Israeli author David Grossman’s new novel — basically a play written as poetry — follows several nameless characters, as they walk and walk and walk, trying to meet with the dead children they cannot stop grieving.
Grossman so beautifully handles a difficult subject that Falling Out of Time lingers with the reader long after the final sentence is read. While published five years after his son was killed in Lebanon, it would be far too simple to view this book as Grossman’s own mourning process.
The book “is a mixture of all kinds of genres and voices,” says the author. “It’s an attempt to go as far as I can to the place where I still feel the throbbing forces of the ones we love.”
He admits the book was difficult to write, but adds, “I think it was harder not to write about it.” However, he says, “I don’t write for therapy. There are much better ways frankly” to deal with one’s emotions.
In his native Hebrew, Grossman has written more than a dozen works of fiction, nonfiction and children’s books as well as lots of articles. He is appearing May 13 at the Carnegie Institution for Science as part of the Washington DC’s Jewish Community Center Authors Out Loud series.
“I write. It’s an energy. It’s a passion, the need to articulate what we feel, to touch our lives through words,” he says. While writing, “I try to be in reality, all the nuances, just to surrender, to give words to what I see.”
“I wanted to write all my life. Still today I wake up every morning, still happy to write. It’s really a pleasure. In the heart of writing is the dismantling of the soul of a person into mostly crumbs of what is relevant and significant.”
Grossman, 60, believes everyone has a “human need not only to describe what you think, what you see, but the need, the urge, the desire to tell a story.” But clearly, he has the ability to put words down on paper much more effectively and lyrically than just about everyone else, and he clearly doesn’t suffer from writer’s block. “I mainly write at home, in the cellar. I don’t have many demands. I can write in many places, in the airplane, in the kitchen.”
His new book, while quite different, does seem to follow his last book, To the End of the Land, in that the main character walks the length of Israel rather than be home to answer the phone in case the person on the other end of the line has called to inform her that her son was killed while serving in the IDF.
Grossman lives in the suburbs of Jerusalem and is well known as an outspoken liberal activist. “I am sure there are many people here in Israel who don’t get my books, because my material threatens them. They don’t like it, and this is understandable.”
After being told how a recent reading at the DCJCC of the play, The Admission, by an Israeli writer created controversy, Grossman said he believes Israelis are more open to political differences. “I think they [Israelis] understand the heart of someone who not only loves this place – I really do – I find Israel the most relevant place in the world,” but they also respect the fact that he has served in the IDF as have all three of his children, including Uri, who was killed with his crew when their tank was hit by a Hezbollah missile in southern Lebanon in 2006.
As a child, Grossman heard many stories from his parents and other relatives about people who survived, or didn’t, during the Holocaust. “I still believe in the deep significance of Israel having a state of its own.” He also strongly “still believes in fighting for this country.”
The love of reading and telling stories started early for Grossman. He thrilled to the stories of Sholem Aleichem, and his parents told him that when he was 4 years old, they came to pick him up. “I was sitting there telling stories to the children,” he said.
Living in a small country enables Grossman to get together with fellow authors Amos Oz and A.B. Yehoshua. “We talk about everything, politics, our family. Of course, we speak of writing, the books we are writing now, the books we are reading. We are like family, and I am the youngest brother.”