Israeli novelist Grossman (Her Body Knows, 2005, etc.) muses about authors who have influenced him and about the difficulties of living and writing in one of the world’s most dangerous places.
In these six slender essays, most originally delivered as speeches, the author discusses his passionate belief in the redemptive powers of literature. Grossman recalls reading Sholem Aleichem at his father’s urging when he was a boy, then later realizing that the people he read about in those tales were the sorts of people who had died in the Holocaust. He alludes to other literary mentors—Kafka, Mann, Böll, Woolf—and writes amusingly about the influence of Bruno Schulz, whom he’d not read until a reader informed him that his work sounded like Schulz’s. He writes compellingly of “the Other,” examining our fear of those who are not like us and the analogous fear of the “others” who dwell inside us, whom we struggle to control. Grossman, who lost a son in military action in Lebanon, reveals the ability to view the world from perspectives other than his own; he tries to enter the minds of, say, Palestinians, just as he attempts to inhabit the lives of his fictional characters. Until people have hope in a peaceful future, he declares, chaos continues and powerful leaders easily control us by frightening us and appealing to the worst aspects of our nature. Living in fear and hopelessness leads to “a shrinking of our soul’s surface,” he writes, and fear constricts not just the political landscape but language itself. Grossman ponders the metaphor of Israel’s borders, which have shifted continually since the nation’s birth. Repeatedly, he yearns for a time when stability replaces fragility and hope triumphs over fear. His final piece blasts the current Israeli leadership for exacerbating conditions in the region.
Affecting essays that emphasize our common humanity.