Reading in the Dark: The Mile High Book Club

on Saturday, April 24, 2010
Free wi-fi access is a luxury at most airports. In Israel, it's a necessity. The internet, it turns out, is more helpful and personable than any Israeli airport staff. I come back from Steimatsky to the news that Debbie has managed to find and book us both flights and accommodation. It ain't cheap but that's what travel insurance is for. We trudge back out to the taxi rank for the fourth time tonight and head to the closest thing Ben Gurion has to an airport hotel - some weirdly funky designer specimen plonked in the middle of a crappy shopping mall fifteen minutes away. The only other building in 'town' is, rather fittingly, a hospital.

I am too worked up to sleep. I need to unwind. Debbie's head hits the pillow and she's out. We need to wake up in four hours to catch the British Airways fight to london. We are going to be there two and a half hours early. We will be standing at the airport doors when they open, like desperate shoppers at a boxing day sale. I lock myself in the bathroom with David Grossman.

I've never been inclined to read much Israeli literature. Other than Aharon Appelfeld, who I absolutely adore, Etgar Keret, who I find somewhat overrated, and some Amos Oz, my relationship with Israeli authors is remarkably equivocal. David Grossman has always been of peripheral interest to me. I've meant to read him - his novels look interesting - I just haven't ever gotten around to it. I guess Writing In The Dark, a slim collection of essays on literature and politics, seems an unlikely place to start. Firstly, it is non-fiction, which I generally try to avoid. Secondly, the cover is hopelessly dreary, a twee black and white photo of the author sitting on a wooden chair with his hands intertwined over his crossed legs. Thankfully, the rules of The Mile High Book Club forced me to press on because this little book proved to be the antidote to all that I had experienced in the preceding five hours.

Another review.

David Grossman is a refreshing, courageous voice of reason who deserves to rise above the cacophony that is Israeli political discourse. He is neither apologist nor kowtower. He has a passionate love for his country, and a desire for it to take its place amongst the moral leaders of the world. His disappointment is palpable, but so is his sense of hope. He also possesses a perspective that I think many of his compatriots have lost. As he so beautifully puts it in the essay The Desire To Be Gisella, "I fear that after decades of spending most of our energies, our thoughts and attention and inventiveness, our blood and our life and our financial means, on protecting our external borders, fortifying and safeguarding them more and more - after all this we may be very close to becoming like a suit of armour that no longer contains a knight, no longer contains a human." Grossman ought to know. He lost a son in the 2005 war with Lebanon. Unlike S. Yizhar, whose incredible novella Khirbet Khizeh seems intent on shaking the complacent arrogance of many in the Diaspora, Grossman has a much wider, contemplative agenda. He does not throw blame around like mud, letting it stick on whomever it falls. Rather, he gathers inequities of the past, committed by both sides, and uses it to form bricks. Writing In The Dark is a must read for anyone remotely interested in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, irrespective of political leaning.

I close Grossman's book and head to bed for what I hope will be two hours of peaceful sleep. You know, now that I think about it, I don't half mind this country.


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