Grossman is a nice embodiment of what Yitzhak Laor calls the “myth of Liberal Zionism”. Perhaps a review of his latest magnum opus will paint a clearer picture of “where he is “coming from”:
SOME NOVELS are met by such a hurricane of hostile criticism that they sink out of sight. Only word of mouth, the contrary opinion running from reader to reader, can occasionally bring them to the surface again. To the End of the Land has the opposite problem. It arrived on a foaming wave of praise which, when they actually get down to its pages, will leave many readers puzzled. Normally an author can deflect blurb hyperbole with a wince. But this fanfare has been on a Hollywood Bowl scale that does Grossman, who has proved himself in the past to be a wise and talented writer, no favors at all.
‘To read it is to have yourself taken apart, undone, touched at the place of your own essence; it is to be turned back, as if after a long absence, into a human being.’ So wrote Nicole Krauss. Paul Auster ranked the book with Madame Bovary and Anna Karenina: ‘wrenching, beautiful, unforgettable’. Grossman’s American publisher called it ‘one of the very greatest novels I shall have the privilege of publishing … When critics look back at the 21st century and list its 20 best novels, it will be on it.’ Several reviewers and interviewers have grabbed at the Tolstoy comparison: the vast scale, the humanity, the panorama of families in a land incessantly at war. Perhaps, they venture, this is the War and Peace of our own times.
A Letter to the Editor cut to the chase:
Reviewing David Grossman’s To the End of the Land, Neal Ascherson is right to be reminded of ‘those American war films, proclaimed to be ‘against Vietnam’, in which only the American victims are in focus’ (LRB, 3 February). Grossman’s novel–like most Israeli fictions about the conflict–is almost entirely preoccupied with Jewish suffering, its Arab characters never more than shadows that flit across the stage. What Ascherson misses is the thread that connects Grossman’s aesthetics and his politics. Grossman is, to be sure, concerned about what Israel has done to the Palestinians, but he’s far more concerned with what oppressing the Palestinians has done to Israel. The indifference to the inner lives of Palestinians and the emphasis on Jewish victimization in To the End of the Land reflect the pinched sympathies–and imaginative failures–of the Zionist consensus to which he belongs. This is a major reason why Grossman is so enormously popular in Israel, even on the right. Despite his opposition to the occupation, he remains a loyal soldier. As George Packer touchingly noted in his New Yorker profile, ‘even though he is alienated from Israel’s leadership, he still sends his children into the army.’ The fact that he continues to support a two-state solution ‘even though Arab militants killed his son’ (Packer again) has been turned into another reason to admire him: an example of his supreme generosity (never mind that these ‘Arab militants’ were defending their land against an Israeli invasion). Purportedly an anti-war novel, To the End of the Land breathes new literary life into the old cliche of Israel’s anguished soul.