David Grossman: the dissenting patriot.

Author:Cooper, Marilyn


In 1987, the editors of the Israeli weekly newsmagazine Koteret Rashit marked the 20th year of Israeli control of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip by dispatching the young, up-and-coming novelist and journalist David Grossman to spend seven weeks among Palestinians and Israeli settlers living in the West Bank.

Most Israelis at the time saw the situation with the Palestinians as a fairly stable one and were shocked when they read Grossman's lengthy article depicting turbulent day-to-day conditions in the West Bank, and his prediction that the current situation was a breeding ground for a future violent revolt. The article created an uproar. Grossman received death threats, his family car was sabotaged and Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, speaking on Grossman's own Israeli public radio show, angrily accused him of having simply invented the problems he had written about between Israelis and Palestinians in the West Bank. But Grossman's article proved to be eerily prophetic: Less than six months later, the first Palestinian intifada erupted. With the 1988 English publication of his original article as the book The Yellow Wind, Grossman rapidly became one of Israel's most internationally recognized and acclaimed authors.

Grossman, who was born in Jerusalem in 1954, held fairly conventional political views for the first part of his life. He was ten years old when he first met a non-Jew and describes himself as a teenager who "felt unambivalent pleasure about Israeli power." Until his mid-20s he viewed Israel as a vulnerable country "whose main imperative was to survive" in a region surrounded by enemies. Grossman was part of the first group of Jewish Israeli high school students to study Arabic in an intensive program designed to train its participants to become future intelligence officers, and he served in that capacity in the Israeli army during the 1973 Yom Kippur War. Toward the end of his army service, he met his future wife, Michal, a radical left-wing Zionist, and after they spent a year furiously arguing about their ideological differences, she "converted" him into a critic of Israel and he became a "dissenting patriot." They married in 1976, and after he finished his military service they returned to Jerusalem, where Grossman studied theater and philosophy at Hebrew University. But rather than simply studying literature, Grossman soon decided he was going to write it.

Alongside Amos Oz and A.B. Yehoshua (both of whom he calls close friends), Grossman is widely considered to be one of Israel's foremost living novelists. He began to be known outside Israel with his second book, The Smile of the Lamb (1983), the first Israeli novel to be set in the West Bank. Grossman is often compared to the Nobel Prize Laureate Gabriel Garcia Marquez because, like the Colombian author, he often employs elements of magical realism and rarely uses traditional linear narratives. French-born American literary critic and Harvard...

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