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."