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Be My Knife: A Novel Hardcover – January 9, 2002

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Be My Knife, by the highly acclaimed Israeli novelist David Grossman, explores the perennial dilemma of unrequited love. Grossman, however, is far too original a novelist not to give his story a twist. The book opens with a letter written by Yair Einhorn, a neurotic, compulsive rare-books dealer, to Miriam, a beautiful, mysterious woman he glimpses "at the class reunion a few days ago--but you didn't see me." Her offhand gesture and brief, enigmatic smile prompts him to send her a passionate letter, what he calls a "restrained suicide note." To his joy and amazement, she writes back to him. So begins an extraordinary love affair by letter, recounted for the first 200 pages by Yair's impulsive, impassioned, and angst-ridden letters to Miriam. When Miriam finally finds her own voice toward the end of the book, Yair has raised the reader's expectations so high that ultimately her character is rather disappointing. Be My Knife is a novelist's novel about obsession, compulsion, and desire. The writing is dense, demanding, and full of moments of great poetry and inventiveness, but it can become difficult and obscure. Stylistically Grossman is experimenting with plot and character in the grand modernist tradition, and Yair is reminiscent of the tormented "little men" in the works of Joyce and Beckett. However, at times Grossman's brilliant artfulness overwhelms a potentially fascinating story. --Jerry Brotton, Amazon.co.uk

From Library Journal

Another original premise from Israeli novelist/journalist Grossman: after a shy, middle-aged man notices a beautiful stranger at a reunion, they launch a passionate affair of words.
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 324 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 1st edition (January 9, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374299773
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374299774
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.3 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,846,914 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

David Grossman was born in Jerusalem. He is the author of numerous works of fiction, nonfiction, and children's literature. His work has appeared in The New Yorker and has been translated into thirty languages around the world. He is the recipient of many prizes, including the French Chevalier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, the Buxtehuder Bulle in Germany, Rome's Premio per la Pace e l'Azione Umitaria, the Premio Ischia-- International Award for Journalism, Israel's Emet Prize, and the Albatross Prize given by the Günter Grass Foundation.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

34 of 36 people found the following review helpful By Mary Whipple HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on February 1, 2002
Format: Hardcover
The "plot" of this novel is easy to summarize. Yair Einhorn, a 33-year-old, married man sees Miriam, a somewhat older woman, for five minutes at a party, never meets or talks to her, but instantly decides that she would be the perfect person to whom to bare his soul in letters. "We could be like two people who inject themselves with truth serum...I want to be able to say to myself, 'I bled truth with her. Be a knife for me,'" he says in his introductory letter to her. The first 2/3 of the book consists of Yair's long, self-analytical letters to Miriam, the rest of the novel consisting of Miriam's diary and a separate collage of their comments after the end of the correspondence.

Many readers will have a difficult time suspending disbelief as much as is necessary here to accept the basic premise of this novel--that a complete stranger can write a long, neurotic, and frighteningly personal letter to a woman who does not run away in terror and who, in fact, agrees to be his "knife." In this novel of words rather than actions, Yair says, early in his correspondence, "I never imagined that meeting a stranger's language could be as exciting as the first touch of her body," and he admits to feeling jealous when he finds, in newspapers and advertising, some of the same words Miriam has used in her letters. He also confesses that "something is building up...begging to burst out, something that will suffocate if it doesn't crack..." He admits that his emotional stability is "the size of a peanut." Still Miriam allows the correspondence to continue, even though his letters arrive without postmarks, hand delivered to her mailbox at work.
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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful By nancy lapidus on October 16, 2002
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is one of the toughest books I have ever read, but it seems to be important. The form is unusual - the first person character has a correspondence with a woman he saw at a school reunion. They agree never to meet, but to be completely frank in their letters. For the first 225 pages we read only one side of the correspondence, the man's. Another section contains the diary of the woman. The third section is murky - their thoughts merge, and they may or may not actually meet and interact together. It seems to be about people who are detached from their own feelings as well as estranged from others, even those closest to them. The man may be trying not to be like his father, but still ends up being as cruel and controlling to his own son. All of my conjectures are conditional, as some of the action is unclear, yet I found the book haunting and thought-provoking.
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19 of 21 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on February 1, 2002
Format: Hardcover
In 'Be My Knife' acclaimed novelist David Grossman parses in the deepest way imaginable into the lives of 'Yair' and 'Miriam' who begin an affair of and in words only - a true epistolary tour de force. If you like dense extraordinary imagery, daring and completely off-the-wall thoughts, even more daring and off-the-wall actions, then YOU will love this book and you will continue to come back to it and dip into it, long, long after you have finished it. And after you have finished it, you will be changed. And you will look at your own relationships differently perhaps, even at yourself differently. Whether you have ever had an affair or not. And then you will want to read all his other books that have this amazing style and lack of fear. I rate this ace reading.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on February 25, 2002
Format: Hardcover
This is one of the most moving books I have ever read. The subject, an affair conducted entirely by words, is engrossing. The language is beautiful and poetic. As soon as I was finished, I felt like reading it again, so as to be able to focus on all the small details I may have missed the first time. I did not find Yair's self-absorption disturbing. All of us are self-absorbed in so many ways, but few of us are capable of revealing our deepest secrets to another human being the way he is. And few authors are capable of presenting such an honest portrait of yearning, for another person and another life.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on December 1, 2002
Format: Hardcover
I've not read any Grossman before and I dislike much contemporary fiction. This book's not for everyone. But if you can get into the story of Albertine in Proust's A la recherche du temps perdu, then you can handle the intensity and intricacy (subtlety within overstatement) of BE MY KNIFE. The book never refers, I think, to computer communications, but the setup whereby an entire affair is conducted through the written word strongly suggests an online relationship. There is psychological depth here (as well as art) that superficial readers simply may not want...and (as in Proust) a lack of plot. I recommend it, however, for sheer emotional catharsis. The ending's problematic. There could not be any simple end to the emotions portrayed.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Yael Sivan on October 6, 2005
Format: Paperback
I read the book in hebrew, not the English translation, so you may take my review with its limitations. I think this is a touching, extremely accurate (high resolution) book about a man and a woman, getting to know each other intimately without meeting. the book is about peeling off your layers of layers of dishonesty, your masks, and touching the essence of 'you' and 'I'. It is written in a rich langauge, with lots of little stories, ideas, imagery. I find it amazing that the author can write in completely different 'voices' when writing the man and when writing the woman. I think this book is above all an "experience" - you don't read it without you yourself exposing some bits of your true self to your self as you read.
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