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Second Person Singular Hardcover – April 3, 2012

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Editorial Reviews


"Kashua’s parable deftly examines universal themes of isolation vs. assimilation. A worthy contribution to the increasingly popular works coming out of the Middle East." —Library Journal

"This novel illuminates just how fluid identity can be, even—or especially—amid the Arab-Israeli tension of Jerusalem . . . A compelling two-sided narrative . . . [Kashua] has sharp insights on the assumptions made about race, religion, ethnicity, and class that shape Israeli identity." —Publishers Weekly

"[Kashua’s] dry wit shines . . . with each of the main characters offering windows into the prejudices and longings of Arabs and Jews . . . The themes are universal in a world in which every culture, it seems, has an ‘other’ against which to play out prejudice, and feelings of supremacy." —Los Angeles Times

"At a time when Israeli attitudes toward Arabs seem to be hardening, Kashua’s popularity is especially noteworthy . . . Kashua’s protagonists struggle, often comically, with the tension of being both citizens of Israel and the kin of Israel’s enemies. They usually end up encountering ignorance and bigotry on both sides of the divide, making his narratives more nuanced than some of the other Arabs writing about the conflict." —Newsweek

"Powerful . . . Kashua shows us the underside of success, with clear-eyed insight into an Israeli society that is becoming ever more tainted by discrimination based on class and money." —Haaretz

"Kashua’s writing and insight serve to translate several different, and conflicting, realities at once . . . Kashua’s work captures the unique and often painful situation of Israel’s Arab citizens, while also opening a window for the non-Arab reader to better understand this dilemma." —Tablet

"Second Person Singular triumphs as a tragicomedy composed of two suspensefully intertwined stories tracing the lives of two unnamed Arab protagonists, illuminating their fraught condition as insiders and outsiders and their painful struggle to create a life of meaning . . . Kashua’s razor-sharp wit and irony are on full display . . . [This] is storytelling of the highest order." —Jewish Daily Forward

"[This] story is one of loneliness and reinvention, also offering an uncommon view of Israeli society. Kashua narrates powerfully, with careful attention to detail." —The Jewish Week

"Kashua presents Israel with a mirror that inverts the dominant story of Jewish marginalization. Here it is Arabs who carry the burden of alienation that is so familiar from Jewish existence in the diaspora." —J Weekly

"[Kashua] has a gift for taking the small absurdities of everyday existence and the comic humiliations of family life, themselves served up with self-effacing deadpan humor, and making them comment on the bigger, often darker, contradictions of his life and the two cultures in which he lives." —Jewish Review of Books

"If you were to ask Sayed Kashua about his new, best-selling book, Second Person, he’d say it’s 'a satire disguised as a cheap melodrama.' But, of course, you shouldn’t take his word for it. As intimated by its name, Second Person is a story of identity . . . [it] cunningly follows two Israeli Arabs, a lawyer and a young social worker. Both have renounced their village heritage, moved to Jerusalem and are now trying to reconcile what they were born as with what they wish to be." —Jerusalem Post

"[Kashua’s] work contains an implicit political message—one of coexistence, curiosity and cultural ambiguity . . . [Second Person Singular] is a kind of existential mystery, probing for answers about how one fashions a sense of self under excruciating political and social conditions. . . . His work is not only aesthetically satisfying; in what it represents and the humane point of view it expresses, it has the feeling of something essential." —The National

"Second Person Singular is many things: a psychological mystery reminiscent of Nabokov; a touching examination of what it means to be Arab in a Jewish state . . . a family comedy that involves all sorts of delusions and secrets and lies; a family tragedy about a young, paralyzed, Jewish man; and, finally, a triumphant escape from one identity into another . . . Kashua is an unusually ambitious and gifted writer." —The Arts Fuse

"[Second Person Singular] resonates with all of us, all strangers and The Other at one time or another in our lives . . . A must-read." —The New World Review

"Sayed Kashua is a brilliant, funny, humane writer who effortlessly overturns any and all preconceptions about the Middle East. God, I love him." —Gary Shteyngart, author of Super Sad True Love Story

"In his newest novel, Kashua explores what it means to be a Palestinian and an Israeli; a father and a working man. The preoccupations of Second Person Singular strike me as adult preoccupations, ones many readers will relate to. Kashua has long been seen as Larry David meets Edward Said, but in this novel, he comes into his own. Incomparable." —Randa Jarrar, author of A Map of Home

About the Author

Sayed Kashua is the author of the novels Dancing Arabs and Let It Be Morning, which was short-listed for the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. Kashua writes a weekly column for Haaretz and is the creator of the popular sitcom Arab Labor. He lives in Jerusalem. --This text refers to the MP3 CD edition.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Grove Press; 1st ed., 1st Ptg edition (April 3, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802120199
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802120199
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 5.8 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (88 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #830,339 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

19 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Word Lover VINE VOICE on March 6, 2012
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Second Person Singular by Sayed Kashua is one of the most fascinating books I have read about contemporary Israel, and the first, I must confess, from an Arab-Israeli perspective. From an anthropological point of view the novel deserves 5-stars simply for illuminating non-Israeli readers on the highly Westernized habits and attitudes of the Arab protagonists as they become upwardly mobile, from the cars they drive to the coffee they drink. An American reader gets an `it's-a-small-world-after-all' vibe reading the book's revealing, abundant detail.

