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Writing in the Dark: Essays on Literature and Politics [Paperback]

David Grossman , Jessica Cohen

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Book Description

Sept. 1 2009
Throughout his career, David Grossman has been a voice for peace and reconciliation between Israel and its Arab citizens and neighbors. In these six essays on politics and culture in Israel, he addresses the conscience of a country that has lost faith in its leaders and its ideals. The collection includes an already famous speech concerning the disastrous Second Lebanon War of 2006, the war that took the life of Grossman's twenty-one-year-old son, Uri.

Moving, human, 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 writer who has been, for nearly two decades, one of the most original and talented not only in his own country, but anywhere" (The New York Times Book Review).

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 144 pages
  • Publisher: Picador; First Edition edition (Sept. 1 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 031242860X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312428600
  • Product Dimensions: 20.8 x 14 x 1 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 113 g
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #357,165 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

"Grossman is more than just another talented writer: Like Václav Havel, he is a moralist, a man with a conscience whose words cry out for absolute truth and fariness."—Newsday

"One of contemporary literature's most versatile and absorbing writers."—San Francisco Chronicle

"No other Israeli writer so far has approached the touchy subject [os Israeli Arabs]] with such compassion, or looked at it with, so to speak, bifocal eyes, Israeli and Palestenian."—The New York Review of Books

"An extended rumination on the struggle and the thrill of shaping words in to stories and reclaiming their meaning and beauty."—The Nation

"The Israeli Orwell . . . [Grossman] is a writer for the world stage, and the world has much need of him."—The Buffalo News

"[Grossman] asks the most difficult and searching questions. . . . His words have a tremendous, forceful eloquence about them, from first to last. . . . A delight to read . . . powerfully humanistic."—The Independent (UK)

 

About the Author

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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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.6 out of 5 stars  7 reviews
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The best collection of essays I've read in years Nov. 12 2008
By G. Dawson - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Writing in the Dark is a collection of essays on literature and politics by David Grossman, possibly one of the world's best living writers. This slim volume contains only 6 essays, but there's more insight and intelligence packed into these 131 pages than resides in most books. In perfectly crafted prose, Grossman speaks personally and passionately about his writing life: "I write, and the world does not close in on me. It does not grow smaller. It moves in the direction of what is open, future, possible. I imagine, and the act of imagination revives me."

Many of these essays touch on Grossman's love of reading and the effect of literature on his life. In one essay, he describes reading a good book: "I read the book over the course of one day and night in a total frenzy of the senses, and my feeling--which now slightly embarrasses me--will be familiar to anyone who has been in love: it was the knowledge that this other person or thing was meant only for me."

In addition to writing and reading, a couple of these essays touch on politics, particularly in relation to Israel, but this is not a political book in the usual sense. Grossman clarifies, "I am not planning to talk 'politics,' but rather to address the intimate, internal processes that occur among those who live in a disaster zone, and the role of literature and writing in a climate as lethal as the one we live in."

Without a doubt, this is the best collection of essays I've read in years. I'm perplexed as to why this book has not received the attention it so clearly deserves.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A cry in the wilderness? Nov. 9 2009
By R. M. Peterson - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
David Grossman is an Israeli, born in Jerusalem in 1954. His father immigrated from Galicia in the 1930s and his mother was a Jew from Palestine. Writing in Hebrew, he has distinguished himself as a writer both of fiction and non-fiction. I confess that I had a difficult time getting into his fiction and I aborted my two attempts. Not so with his non-fiction. "The Yellow Wind", "Sleeping on a Wire", and "Death as a Way of Life" are among the finest and most perceptive books I have read on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. (For those not familiar with Grossman's non-fiction, be forewarned that he is a peace activist and a staunch critic of prevailing Israeli policy.)

WRITING IN THE DARK is not quite on the same plane as those three earlier books. It is a collection of six essays (or speeches) from between 1998 and 2007. As is almost inevitable with such collections, there is a certain measure of disjointedness or diffusion of focus. For the most part, they do not directly address the political situation in Israel or the schism between Israelis and Palestinians. The most "political" essay is the fifth (and best) one, "Contemplations on Peace", a lecture from 2004. In it Grossman considers how peace would help Israel develop normally as a state and society, perhaps even allow for the realization of a once fervently held dream of "a moral and just society, a society with a humanistic, spiritual vision, a society that would manage to integrate modern life with the ethics of the prophets and the finest Jewish values." Grossman fears that the protracted and constant state of war and anxiety will end up permanently stunting the development of Israel as a nation and that of its citizens as people. He also is concerned about rebutting in a meaningful way the view, among certain circles, "that the entire State of Israel--not only the settlements--is an act of colonial, capitalist injustice, carried out by an apartheid regime, detached from historical, national, and cultural motives, and therefore illegitimate."

