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by Bamber Gascoigne

David Grossman (b. 1954)


Israeli novelist, journalist, and children's storywriter, who has examined in his works Jewish-Palestinian relations in the Occupied Territories. In 1991, Grossman was awarded the Nelly Sachs Prize for his literary oeuvre. Grossman has also received the Israel Prize for A Life Project 2004 for his special contribution to society and to the State of Israel.

"The Palestinians, as is well known, are making use of the ancient Jewish strategy of exile and have removed themselves from history. They close their eyes against harsh reality. and stubbornly clamping down their eyelids, they fabricate their Promised Land. "Next year in Jerusalem," said the Jews in Latvia and in Cracow and in San'a, and the meaning was that they were not willing to compromise. Because they had no hope for any real change." (in The Yellow Wind, 1987)

David Grossman was born in Jerusalem, the son of Yizchak Grossman, originally from Austria, and Michaela, a Jerusalemite. Grossman's father had emigrated to Palestine in 1936. He did not reveal much of his childhood but once gave his son Sholem Aleichem's book Adventures of Mottel, the Cantor's Son, saying: "Read, read, it's just how things were with us." (Writing in the Dark: Essays on Literature and Politics by David Grossman, translated by Jessica Cohen, 2008, pp. 4-6) At home Grossman learned to love Yiddish literature, but before becoming a writer, Grossman worked on the radio. Already at the age of nine, he was a youth reporter, who conducted interviews and performed in radio plays.

After his military service, Grossman continued his radio work and entered Hebrew University, where he studied philosophy and theatre, graduating in 1979. Before publishing his first collection of stories, Ratz  (1983), Grossman received the Neuman Prize for his story 'Yani on the Mountain'. 'Donkeys' was awarded in 1980 the Harry Hirshon Prize.

Grossman's established his fame as a leading Israeli novelist in the 1980s. His first novel, Hiyukh ha-gedi (1983, The Smile of the Lamb), and the first Israeli novel to be set on the West Bank, examined life under Israeli occupation. The critically appraised book was made into film, which received an award at the Berlin Film Festival in 1990.

The Yellow Wind (1987) was an account of Grossman's observations on the West Bank, where he noted that refugees have "turned themselves voluntarily into doubles of the real people who once were, in another place. Into people who hold in their hands only one real asset: the ability to wait." The book originated from an article Grossman had published in the newsweekly Koteret Rashit. A fluent speaker of Arabic, he had been sent to visit Palestinian refugee camps and cities by the magazine. Upon its publication, the prophetic article generated an uproar in Israel. As it turned out, Grossman's warnings presaged the intifada of the early 1990s. The Yellow Wind was adapted into a play and staged in Tel Aviv. 

Politically liberal, Grossman resigned his radio post to protest restrictions on journalistic work, especially in Palestinian issues. On November 15, 1988, when Yasser Arafat declared an independent Palestinian state, the Israeli Broadcasting Authority did not cover the event. "I refuse to collaborate in laundering the reality as it is imposed on me," Grossman wrote in 1988 in his letter of resignation. ('Grossman, David,' in World Authors 1985-1990, ed.  Vineta Colby, 1995, p. 321) In the same year, Grossman received the Har Zion Prize in recognition of his efforts to enhance peace and understanding between Arabs and Jews.

Grossman has acknowledged Kafka and Böll as his literary beacons. 'Ayen erekh: 'ahavah' (1986, See Under: Love), Grossman's second novel, was compared in the New York Times Book Review with such celebrated works as William Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury, Gunter Grass's The Tin Drum and García Márquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude. The central characters in the interlinked stories, narrated by four voices, are Momik Neumann, the only child of Holocaust survivors, Bruno Schulz, a real-life writer, who was murdered by the Nazis, Anshel Wasserman, Momik's granduncle, and Kazik, the hero of one of Wasserman's stories. Momik in the first section associates Nazism with a beast the cellar, and he decides to capture and tame it. Like the protagonist in The Tin Drum, Aaron in The Book of Intimate Grammar (1991) stops growing physically. The novel ends with Aaron's possible suicide, on the eve of the Six Day War in 1967.

