock their doors and windows with iron bolts when the sun goes down. Emanuella the Teacher describes different domestic and forest creatures to her students, but the adults won't talk about the night a curse befell the village and what they did to provoke the animals' disappearance. After years without a single dog, fish, cow, bird or insect inhabiting their small town, two children set out into the forest to discover what or whom the strangeness is really about, and learn powerful lessons about collective acquiescence, loneliness, tolerance, and redemption. Oz has created a fable that is both enchanting and didactic, fanciful and overbearing, seemingly short and yet too long. The rich fairy-tale language is a strong enticement (even in translation), and the story is populated with compelling iconic characters such as Almon the Fisherman, now a farmer because there are no fish, and Little Nimi, a runny-nosed boy whose gapped teeth and strange dreams cause the other children to ridicule and ultimately shun him. Certainly an author of this caliber is worth reading, but there is a heaviness to this work that slows the narrative down. Recommended, albeit with reservations, for beautiful language and the potential to spark a meaningful conversation about kindness, tolerance, and collective responsibility.—Teri Markson, Los Angeles Public Library
Kirkus Reviews

Matti and Maya live in a remote village in which there are no animals. Not a dog, cat, cow or bird; not fish nor bug nor worm. Did Nehi the Demon curse the village, and is he still a menacing presence? A collective wall of silence has been erected, reflecting a willful, selective memory. The community has a dynamic of bullying and cruelty, so those few that do speak of it are vilified and have retreated into bizarre eccentricity. Matti and Maya have actually seen a fish, sensed a bird in flight and had other experiences that gave them the impetus to search out the answers. Oz takes this dark, strange, otherworldly tale many layers deeper. Although the language is lovely, with many striking images, it is also often esoteric and obscuring. The narrator is an omniscient observer who tends to sermonize. Repetition and reiteration are deliberately employed, with several bits of plot and character descriptions reappearing almost word for word throughout the work. Even Matti and Maya often feel a sense of déjà vu. They might forget again, or they might break the cycle. Is the work fantasy, fable or allegory? In the end, after all the strangeness, the moral is rather obvious, but maybe young readers need to hear it. Flawed, but intriguing and unusual. (Fiction. 10-14)

Product Details

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.20(w) x 7.80(h) x 0.80(d)
NC1260L (what's this?)
Age Range:
10 - 12 Years

Read an Excerpt


Emanuella the Teacher described to the class what a bear looks like, how fish breathe, and the kind of sounds a hyena makes at night. She also hung pictures of animals and birds on the classroom walls. Most of the children made fun of her, because they’d never seen an animal in their lives. Many of them didn’t quite believe there were such creatures in the world. At least not around here, they said. Besides, that teacher never found anyone in the whole village who had wanted to marry her, they said, and that’s why her head was full of foxes, sparrows, all sorts of things people think up when they’re lonely.

Emanuella’s descriptions had only a minor effect on the children, except for Little Nimi, who began to dream about animals at night. Most of his classmates laughed at him when, first thing in the morning, he told them how the brown shoes he’d put next to his bed before he went to sleep had turned into two hedgehogs in the dark and crawled around the room all night, but in the morning, when he opened his eyes, they were just a pair of shoes next to his bed again. Another time, black bats came to his room at midnight and carried him off on their wings, flew through the walls of the house up into the sky above the village and over mountains and forests till they brought him to an enchanted castle.

Nimi had a muddled brain and a constantly runny nose. He also had a large gap between his prominent front teeth. The children called that gap the garbage dump.

Every morning Nimi would come to class and begin telling everyone about a new dream, and every morning they would say enough, we’re sick and tired of you, shut that garbage dump of yours. And when he didn’t stop, they made fun of him. But instead of being offended, Nimi would join in the ridicule. He would breathe in his snot and swallow it, and, brimming over with joy, would call himself the most insulting names the children had given him: garbage dump, fuzzy- brain, hedgehog- shoes.

More than once, Maya, daughter of Lilia the Baker, had whispered to Nimi from her seat behind him in class: Nimi. Listen. Dream about whatever you want, animals, girls, but keep it to yourself. Don’t tell anyone. It just isn’t a good idea.

Matti said to Maya, You don’t understand. The only reason Nimi has those dreams is so he can tell us about them. And anyway, he doesn’t stop dreaming even when he wakes up in the morning.

