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David Grossman talks about "To the End of the Land"

Grossman's own son was killed during 2006 fighting between Israel and Lebanon, a painful reality which gives his award-winning novel "To the End of the Land" an even deeper resonance.

By / September 1, 2011

"I felt that the reality of ["To the End of the Land'] is so Israeli," says Grossman. "It surprises me that readers all over the world are saying to me, 'No, but we also share this experience of raising children and caring for them and not knowing what the future will bring them.' "

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David Grossman is known not only as one of Israel's most acclaimed authors but also as a famously outspoken peace activist. That his most recent novel, To the End of the Land, pointedly critiques the violence of the Israel-Palestinian conflict should surprise no one. The book – which tells the story of an Israeli mother, Ora, who chooses to walk in the wilderness rather than wait at home to find out if her son will survive his military service – has been called "a mother's lament for life during a wartime that has no end in sight."

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What was shocking, however, was the news that Grossman's own son, Uri, was killed in military action shortly before his father finished his novel. The book has gone on to garner praise and awards, hitting the news cycle in the US last month when Obama purchased it for a summer read. I recently had a chance to talk to Grossman about "To the End of the Land": a story of family, friendship, and love – and the way that violence distorts them all.

Q. You made headlines in America last month when President Obama picked up your book as one of his summer vacation reads. How did that make you feel? And what do you hope he will take away from your book?

A. Of course I was very happy to hear that. I think that through books, through literature, we can understand more about the reality that is described, a reality that maybe Obama only knows from the reports of his analysts or the TV news, which by definition is more immediate and more superficial. This is the nature of mass media. I hope that if he reads my book he will get to know better the complexity of this conflict, the intensity of it, the feel of it, the way it charges each and every individual who lives this reality, be it Israeli, Palestinian, or Palestinian Israeli.

Q. You chose a female protagonist for your novel – a soldier's mother – even though you are a soldier's father and it might have seemed more natural for you to write from a man's point of view. Why did you create Ora?

A. I intuitively chose a woman because I think the relations between a mother and a child are more primal. And I say this as a very “motherly” kind of father. I’ve been involved very much in the life of my children from the very beginning. From the moment our oldest son Jonathan was born I felt it was a privilege to touch life through him and through my parenthood, my fatherhood.

Nevertheless, I know myself that the compact between my wife and him is more primal.This book deals so much with the everyday act of creating a human being in this life, in this world. It felt more natural to me to tell the story from Ora’s point of view.

And another thing: I thought that the woman will be less collaborative with the big system of the government, the army, the war. These are systems that were created by men and they reward men more. Those systems in a way are more boys’ games. It’s more likely that a woman will escape. A woman will not feel obliged to honor this awful deal that we make with the system when we send our son to the army and then wait for them to tell us what happens to him. I just knew this is how it would be.

Q. One of the most poignant things about "To the End of the Land" is the way that you interweave lovely scenes of family life with terrible moments of conflict. It raises the question: Can normal family life continue in a country torn by this kind of struggle? Or perhaps a better question is, does normal family life really exist under such circumstances – or is it always in some way tainted by them?

A. Both questions are right. The answer to both is yes. There are family lives here in Israel. There are so many moments that are disarmed, disconnected from the big conflict. There are people here who try to live all their lives without really being in contact with the conflict. This can be done in a way – until suddenly the conflict hits you and pierces this bubble that you try to hide in. Because of the terrible violence there is such yearning to have normalcy, the have the tenderness of family life, but of course it is an illusion. You cannot live in this bubble. You cannot be immune from the radiation of the conflict, from the brutality of it.

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