#27 David Grossman - Bringing Hebrew literature to the world

The world-famous Hebrew man of letters that brings Israeli reality to the center of the stage.

Israeli author David Grossman poses for photographers after he received the Medicis Foreign book award for his novel "Une femme fuyant l'annonce" (photo credit: REUTERS)
Israeli author David Grossman poses for photographers after he received the Medicis Foreign book award for his novel "Une femme fuyant l'annonce"
(photo credit: REUTERS)
For several decades, David Grossman has been one of the best-known authors in Israel. His work has long been translated into dozens of languages and adapted for both cinema and stage. But this year, the soft-spoken writer and activist ascended to an even higher level, after he was awarded the prestigious Man Booker International Prize for his novel A Horse Walks into a Bar.
Despite the international attention and recognition, Grossman, 63, says his day-to-day experiences are largely the same.
“I write like normal, wake up every morning, go to the room where I write, and sit there for six hours,” he told The Jerusalem Post in a recent interview. He added that A Horse Walks Into A Bar, which was first published in Hebrew in 2014, has received many more translation requests since it was awarded the prize, with versions completed or in progress for close to 35 languages.
And that’s the dream of the modest, unassuming Jerusalem-born Grossman: bringing Hebrew-language literature to as wide an audience as possible. When Grossman was awarded the Man Booker Prize in London in June, he noted in his speech that Israeli writers have worked “so hard to bring this language to life and to start to tell stories in Hebrew. Today we have such a flourishing and really wonderful literature,” he added. “There are so many wonderful writers in Israel that deserve to be translated and to be read.”
Many of his other works, like Someone to Run With, To the End of the Land, The Zig Zag Kid and more, have been translated to many languages. He has won the Sapir Prize, the Emet Prize, the Brenner Prize and a lifetime achievement award from ACUM. His novels explore powerful, emotional and yet quintessential Israeli and Jewish themes. In To the End of the Land, a woman embarks on a hike in Israel to avoid being notified by the IDF of her soldier son’s death. A Horse Walks into a Bar watches as its protagonist, Dovaleh, performs a lengthy and dark stand-up routine about his childhood: his Holocaust survivor mother; his repeated subjections to bullying; the traumatic events in a junior Israeli army camp; and the dark confession he’s been holding on to for so long.
GROSSMAN CAN often be seen as representing Israel on the international stage, but he bristles at the characterization.
“A country has within it so many different and contradictory voices,” he said. “When I speak overseas, I speak as an Israeli man who was born here, who wants to live here, whose life is greatly impacted by the reality here. I am one who lives all the dilemmas and the soul searching, all the big and beautiful things that are created here and all the bad and difficult things that occur in front of our eyes. I think if I represent something, it’s the many different levels of life here.”
Grossman has long been an active member of the left-wing peace movement in Israel, and harshly critical of the occupation and the leadership of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. It is hard not to find irony when right-wing politicians laud him as an Israeli export. Indeed, when he was awarded the Man Booker Prize, Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev called him a “winning horse in Israeli culture and literature” and Education Minister Naftali Bennett said he brought great honor to the State of Israel. “Whoever wants to appropriate me has to take the whole package, “ said Grossman. “Not just the writer, but also the man who for more than 30 years is shouting from every platform and in every interview about the corruption Israelis experience, the occupation and the treatment of Palestinian-Israelis. If the Right in Israel wants to use this, that an Israeli writer wins a prize like this, they need to remember that it comes with many more extras.” While Grossman is known as both a writer and an activist, he said he doesn’t intentionally set out to have a political impact with his novels. “A writer usually lives inside the magnetic field of his story in the relationships, in the intensiveness of the story,” he said. “When you write like that, in the purest form, when you forget slowly that there is a world outside, it is actually then that you reach people who are far away, that your stories can be a way for people to understand the sad complications of life here.”