Kudos to the New York Review of Books. In a continuing effort to rethink the conflict, spry editor Robert Silvers has published an important review of David Grossman’s novel, To the End of the Land, by Patricia Storace.
The publication is brave because the New York Review is at last granting an American liberal writer (who I believe is not Jewish) greater moral authority than the Israeli icon whom she is reviewing, negatively. For Storace exposes the blinders worn by even the most respected Israeli artist when trying–honorably– to grapple with the occupation and racism that surround him. And Storace uses the book to interrogate Israeli foundational myths.
Below are three devastating excerpts of the review. 1, What is the Jerusalem neighborhood of the novel and why can’t Grossman describe it?
Trying to get some sense of Ora’s and Ilan’s Ein Karem neighborhood made me understand why Grossman either keeps the family indoors or whisks them out of the neighborhood…. But Ein Karem was once Ain Karim, a Palestinian village whose inhabitants were driven out in 1948. The neighborhood contains “one of the largest concentrations of Palestinian village construction in Israel and the West Bank,” according to a newspaper report, structures that are known to the Israelis as “architecture without architects.” The British Mandate government aimed to preserve Ain Karim, along with the villages of Lifta, al- Malkha, and Deir Yassin; the other three villages were completely destroyed. [Noam Dvir, "Ein Karem Under Threat," Haaretz , August 25, 2010.] It was apparently a popular, affordable neighborhood for young couples in the 1970s…. The city government covered over Mamluke and Byzantine remains while the spring, supposedly the site where the Virgin Mary uttered the Magnificat, is now polluted, thanks to the public toilets built next to it
Ora’s stone house with arched windows and decorative floor tiles must surely be one of the Palestinian villas. There her son Ofer develops a childhood obsession with Arabs, sleeping with a monkey wrench ready to attack them, making his foster father draw up precise population counts of each Muslim country, misspelling Arab “Arob” in his notebooks, “‘cause they’re always robbing us.” In Grossman’s novel, the neighborhood is little more than a name and decor. Without its historical or social setting, we cannot fully grasp what living there might mean. We sense oppressively that we are being told one story to distract us from others….
2. Storace’s treatment of Grossman’s handling of the Palestinian driver character in the novel, Sami.
These passages are oddly reminiscent of American Civil War literature in Ora’s need to be justified and simultaneously enjoy her privileges: as Scarlett O’Hara says, “Uncle Peter is one of our family; drive on, Peter.” Like the black coachman’s, the Palestinian chauffeur’s driving is an emblem of the limits of his freedom; he can move, but only where ordered. As Uncle Peter must transport his owners, so Sami is summoned to transport Ora’s soldier son, Ofer, to join his unit in an “operation” against his own people.
Ora’s privilege within the novel extends to her freedom to repeat ranting soliloquies about Arabs:
“Them and their lousy honor, and their never-ending insults, and their revenge, and their settling scores over every little word anyone has ever said to them since Creation, and all the world always owes them something, and everyone’s always guilty in their eyes!”
It is unimaginable that Grossman would dare to allow the Palestinian character the same freedom in his thoughts about Jews, but in this and other passages, with steely candor, he reveals the pervasive intensity of the societal hostility to Arabs. Ora remembers sitting in Sami’s taxi while airport policemen hustled him off for a session of abuse, calling him a “shitty Arab.” On Ora’s hike, she stops in a guesthouse run by a group of fanatics who rapturously curse Arabs as an eternal enemy ordained by God before they offer a hot lunch.
Ora’s sons have absorbed this almost dogmatic enmity; Ofer screams and stomps, “Make them go away! Back to their own homes! Why did they even come here?”…
3. Here Storace faults Grossman for touching on the ways that Holocaust education is inculcated in Israeli youth but failing to explain this to the reader. She has done her own research:
The novel gives no description of this rite of passage, but an essay by the chairman of the Early Childhood Department of Efrata Teacher’s College offers an admiring account of a model approach in the classroom. The kindergarten teacher explains that when Hitler
“saw the Jews did not have a country of their own, he decided to kill them all. She emphasizes that the only place Jews can be safe is in the state of Israel, and asks the children ‘to think about those murdered…old people, babies, and children like you.’ She dismissed the likelihood that this information might induce fear, insisting that the children are ‘not frightened very much’ by what she chose to tell them”