Wednesday, 30 June 2010

See Under: Love (David Grossman)

--The blurb--
"Momik, the protagonist of the book, is the only child of survivors of the Holocaust. He grows up in the shadow of their history, determined to understand the nature of the Nazi "beast" and to prepare for a holocaust he knows is still to come."

--The review--
Languorous reading of See Under: Love is enjoyable but not advisable; it is not the ideal book to take months over. This is because Grossman's work is many of the things that contemporary literature almost shouldn't be - it is risky almost to the point of being unsellable due to its sheer ambition, complexity and convolution (and not always in a good way). Still, I suppose that never stopped James Joyce or Joseph Heller. It is all of these things in a way that makes the book almost bewildering (thankfully without being totally incomprehensible); as a reader you sometimes ask yourself why you are continuing with this. And yet you do, because it is utterly compelling.

In fact, there are many reasons to continue with this book. Its slightly wacky and yet always eloquent style makes it intriguing, original and beautiful in a way that nearly makes aspiring authors want to stop writing because they'll never be able to make anything as good as this. Utterly poetic, it still simultaneously manages to reach out to humanity in a way they will understand; it is significant historically, culturally and literarily, reminding us in more ways than one that whether we like it or not we are our history, we are what has gone before us. It has an interdisciplinary, learned and highly intelligent quality to it, which makes it both wonderful and somewhat intimidating. The title becomes apparent in its meaning only towards the novel's end, but when it does, it's highly fitting and it becomes abundantly clear.

Most interestingly, it manages to cross cultures and genres and voices and times while still remaining distinctly Jewish. It confronts the issue of the Holocaust and the history of the Jewish people in an entirely new and breathtaking way, and while perhaps not all of it is initially understandable, in many ways it almost doesn't matter; it is a pleasure simply to sit and allow words and images to wash over you. My advice is therefore not to borrow this book off anyone: it is an intense and complicated experience, and you need your own copy with you along the way, so that you can peel back the layers and unwrap the emotional and historical complexes indicated here in your own personal way.

Other works by David Grossman*
The Yellow Wind (1988; non-fiction)
The Smile of the Lamb (1990)
Sleeping on a Wire (1993; non-fiction)
The Book of Intimate Grammar (1994)
The Zigzag Kid (1997)
Duel (1998)
Be My Knife (2001)
Death as a Way of Life (2003; non-fiction)
Someone To Run With (2003)
Her Body Knows (2005)
Lion's Honey (2006)

*the dates given are the dates of translation into English

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