A genre-crossing, pensive, peripatetic novel by Israeli author Grossman (To the End of the Land, 2010, etc.).
Grossman’s previous novel described a walk across the scorching Judean desert in quest of peace. The walking continues in this book, a blend of verse, drama and prose that recalls Karl Kraus’ blistering Last Days of Mankind (1919) in both subject and form. Where Kraus described the self-immolation of Europe in World War I, Grossman ponders a world in which “[c]old flames lapped around us,” a world caught up in formless, chaotic conflict about which we know only a few things—especially that people, young people, have died. The “Walking Man” goes in quest of the lost, but, leaving his home and village, he manages only to encircle it in an ever-widening ambit. Says “The Woman,” “You /circle / around me / like a beast / of prey,” but he is searching, not hunting, his circling an apparent effort at exhaustiveness. Others join him, the predator-prey metaphor working overtime: One woman likens her spirit to “a half-devoured beast / in its predator’s mouth.” In the end, Kraus gives way to a modernist verse reminiscent of Eliot: “We walk in gloom. / Across the way, on gnarled rock, / a spider spins a web, spreads out his taut, / clear net.” The lesson learned from such observations? Perhaps this: Though death is final, the fact of death continues to reverberate among the living, awed and heartbroken.
Rich, lyrical, philosophically dense—not an easy work to take in but one that repays every effort.