From his early works, Grossman has used modernist narrative techniques, stream-of-consciousness writing, multifaceted views, and experimented with fantasy, especially through the worlds of children. Grossman has also written a series for children about a boy named Itamar. Itamar metapes al kirot (1986), a play, has participated in international festivals in Belgium, Holland, Poland, Germany, and Austria. It was also invited to participate in an international festival for children's theater in Montreal in September 2004.

After publishing works dealing with Arab/Jewish relations or Holocaust themes, Grossman focused in Someone To Run With (2000) on the life of Jerusalem's drug addicts and runaways. The love story of Tamar, a runaway, and Assaf, an errand boy, combined fairy-tale elements with realistic portrayal of street kids. "Ultimately, this is a literary political novel, or a politico-literary novel," wrote Claire Messud in The New York Times, "that engages us with the means and effects of its storytelling more intently than with its depiction of any actual world." (February 8, 2004) The book was awarded the Sappir Prize for Literature in 2001.

Death as a Way of Life: Israel Ten Years After Oslo (2003) collected Grossman's essays and articles from al-Ayyam, The Guardian, Newsweek and other magazines and newspapers from 1993. "The agreement made with the Palestinians will bring them back to history," Grossman wrote optimistically after Yitzhak Rabin and Yasir Arafat had signed in 1993 the Oslo Accords."If people receive a place of their own, they can also return to time, to the natural progress of history. With such a people. one can begin to conduct negotiations between equals and to establish tolerable neighborly relations."

Grossman is considered one of Israel's most perceptive writers, who has with his work and constant activity brought closer together secular and religious people. In May 2005 Grossman and Amos Elon were named winners of the Jewish Quarterly Wingate Literary Prize 2004. Grossman's Someone to Run With won the Fiction Award, Amos Elon took the Non-Fiction Prize. In August 2006 Grossman joined A.B. Yehoshua and Amos Oz in a plea to Israeli Prime Minister to reach a cease-fire agreement between Israel and Hezbollah forces in Lebanon. A few days later Grossman's younger son, Uri, a tank commander in the Israeli Defense Forces, died in southern Lebanon, after his tank was hit by a Hezbollah missile. Grossman was awarded in 2010 the German Book Trade Peace Prize.

Grossman began writing To the End of the Land in 2003. The story about two friends, Avram and Ilan, who love the same girl, takes place between 1967 and 2000. Ora marries Ilan, has a child with him, but later also with Avram. War and other forces beyond one's control destroy Avram's life, but Ora raises his son as Ilan's own. Falling Out of Time (2011) is a drama in verse and prose. This work, not set in Israel, tells about coping with the loss of a child and the search for solace and meaning. Also A Horse Walks Into a Bar (2014) took readers by surprise – the central character is an appalling  comedian. The book was banned from most religious schools. In 2017, it won the Man Booker International prize for the year's best fiction in translation. Grossman shared the prize with his translator Jessica Cohen. The work has been optioned for a feature film production by Village Roadshow Pictures.

Following President Bashar Assad's brutal crackdown on the country's uprising, Grossman and other writers, such as Umberto Eco, Amos Oz, Orhan Pamuk, Salman Rushdie, and Wole Soyinka, urged in June 2011 the United Nations to condemn the repression in Syria as a crime against humanity. In an article entitled 'On hope and despair in the Middle East,' Grossman wrote that "It's maddening to think that the tremendous military power Israel has amassed is not giving it the courage to overcome its fears and existential despair and take a decisive step that will bring peace." (, 8th July 2014)  In December 2014, Grossman, Amoz Oz and other prominent Israelis signed a petion for the recognition of a Palestinian state. When US President Donald Trump visited Israel in 2017, Grossman's children's book The Hug (2013) was given to First Lady Melania Trump. It was dedicated to her son Barron.

Iti ha-ḥayim meśaḥeḳ harbeh (2019, More Than I Love My Life)  is a psychological puzzle about a secret, and its damaging effect on several generations of a family. Grossman novel was inspired by a true story about a woman who was imprisoned in Tito's Yugoslavia on the notorious prison island Goli Otok. There Vera, the grandmother and hero of the family, had to make an impossible choice, which forms the core of the story, .

