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Be My Knife: A Novel Hardcover – January 9, 2002
The Amazon Book Review
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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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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.
Self-conscious and, some would say, self-indulgent in the extreme, Yair's letters eventually begin to reveal factual information about his marriage and his child, in addition to his important inner child, which he hopes to rediscover through Miriam, and I found myself grabbing onto these morsels as a way to give some reality and perspective to his lengthy and sometimes repetitious self-analysis. Miriam's diary, on the other hand, is truly touching. Appearing 2/3 of the way through the book, it is a very moving story of a woman who, in addition to working, must also deal with a seriously ill 10-year-old child, a child who was once normal but who is now speechless, living in his own world, and subject to fits. The conclusion, a section called Rain, which comes after the end of the correspondence, is intense and very dramatic.
Though the book is thoughtful and well written, I found it difficult to care much about Yair, whose inner world and needs seem to be his only concern. Miriam, on the other hand, has very real and difficult problems in the outside world, all of them, it seems to me, more urgent than Yair's, yet, until her diary appears late in the book, we know little about her except a few nuggets we glean second-hand from Yair's letters. This is a very introspective novel requiring immense patience, a book which will undoubtedly reward some readers, while perhaps driving others to distraction. Mary Whipple
A love story between two ordinary people (told only through impassioned letters) dealing with loss, disillusionment, and the everyday. "Be My Knife" haunts...
So, I may not agree with the hero and heroin's emotional excesses but David Grossman creates a few emotions in us along the way as we read. Frustration, annoyance, disgust and deep involvement are just a few of the feelings that I experienced while reading this most unusual novel.
Yes, I found the characters annoying but believable and there was always a thread that kept me hanging in there, wanting to know where it would all lead. And without giving anything way, I was emotionally breathless when I finally put this book down in the early hours of the morning. Did I say brilliant?
I found "Be My Knife" completely by accident one day while I was looking for something interesting and unique to read. The description on the back cover made me pick it up (and not put it down).
Though I became frustrated at times, wishing the story would progress more quickly, I'm glad I didn't give up. The end was definitely worth the wait.
If you like analytical brain-candy, give this book a try. I haven't read anything else by the author, but if I come across another DAVID GROSSMAN title, I'll be sure to grab it fast!