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Words of the Week: David Grossman (trans. Jessica Cohen)

I won’t lie to you. Reading David Grossman’s To the End of the Land wasn’t easy. It’s a long, difficult read. But there are 2 1/2 pages that I found so searing, so extraordinary, that they would have been enough to justify the entire book/purchase (or, as we say, dayenu).

Here’s a snippet:

What do you tell a six-year-old boy, a pip-squeak Ofer, who one morning, while you’re taking him to school, holds you close on the bike and asks in a cautious voice, “Mommy, who’s against us?” And you try to find out exactly what he means, and he answers impatiently, “Who hates us in the world? Which countries are against us?” And of course you want to keep his world innocent and free of hatred, and you tell him that those who are against us don’t always hate us, and that we just have a long argument with some of the countries around us about all sorts of things, just like children in school sometimes have arguments and even fights. But his little hands tighten around your stomach, and he demands the names of the countries that are against us, and there is an urgency in his voice and in his sharp chin that digs into your back, and so you start to name them: “Syria, Jordan, Iraq, Lebanon. But not Egypt–we have peace with them!” you say cheerfully. “We had lots of wars with them, but now we’ve made up.”….”Is Egypt really our friend?” “Not really,” you admit, “they still don’t completely want to be our our friends.” “So they’re against us,” he solemnly decrees, and immediately asks if there are other “countries of Arabs,” and he doesn’t let let up until you name them all: “Saudi Arabia, Libya, Sudan, Kuwait, and Yemen.” You can feel his mouth learning the names behind your back, and you add Iran–not exactly Arabs, but not exactly our friends, either. After a pause he asks softly if there are any more, and you mumble, “Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria,” and then you remember Indonesia and Malaysia, Pakistan and Afghanistan–none of those stans sounds so great to you–and here we are at school, sweetie! When you help him get off the bike seat, he feels heavier than usual.

And this:

She watched his little face twist into a mixture of anger and fear every time there was a report of an Israeli killed in an act of hostility. “Are you sad?” she asked him after another bomb went off in the market in Jerusalem, and he stomped his feet: “I’m not sad, I’m angry! They’re killing all our people! Soon we’ll run out of people!” She tried to reassure him: “We have a strong army and there are some very big and strong countries that protect us.” Ofer treated this information with skepticism. He wanted to know where exactly these friendly countries were. Ora opened an atlas. “Here’s the United States of America, for example, and here’s England, and here are another few good friends of ours.” She quickly waved an overgeneralizing hand near a few European countries that she herself did not particularly trust. He looked at her in astonishment. “But they’re all the way over there!” he shouted, in disbelief at her stupidity. “Look how many pages there are between here and there!”

Oh, Ofer. Oh, Israel.

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2 Responses »

  1. Grossman’s writings are full of beauty and truth! “See Under: Love” is one of my favorite ones.

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