Writing in the Dark Essays on Literature and Politics

David Grossman; Translated from the Hebrew by Jessica Cohen




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144 Pages



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Throughout his career, David Grossman has been a voice for peace and reconciliation between Israel and its Arab citizens and neighbors. In six new essays on politics and culture in Israel today, he addresses the conscience of a country that has lost faith in its leaders and its ideals. This collection includes an already famous speech concerning the disastrous Second Lebanon War of 2006, the war that took the life of Grossman’s twenty-year-old son, Uri. Moving, humane, clear-sighted, and courageous, touching on literature and artistic creation as well as politics and philosophy, these writings are a cri de coeur from a heroic voice of reason at a time of uncertainty and despair.


Praise for Writing in the Dark

"Grossman's latest collection of essays and speeches, Writing in the Dark, concerns the impact of grief and violence on the body politic and the private imagination . . . Writing in the Dark is less a work of literary criticism or political analysis than an extended rumination on the struggle and the thrill of shaping words into stories and reclaiming their meaning and beauty from the 'language defrauders and language rapists.' The book is a response to a question Grossman first explored in See Under: Love, where he imagined what might have happened to him had he been stuck in a concentration camp."—Eyal Press, The Nation

"[Grossman's] own son, Uri, dies on the last day before a truce in the Second Lebanon War, yet the author of See Under: Love and The Book of Intimate Grammar still resists bloody vengeance, still insists on humanity. Writing in the Dark, his latest collection of essays, ranges from 'Books That Have Read Me' (by Sholem Aleichem, Bruno Schulz, Franz Kafka, Thomas Mann) to 'Contemplations on Peace' (necessitating what 'acquired naïveté calls'), with sidelong looks at language in politics and what might be learned from the Other . . . Just listen to him."—John Leonard, Harper's Magazine

“Grossman describes how he began to conduct a dialogue with a vanished world of shtetl-dwellers. From then on, he reports, he has found in books ‘the place in the world where both the thing and the loss of it can coexist.’ With unusual insight, Grossman also renders interpretations of his own novels. In the process, he displays the deep diasporic sensibility that distinguishes him from the colleagues with whom he is most often compared, Amos Oz and A.B. Yehoshua. He describes his novel See Under: Love, for instance, as an attempt both to describe Jewish life in an Israeli language, and to write about Israel in a Diaspora idiom. And he discusses his affinities with the Polish-Jewish writer Bruno Schulz. Most movingly, however, Grossman conveys a sense of writing as a way of life. When he writes here of the death of his son Uri in the Second Lebanon War, we cannot but appreciate with him the healing capacity of words.”—The Jerusalem Post

"In David Grossman’s title essay from his new book Writing in the Dark, the Israeli novelist states that writing 'has immense power, the power to change a world and create a world, the power to give words to the mute and to bring about tikkun —"repair"—in the deepest, kabbalistic sense of the word.' A simple sentence, bold in its assertion of the power of writers and writing, but one that reveals layer upon layer of meaning. First of all, what is 'the Dark' to which he refers? For the author of See Under: Love and The Yellow Wind, whose essays in this collection combine the personal, political, and cultural, the darkness is many things: the claustrophobic political situation in Israel; humanity’s lack of psychological self-awareness; the flattening of language that creates heat, but little light; and, more acutely perhaps for Grossman, the recent death of his son Uri during the Second Lebanon War. The fact that Uri means 'light' in Hebrew adds another level of poignancy to Grossman’s statement. As someone tilling the same journalistic and novelistic fields as Grossman, who has had the privilege to spend time with him on his visits to San Francisco, and with a son named Lior (also a variation on the Hebrew word for light), I feel a special connection to his personal, artistic and existential anguish. Which is why his statements of confidence for what writing can do are all the more remarkable. Taking seriously the idea that writing partakes of some holy spark—since God created the world through words, and the very language of the Torah has a direct connection to God—Grossman suggests that writing, and by extension true human communication, is one of our few clear divine gifts."—Daniel Schifrin, The Jewish Week

"What sets the book apart, aside from the elegance of the writing, is the connection Grossman makes between literature and politics. While some essays focus on politics, others on literature and some on both, taken as a whole they argue that the liberating possibilities of literature and politics drink from the same deep well of humanism . . . The opening chapter contains an engaging discussion of how discovering the works (in translation) of Sholom Aleichem as a boy in the 1960s was a homecoming—revealing the world that his father had abandoned as a youth, a world that was destroyed in the Shoah . . . Grossman is passionate, eloquent and compelling in his critique of Israeli society and his belief in the liberating possibilities of literature and a politics willing to confront reality as it is, not as it wishes it to be. Language in general, and literature in particular, is the meeting point of the collective and the individual, and a fulcrum that the latter can use to shift public attitudes and, ultimately, national policy . . .  The generosity of his vision—in these essays, as well as in his fiction—remains as necessary now as it was when he began to articulate it many years ago."—Joel Streicker, The Forward

"Israeli novelist Grossman 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, Boll, 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."—Kirkus Reviews

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DAVID GROSSMAN is the author of seven novels, two works of journalism, and a previous volume of collected commentary. He lives in Jerusalem.

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  • David Grossman; Translated from the Hebrew by Jessica Cohen

  • David Grossman is the author of seven novels, two works of journalism, and a previous volume of collected commentary. He lives in Jerusalem.