For further reading: The Arab in Israeli Literature by Gila Ramras-Rauch (1989); Imagining the Child in Modern Jewish Fiction by Naomi Sokoooff (1992); 'Grossman, David,' in World Authors 1985-1990, ed.  Vineta Colby (1995); 'David Grossman, The Art of Fiction,' interviewed by Jonathan Shainin, The Paris Review, Issue 182 (Fall 2007); 'Foreigners Cannot Understand the Israelis' Vulnerability,' interview conducted by Martin Doerry and Christoph Schult, Der Spiegel (10.08.2009); The Outsider Inside: Ideas of Jewishness in Contemporary Jewish, Postcolonial, and Palestinian Literature by Isabelle Hesse (2013) - Special thanks to Orly Orava for her help with this page

Selected works:

  • Du-kerav, 1982 - Duel: a Mystery (translated by Betsy Rosenberg, 2004)
  • Rats: sipurim, 1983 [ Jogger]
  • Hiyukh ha-gedi, 1983 - The Smile of the Lamb (translated by Betsy Rosenberg, 1990)
  • Ah hadash legamre, 1986 [A Brand New Brother]
  • 'Ayen 'erech: Ahavah, 1986 - See Under: Love (translated by Betsy Rosenberg, 1989) - Hakusana rakkaus (suom. Kristiina Lampola, 2000)
  • Itamar metayel 'al kirot, 1986 [Hamar Climbs the Walls]
  • Itamar mikhtav, 1986
  • Zeman ha-tsahov, 1987 - The Yellow Wind (translated by Haim Watzman, 1988)
  • Gan Riki, 1988 (play) [Riki's Playgroup]
  • Itamar pogesh arnav, 1988 [Itamar Meets a Rabbit]
  • Itamar tzayad halomot, 1990 [Itamar the Dream Hunter]
  • Ha-safah ha-miuhedet shel Uri, 1990 [Uri's Special Language]
  • Sefer ha-dikduk ha-penimi, 1991 - The Book of Intimate Grammar (translated by Betsy Rosenber, 1994) - Sydämen kielioppi (suom. Kristiina Lampola, 1994)
  • War Diaries, 1991 [The Diaries of Moshe Sharettt and Ben Gurion]
  • Nokhehim nifkadim, 1992 - Sleeping on a Wire: Conversations with Palestinians in Israel (translated by Haim Watzman, 1993)
  • Itamar ve-kova ha-ksamim ha-shahor, 1992 [Itamar and the Black Hat]
  • Yesh yeladim zigzag, 1994 - The Zigzag Kid (translated by Betsy Rosenberg, 1997)
  • Sefer ha-siim shel Fozz, 1994 [Fozz's Book of Poems]
  • Hayo Haytem Shnei kofim, 1996 [Once Upon a Time You Were Two Monkeys]
  • She-tihyi li ha-sakin, 1998 - Be My Knife (translated by Vered Almog and Maya Gurantz, 2001)
  • Mishehu la-ruts ito, 2000 - Someone To Run With (translated by Vered Almog and Maya Gurantz, 2004)
  • Ba-guf ani mevinah, 2003 - Her Body Knows: Two Novellas (translated from the Hebrew by Jessica Cohen, 2005)
  • Mavet Kederech Chaim, 2003 - Death as a Way of Life: Israel Ten Years After Oslo (translated by Haim Watzman, 2003)
  • Devash arayot, 2005 - Lion's Honey: The Myth of Samson (translated by Stuart Schoffman, 2006) - Leijonahunaja: Simsonin myytti (suom. Kristiina Lampola, 2006)
  • Momik, 2005
  • Wariting in the Dark: Essays on Literature and Politics, 2008 (translated by Jessica Cohen)
  • Isha borahat mi-besorah, 2008 - To the End of the Land (translated by Jessica Cohen, 2010) - Sinne missä maa päättyy (suomentanut Markku Päkkilä, 2012)
  • Nofel mi-huts la-zeman, 2011 - Falling Out of Time (translated by Jessica Cohen, 2014)
  • The Hug, 2013 (illustrated by Michal Rovner)
  • Sus echad nichnas lebar, 2014 - A Horse Walks Into a Bar (translated by Jessica Cohen, 2016) - Hevonen meni baariin (suom. Arto Schroderus, 2018)
  • Iti ha-ḥayim meśaḥeḳ harbeh, 2019 [Life Plays with Me] - More Than I Love My Life (translated by Jessica Cohen, 2021) - Kun Nina sai tietää (suom. Minna Tuovinen, 2020)

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