But there is much more to this novel, which addresses the question of identity, rendered especially difficult for Arabs in Israel. For the most part, the story chronicles two Tel Aviv Arabs who re-invent themselves through education, hard work and materialism--harshly separating themselves from their roots. One character is a naïve, kind-hearted social worker-turned-photographer, who literally steals the identiy of Yonaton Forschmidt, the young, talented Ashkenazi Jewish-Israeli paraplegic for whom he cares. The other, who is never named, is a successful but self-loathing and equally insecure criminal lawyer. Their plotlines run on parallel courses and intersect only at the book's conclusion.

Perhaps the most interesting character of all, however, is the Jewish-Israeli who suffers a mysterious accident and is left in a vegetative state to be cared for by the young Arab who adopts his identify. I was puzzled by the statement the author was trying to make. Does Yonaton represent the state of Israel and if so, why is he is voiceless and powerless? Are we to believe that he is as self-loathing as the Arabs?
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22 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Alan A. Elsner VINE VOICE on April 5, 2012
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This novel provides a fascinating insight into the lives of Israel's Arab minority wrapped in a skillful reworking of Tolstoy's novella "The Kreutzer Sonata."

In that story, a man falls prey to violent, uncontrollable and irrational jealousy and imagines his wife is having an affair with a violinist on the basis of no actual evidence. He hides his raging jealousy and goes on a trip, but returns early, finds the two together and kills his wife with a dagger. He is later acquitted of murder by the courts.

Sayed Kasua makes the connection to the novella very clear. A wealthy and successful Arab lawyer who practices in Jerusalem seems to have it all -- he is accepted by Israeli society, drives a fancy car and has a pretty wife and two young kids. But we're quickly aware that not all is well in the marriage. He and his wife do not sleep together and their sex seems perfunctory. And the lawyer, whose name we never learn, seems obsessed with various status symbols, perpetually measuring his place in a society in which he never quite feels completely at home.

One day, he buys a second-hand copy of the Tolstoy book and a piece of paper falls out of it in his wife's handwriting. He immediately jumps to the conclusion she is having an affair.

We then meet a young Arab social worker who is looking after a paraplegic Jewish man called Yonatan. We learn his story and how in a strange way it intersects with the lives of the lawyer and his wife.

This is skillfully done but what elevates this book is the unusual background.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Alan L. Chase VINE VOICE on June 11, 2012
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Sayed Kashua has written a deeply moving and powerful novel. The center of the theme is Tolstoy's novella, "The Kreutzer Sonata." The music piece by the same name was composed by Beethoven. Tolstoy's piece examines the irrational jealousy of a husband who kills his wife in a fit of passion. Kashua has taken these dynamics and transplanted them to present day Jerusalem amid the background noise of the "Palestinian Question" in Israel.

A successful Palestinian, a lawyer who is an Israeli citizen, buys a copy of Toltoy's novella, and in it finds a love note written in his wife's hand. Assuming that she is carrying on an elicit affair with Yonathan, whose name is in the used book, the lawyer becomes consumed with discovery the treason and punishing his wife. Yonathan is a poor Palestinian social worker from the humble Triangle region. He aspires to become a photographer, and changes his identity so that he can pass as Jewish. The identity he steals is that of a patient who hovers in a vegetative state after a failed suicide attempt.

The story is told beautifully in counterpoint - going back and forth between the two Palestinian protagonists. It is at once a psychological thrill and a deep exploration of the sociological dynamics at work within present day Israel and even within the fractured Arab community. Kashua has a keen eye and ear for detail, so the dialogue captures fine nuances of conflict and attempts at communication.

In the Epiloque, just when it appears that the lawyer's suspicions have been laid to rest, he stops by a photo exhibit, and the scab is pulled off the and doubts reappear. The reader is left hanging in suspense - much as Yonathan had hung suspended from his bedroom ceiling in his suicide attempt. It has the feel of a musical coda that ends with an unresolved dissonance. Very apt.

Reading this book was a rich and enriching experience.
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