The Hebrew author publishes ‘Life plays with me’, the first of his novels that takes place outside of Israel and that recounts atrocities in the Goli Otok reeducation camp in Tito’s Yugoslavia.
David Grossman (Jerusalem, 1954) is part of what was the holy trinity of Israeli literature along with veteran AB Yehoshua and the late Amos Oz. His novels directly -The Whole Life- or indirectly -Great Cabaret- usually delve into the pain of a land, his, in permanent conflict from what his memory reaches. There are the moral debates and the drawing of complex human beings in adverse historical circumstances, mark of the house.
Grossman does not imagine. It knows and feels. Her youngest son, Uri, died while doing military service during the Lebanon war, and that loss has permeated all of her novels. Before and now, Grossman has been a constant activist politically for the creation of two states, because the formula two nations one state, being realistic, may seem “a good idea” but, unfortunately, it is not “feasible” at all. according to his sorry opinion. Life plays with me (Lumen / Ed. 62), his latest novel, which he talks about on the other side of the computer screen at his home in Jerusalem, moves away from his usual Israeli setting for the first time to focus on the former Yugoslavia .
Despite the location, it is nevertheless still pure Grossman. That concern remains in the novel, which can be exemplified in a phrase that Stalin uttered with cynicism and Grossman recovers with empathy. “A single death is a tragedy, a million deaths is statistics.” That is why the writer focuses on a character based on someone who approached him to tell his story. Eva (Vera in the novel), a Jewish woman, born in Croatia, forced to make a terrible choice. The dilemma that was imposed on her in the concentration camp of Goli Otok, the naked island, during the mandate of Tito was to denounce her husband accused of espionage, which would mean certain death, or abandon her six-year-old daughter. He chose the second. He passed a thousand penalties and ended up in Israel, where one day he read the writer and called him on the phone. “I had never met a personality like yours. She was someone without filters, rigorous and almost a fanatic but at the same time warm and loving. It was a time when values were more important than people. I hope readers do not categorically judge it negatively. I think that is what literature is for, it is like a court of first instance to which you can appeal ». Grossman also met the daughter who many years later had to learn to forgive her mother and herself.
An unknown field
Before meeting Eva, for Grossman Marshal Tito was one of the great heroes of World War II in his fight against the Nazis, later practicing in the block politics of a more permissive communism. “I knew nothing of Goli Otok, this center of punishment and extermination. Hearing the brutalities that were committed there is like hearing from Auschwitz. At least there you knew who the bad guys were.
«Elaborating those stories, not letting them fossilize, telling it in words, analyzing why in a more mature way is liberating. It is about adding layers of humanity to the story and establishing a kind of human archeology, “he says, convinced that this way of approaching literature makes him become a kind of pain medium. “To write is to fall apart and then to rebuild oneself in a plausible way that one can identify with. It is painful but I don’t want to live a life that has no meaning.
For Israel, founded three years after the second world war, the past is destiny because the tragedy of the Holocaust continues to dictate the conduct of its citizens, for better and for worse. “Every year when the liberation of Auschwitz arrives, I think that there are two ways of dealing with this horror. A scientific one based on facts and data. Another artistic one with which we can identify with the prisoners. This exposes us because it does not protect us against atrocities, but it makes us wonder how we would have acted as victims and, if the circumstances had arisen, if we could have become one more piece of the murderous machinery »