Another theme of the essays, the predominant one even, is how literature -- both writing and reading literature -- can be a means for transcending the propaganda and dehumanization so prevalent in a nation or society in a state of war. The point is a valid one, but in these essays, as collected here in one book, Grossman belabors it and, at times, mystifies it. Much of the discussion is far too abstract, almost mystical, and at times the writing (when I do understand it) is too precious.

If it were possible to give Amazon stars to individual essays, I would give three stars to the first three essays and five stars to the last three. Forgoing arithmetical averaging and perhaps logic, I give the book as a whole five stars, to signify the value of the last three essays, especially "Contemplations on Peace."
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Packs a lot of intellect into a tiny book Oct. 22 2008
By Dustin Stein - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I am always skeptical of collections of essays because they usually lack focus and cohesion. Collections of essays seem more likely to be the result of megalomania than a clear and organized plan. This book is different though, Grossman is at his sharpest in these observational essays. Yes, he is guilty of my criticism; most of these essays had been given as lectures or at conferences but they reveal the inner workings of one of the most talented living writers. Even one not familiar with Grossman's work will enjoy the approach he takes towards his various subjects--never falling too far from politics.
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Proverbial Candle... Dec 14 2009
By John P. Jones III - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
David Grossman is a remarkable man. In this collection of six essays you get virtually no indication of the anger that surely must be there, at observing the stupidity of the endless violence that has spanned his entire life. Instead, there is a calm, rationale voice, a "light unto nations" if you will, that consistently and logically says that we (and the book was originally published in Hebrew, so his main audience is the nation of Israel) need to recognize that endless conflict is not in our best interest, is damaging to our soul and values, and that there are alternatives available. In one of the best essays that have been highlighted by other reviewers, his speech in Paris in 2004, which is entitled "Contemplations of Peace" he clearly identifies one of the central problems: "The government of Israel have showered hundreds of millions of dollars on settlements and settlers in the past decades. What is known as the `settlement enterprise' is the largest and most wasteful national project Israel has undertaken since its inception. A massive mechanism of propaganda, enticement and persuasion--ideological, religious, and national--was launched by all the governments of Israel, left and right, to impel Israelis to move to the Occupied Territories en masse. Scandalously excessive financial incentives were offered. But still, after almost forty years, fewer than 250,000 Israelis live in the settlements, and the vast majority of them are children who were born there."

The book is a short one, only 130 pages, and there have already been a couple of excellent reviews posted. But such is the richness, and density of his essays, that I think there is still much that can be said without being repetitive. Differences provide for the viability of horse races and stock markets. My colleague to my north, R. M. Peterson, and I differ somewhat on this book, perhaps only by nuance, since we both give it 5-stars. But my rating does not resort to "trick math," since I believe Grossman's best essay is the second: "The Desire to Be Gisella," and I am strongly impressed by the first as well. In the second essay Grossman describes being on a bus from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and the news hour includes a report on his book, "See Under: Love." In the report they describe an extra pedal that Uncle Shimmik had installed on a sewing machine that Gisella uses. Grossman, who has written the story, cannot remember why he had the fictional character install the extra pedal! He says: "I was on edge for the rest of the journey." On arriving home, he re-reads his own story, and realizes, yes, I gave her the extra pedal because she was short. As a writer, he was able to enter his creation's life, and realize that because she was short, she would need an extra pedal at the sewing machine, something he subsequently forgot. In a word, he had empathy with his character, and this is a primary thought he has for "his characters," empathy for "the other"; or as he expresses it at the end of this essay: "And then, sometimes, we can also grasp--in a way we never previously allowed ourselves to--that this mythological, menacing and demonic enemy is no more than an amalgamation of people who are as frightened, tormented and despondent as we are. This comprehension, to me, is the essential beginning of any process of sobriety and reconciliation."
Words matter. A central Grossman theme as a writer. Do we call them "settlers," as the American media does, or "colonists" as the French media does, in referring to the Jewish inhabitants of the occupied West Bank (the last three words themselves are "loaded".) Grossman has a wonderful dissection of the following news report, from his days as a newscaster on Kol Israel radio news, in his first essay, "Books That Have Read Me": "A local youth was killed during disturbances in the Territories."

Anger? Well, he is only human, so he does have a bit of that as well. Consider in his final essay he says: "This may also explain the general lack of response to the heavy blow against democracy dealt by the appointment of Avigdor Lieberman as a senior minister--the appointment of a known pyromaniac to run the national fire brigade."

Now that America is also adopting an ideology of endless war, Grossman's book is an excellent 5-star read for those Americans who seek an alternative from "cursing the darkness," and kudos to Jessica Cohen for an excellent translation.
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting but not revolutionary Feb. 3 2013
By Michelle Cohen - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Good book--not so dense. At the same time, not the most creative pieces I ever read..Great for writers and people interested in the literary word
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