‘New York Review’ publishes Patricia Storace deconstructing David Grossman’s blindness

Israel/Palestine
on 11 Comments

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”

About Philip Weiss

Philip Weiss is Founder and Co-Editor of Mondoweiss.net.

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11 Responses

  1. iamuglow
    October 13, 2011, 10:11 am

    While its like shooting fish in a barrel, its still satisfying to see this take down.

  2. Kathleen
    October 13, 2011, 11:12 am

    “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.”

    “at last granting” more light coming through the cracks

  3. pabelmont
    October 13, 2011, 11:24 am

    I am satisfied that Grossman be shown to be a racist, to embody or put forth racist talk. Good. Maybe, even, “good for him!” if he did it on purpose. (As Obama kow-tow-ed to AIPAC so excessively obsequiously, it may have been on purpose.)

    “Look at us, we Israelis are sick in our souls. To understand us you must understand our soul-sickness.”

    He is, perhaps, telling it like it is. And, perhaps, in hope that telling the truth may help his society to move to a better “place”.

    But thanks to NYRB for showing Americans “how it is” whatever Grossman’s purposes may have been.

  4. CitizenC
    October 13, 2011, 11:38 am

    I have a Palestinian friend, long resident and a citizen of the US, from Ein Kerem. He told me before I first visited that it was “the most beautiful village in Palestine.” I respectfully smiled and nodded, thinking inwardly that every Palestinian thought his the most beautiful village. Until I visited and saw that he was prpobably right, it is absolutely stunning. I later explained myself to him and apologized for even inward thoughts.

    At some Arab-Jewish “dialogue” event he remarked that Hadassah hospital was built on the lands of Ein Kerem. A Jewish interlocutor said, “that must really make you proud.”

  5. annie
    October 13, 2011, 12:09 pm

    Ora wonders why she is more “loyal” to the state than to her motherhood, a bewilderment we share. She tells us that her boys change “when the army comes for them.” But it is difficult to grasp the irony of Ora’s illusion that the army is not already a presence in the private refuge of her household.

    Yet from toy soldiers and paratrooper dolls, model tanks, displays of the emblems of Israeli army corps, pop songs from the armed forces radio station, school visits from soldiers, and picture books about army adventures, to teenagers taking state-sponsored trips to concentration camp sites in Poland, Israeli childhood educates for war. The crescendo of such trips is a visit to Auschwitz, where identification with the victims and with the group is achieved by a sort of hypnotic collective sobbing (the leaders call this process of induced catharsis “the coin dropping”). Observers describe fervent, and occasionally anguished, self-examination on the part of those who fail to weep.

    chilling. and the review’s end is quite telling

    Grossman has, though, given us an immensely convincing tragedy of a family disintegrating. His microscopic focus on the personal details of their domestic life together is a homage to their irreplaceable individuality, bringing to life their dilemma. They are, poignantly, creatures of their moment, wrought under particular ideological and spiritual pressures, not the eternal archetypes their culture asks them to be.

    The terrible news Ora is running away from is not only that Ofer may have been killed in battle, but that something in him may have been killed at home. The novel is also, however, like its heroine, gently evasive. For all Ora’s obsessive remembering of her son, she never asks herself the essential question, the question that might alter altogether her sense of his life, and of her own: What are his true memories of her?

    perhaps grossman is a creature of his moment, wrought under particular ideological and spiritual pressures, not the eternal archetypes his culture asks him to be. perhaps he is running away from not only that his own son was killed in battle, but that something in himself may have been killed at home (country). perhaps the novel is gently evasive because grossman is for all his obsessive remembering of his son and the way he died. but something tells me he has ask himself the essential questions of his true memories of him, it is just not something he is sharing in the novel. it sounds like this novel is more about his essential questions about his ‘homeland’.

    but i have not read the book.

  6. Kate
    October 13, 2011, 12:32 pm

    CitizenC, The Palestine Remembered site has some beautiful photos of ‘Ayn Karim, both B&W ones taken in the 1930s and recent color ones. It is truly a special place.
    All the photos can be accessed from the following page, and there is an index:
    link to palestineremembered.com

    • iamuglow
      October 13, 2011, 5:50 pm

      That is an awesome site. Tons of great videos collected in one place. Thanks for that.

  7. Les
    October 13, 2011, 1:01 pm

    I confess that after the death of Barbara Epstein, I saw anti-Muslim and racist anti-Arab references appear in the articles that I blamed on Silvers. Perhaps no one was really in charge.

  8. Richard Witty
    October 13, 2011, 2:05 pm

    More potshots at liberal Zionists?

    Why?

    Phil,
    If you wrote a novel in which some of your characters were racist in ways, would that make you (author) racist?

    Do you really mean to invite that distortion of actual criticism? Do you mean for distorting criticism to be applied to your work, or would you prefer criticism based on content?

    Do you think that in portraying some racism in relations, that Grossman is advocating for them?

    • Les
      October 14, 2011, 9:32 am

      The last person who does not know that liberal Zionism is an oxymoron.

  9. DICKERSON3870
    October 13, 2011, 4:45 pm

    RE: “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.” ~ Weiss

    SEE THIS DOCUMENTARY: Defamation (2009), by Yoav Shamir, 91 minutes
    FROM A FILM REVIEW BY GILAD ATZMAN:

    (excepts) I urge every person on this planet to watch Yoav Shamir’s Defamation, a documentary about anti-Semitism…
    …He provides us with some intimate footage of Israeli youth being indoctrinated into collective anxiety and total neurosis just before they join the IDF.
    The general image we are left with is no less than grotesque. The film elaborates on the aggressive vulgar orchestrated amplification of fear amongst Israelis and Zionist Jews. “We are raised to believe that we are hated” says an Israeli high school girl on her way to a concentration camp…
    …Shamir provides us with an opportunity to see how badly young Israelis behave once in Poland. You watch their contempt to the local population and disrespect to Polish people and institutes. You can also watch Israelis project their hatred onto others. For some reason they are convinced that everyone out there is as merciless as they happen to be. The Israeli youngsters are saturated with fear, yet, they are having a good time, you can watch them having a party dancing in a bus all the way to a Auschwitz…

    ENTIRE FILM REVIEW – link to gilad.co.uk
    “Defamation” can be streamed from Netflix – link to movies.netflix.com
    “Defamation” on YouTube (in 9 parts) – link to youtube.com

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