If one of the goals of young Israel was to jettison all traces of a disastrous past, it failed—such, at least, would be the verdict of one of its most famous writers, Amos Oz. His memoir, in a translation that preserves the author’s gorgeous, discursive style and his love of wordplay, is a social history embedded within an autobiography. Its first, longer half is a requiem for the shtetl: for a hyperliterate, pedantic father whose immigrant life deprived him of a scholarly career; and for a deeply sensitive mother who regaled the young boy with dark and beautiful folktales, and who committed suicide four years after the war of independence. Two years after that, at the age of 15, Oz (né Klausner) changed his name and decamped for a kibbutz. The book’s second half follows his conversion from Begin-worshipping young militant to Labor peacenik—a political odyssey that parallels Israel’s thwarted efforts to grapple with what many have called the “original sin” of its existence. The book is a modernist collage. At times, Oz gives it entirely over to its constituent characters and their stories and soliloquies. The structure leaves Oz prone to excessive digressions and redundancies, some of which come across as either unintentional or unintentionally jarring. In these sometimes meandering asides, Oz seems to be asking the reader’s indulgence. But he richly rewards a patient audience over the bulk of this sophisticated and searing memorial.