Everything delighted Nimi, anything made him happy: the cracked mug in the kitchen and the full moon in the sky, Emanuella’s necklace and his own buck teeth, the buttons he forgot to button and the wind howling in the forest. Nimi found fun in everything there was and in anything that happened. And the least little thing was enough to make him burst out laughing.

Until the day he ran out of class, out of the village, and climbed up to the forest alone. Most of the village people searched for him for two or three days. The police searched for another week or ten days. After that, only his parents and sister kept looking. He came back three weeks later, thin and filthy, all scratched and bruised, but whooping with joy and excitement. And Little Nimi has been whooping ever since and has never spoken again: he hasn’t said a single word since he came back from the forest; he just wanders around the village streets barefoot and ragged, his nose running, baring his teeth and the gap between them, skipping from one backyard to another, climbing trees and poles, whooping all the time, his right eye constantly watering because of his allergy.

He couldn’t go back to school now that he had whoopitis. On their way home, the children would whoop at him on purpose to make him whoop back. They called him Nimi the Owl. The doctor said it would pass with time: perhaps there, in the forest, something had frightened or shocked him, and now he had whoopitis.

Maya said to Matti: Shouldn’t we do something? Try to help him? And Matti replied: No, Maya. They’ll get tired of it soon. They’ll forget about him soon.

When the children chased him off with their mockery and the pinecones and pieces of bark they threw at him, Little Nimi would run away, whooping. He’d climb the closest tree and from up in the high branches he would whoop at them again, with his one weepy eye and his buck teeth. And sometimes even in the middle of the night, the villagers thought they heard the distant echo of his whooping in the dark.

Meet the Author

AMOS OZ was born in Jerusalem in 1939. He is the author of fourteen novels and collections of short fiction, and numerous works of nonfiction. His acclaimed memoir A Tale of Love and Darkness was an international bestseller and recipient of the prestigious Goethe Prize, as well as the National Jewish Book Award. Scenes from Village Life, a New York Times Notable Book, was awarded the Prix Méditerranée Étranger in 2010. He lives in Tel Aviv, Israel.

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Suddenly in the Depths of the Forest 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
PenelopeL More than 1 year ago
I found Suddenly in the Depths of the Forest very charming, and reminiscent of an old cautionary fairy tale. There are hints of mystery and fantasy mixed in, and the characters are young, making it perfect for older middle-grade students. The plot is unique; it's different from anything I have read, and Amos Oz shows his skill by creating a message about life: that we should not ridicule those who are different. He also brings up a very important question about human nature...which I would include, but it would be a spoiler. The book has been translated from Hebrew (I believe) into English, and there isn't a lot of punctuation (and no quotation marks) because of that. It was disorienting at first, but after a few pages, I discovered that it reads like it would be spoken by a storyteller: with inflection, whispering, and timing. I fell in love with the way the words fit together. Really, it is beautiful, and the perfect bedtime story. My only reason for not giving the story five stars, is that I still had unanswered questions at the end...which I think was done on purpose, but I would have liked answers. Still, I recommend this book for middle-grade students interested in fables. Disclaimer: I was provided with a review copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Man_Of_La_Book_Dot_Com More than 1 year ago
"Suddenly In the Depths of the Forest" by award winning Israeli author Amos Oz (archive) is a short novel which you can read to your kids. Oz set out to write a folk tale and succeeded in more ways than one. Once upon a time there was a village. The village had no animals, no cows, dogs or pigs, not even worms, fish or spiders. None of the adults are willing to speak about that catastrophe and at night they bolt their doors of fear from Nehi, the Mountain Demon who is blamed for their misfortune. No one dares go into the mountain except two kids Maya and Matti which.you'll have to read for yourself. "Suddenly In the Depths of the Forest" by Amos Oz has more of a European feel to it (forests, mountains, streams) than an Israeli one. While this is a story for children, adults will certainly enjoy this multi-layered fable. According to the book, Oz based this story on fables he remembers from his childhood told him by his mother. He thinks that was the way his mother (who committed suicide before she reached the age of 40) communicated. Mr. Oz certainly put a lot of thought into the symbolism in this book. The story could be about being exiled from the Promised Land or about the holocaust, a terrible past of vanished creatures. There is a society based on lying, a voyage into a dangerous land away from home. We never find out though, the ending is left open with no single truth found, as is most of life. Great job by translator Sondra Silverston who managed, somehow, to translate the feel of anxiety as well as the humor.