Monday, May 2, 2011

To The End The Land by David Grossman

If there was ever a compelling story to be told with authority, this should have been it.  David Grossman, one of Israel's premier literary writers, suffered the horrific tragedy of losing his 20 year-old son who was serving in the Israeli army during the 2006 Israel-Lebanon conflict.  At that time, Grossman was engaged in writing his latest novel, To The End Of The Land, which explored the psyche of an Israeli mother, Ora, whose son reenlisted to serve in the army for a major offensive action just as he completed his three years of service.  This should have been a great book.  It was a disappointment.

Ora had planned a celebratory hike with her son to mark his return to civilian life.  She was shattered by his decision to reenlist and could not keep it together.  After leaving her son, Ora fled her home so the "notifiers" (i.e., the military officials charged with notifying families of deaths) will not be able to let her know if her son dies, thus prolonging his life.  She forces her former lover, Avram, a psychologically damaged war veteran, to go on the hike she was to have taken with her son.  While Ora and Avram are hiking, we learn about Avram, Ora's estranged husband, Ora's family and Ora. 

I could not finish the book.  It is nearly 600 pages, and it was just too much.  I knew of Grossman's reputation and loss before reading the book and was eager to read it. The book became too difficult to wade through, and I set it aside.  Grossman needed a more aggressive editor to hack away at the surplus, which made the beautifully written prose cumbersome and difficult to tackle.  I have no doubt that Grossman was pouring out his own grief in these pages, which makes not liking this novel difficult.  As a work of literature, I did not enjoy the novel.

After writing this review, I attended a discussion about this book led by an outstanding presenter.  She identified some of the significant themes Grossman tackles: immortality, the effect of a constant war on the psyche of the warrior and shifting reality, to name a few.  She also shared some of the significant plot developments that happened deep into the book.  While she agreed that the book needed a lot of editing, the themes of the book she identified may make tackling this book worthwhile for the truly persistent, dogged and determined.  For me, I was just satisfied with a great discussion and moving on to another book.

Other reviews: Boston Bibliophile (far more positive).

The novel was a nominee for the National Book Critics Circle Award as well.  (Goon Squad won that award).

A discussion with Grossman:

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