Essays on Literature and Politics—this straightforward subtitle clearly defines David Grossman’s subject but in no way reveals the humanity and challenging perceptions he shines on it. Written over several years, these essays and speeches examine Israel — the nation and its individual citizens — under a light both critical and sympathetic.
“I myself have never known a life without an enemy.” With this statement Grossman, an Israeli-born journalist and novelist, illumines the situation in which Israel exists— the victim of centuries now living in its own nation circled by hostile states. He fears Israel is falling victim to itself and that the disaster zone in which it lives is warping the national character. As a writer in this situation, Grossman strives to know “the other,” to feel fully his or her uniqueness and thus recognize his or her humanity, a person constructed like ourselves. The effort that underlies Grossman’s fiction also underlies his political activism. He looks to a time when Israel, burdened by “an overdose of history,” can break the grip of the past, perceive the humanity of the enemy, and realize its full potential as a nation, guided by the highest universal and Jewish values.
Courageous and unsettling, demanding yet compassionate, Grossman makes a fervent argument and plea for Israel to truly know the other and to use that knowledge to build a nation that will fulfill its historic and moral mission.
Maron L. Waxman, retired editorial director, special projects, at the American Museum of Natural History, was also an editorial director at HarperCollins and Book-of-the-Month Club.