David Grossman was born in Jerusalem. He’s one of Israel’s most acclaimed and controversial writers. He has written fiction, non-fiction and books for children. He has won several European prizes for his writing.
His latest novel is ‘To the End of the Land’. The book is translated from Hebrew by Jessica Cohen.
It’s an epic – almost 600 pages in the hardback edition. The story is set in Israel and is told in a mixture of magical realism and, well, real realism. It’s a tale of family life, of love, crisis and the cost of war. The message is very much anti-war.
The three main characters are Ora, her husband Ilan and their best friend who is also Ora’s former lover, Avram. As told in the prologue, the three originally met in 1967 when they were hospitalised during the Six Days War.
But the main action takes place in the present day. Ora, now middle-aged and estranged from her husband, undertakes a long trek through the Galilee. She had been eagerly anticipating the ending of her son’s military service but when he is sent into one, last, major battle she senses he won’t survive. She goes on the trip in order to avoid being around when the army come to tell her the worst.
She coerces Avram to go on the trek with her. Avram has been a recluse since the 1973 Yom Kippur war when he was a POW and suffered terrible torture.
During their long walk, cut off from the world, they sleep out, cross over rivers and valleys and Ora tells Avram the story of Ofer, of her life as a mother and in this way keeps her son alive. For Avram, as he listens, there is a thaw, a reconnection with humanity.
The cover notes say that the book has a ‘war and peace’ rhythm – and that is true. There is on the one hand the ghastliness of war and on the other the exquisite pain and pleasure of motherhood.
And through it all runs the current of Israel’s, seemingly, intractable and impossible situation – of the awful realities of risk and war that wait for each successive generation.
This beautifully told, anti-war novel is all the more poignant when you discover that Grossman’s own son was killed in 2006 while serving in the Israeli army.
It is a heart-wrenching and unforgettable read.
‘To the End of the Land’ is published by Jonathan Cape