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A Horse Walks into a Bar: A novel Hardcover – Deckle Edge, February 21, 2017
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This month's Book With Buzz: "Little Fires Everywhere" by Celeste Ng
From the bestselling author of Everything I Never Told You, a riveting novel that traces the intertwined fates of the picture - perfect Richardson family and the enigmatic mother and daughter who upend their lives. See more
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“David Grossman has attempted an ambitious high-wire act of a novel, and he’s pulled it off spectacularly. A Horse Walks into a Bar shines a spotlight on the effects of grief, without any hint of sentimentality. The central character is challenging and flawed, but completely compelling. We were bowled over by Grossman’s willingness to take emotional as well as stylistic risks: every sentence counts, every word matters in this supreme example of the writer’s craft.” —Judges’ Citation, Man Booker International Prize, 2017
“Astounding . . . [A] magnificently comic and sucker-punch-tragic excursion into brilliance . . . He has left a trail of blood and sweat on the page that only a true master—a Lenny Bruce, a Franz Kafka—could dream of replicating.” —Gary Shteyngart, The New York Times Book Review (front cover)
“Urgent . . . Mesmerizing . . . A novel as beautiful as it is unusual . . . Grossman takes a lot of risks in A Horse Walks into a Bar, and every one of them pays off spectacularly well . . . It’s nearly impossible to put down.” —Michael Schaub, NPR
“Blistering . . . Concise . . . Grossman masterfully weaves several complex strands of narrative [and] translator Jessica Cohen turns the performance into fluent, American-style patter.” —Ken Kalfus, The Washington Post
“Accomplished and audacious . . . An Israeli offspring of Philip Roth’s Portnoy’s Complaint and Dostoyevsky’s Notes from the Underground [that is] laced with loss and leave-taking . . . Grossman has once more proved himself as one of Israel’s finest literary alchemists.” —Benjamin Balint, Haaretz
“I have never read a book like this, or even thought that one could exist . . . A hard, fast, and bumpy ride through the deserts of Israel and the soul.” —Rafael Alvarez, Washington Independent Review of Books
“Arresting . . . Entertaining.” —Paul Wilner, San Francisco Chronicle
“Grossman brings real humanity to this heart-wrenching and well-written novel, offering insight into one man’s psychological makeup and how society has damaged him. An excellent translation; highly recommended.” —Lisa Rohrbaugh, Library Journal
Praise from the UK
“Grossman has transcended genre, or rather, he has descended deep into the vaults beneath . . . This isn’t just a book about Israel: it’s about people and societies horribly malfunctioning. Sometimes we can only apprehend these truths through story—and Grossman has become a master of the truth-telling tale . . . These are important questions at this moment in history, a time of trickery and lies. This is a novel for our new Age of Offence—offence easily taken and endlessly performed.” —Ian Sansom, The Guardian
“A polemic of unusual power . . . Shocking, raw, and eloquent. . . Grossman has pushed down deep into the wounded heart of a despairing man . . . A Horse Walks into a Bar is unlike anything Grossman has yet done. —Eileen Battersby, The Irish Times
“Grossman’s latest offering is a short, shocking masterpiece . . . in which absurdity and humour are used to probe the darkest corners of the human condition . . . It is a tale of nerve-shredding psychological and spiritual torture, the kind of story that is so dark that the only defence against it is darker laughter.” —Adam Lively, The Sunday Times (London)
“It takes an author of Mr. Grossman’s stature to channel not a failed stand-up but a shockingly effective one . . . This book feels far removed from Falling out of Time . . . Both books, however, circle around dramatic acts of mourning: the first as lyric tragedy, the second as pitch-black comedy.” —Jonathan Cape, The Economist
Praise from Europe
"Literature at its highest, and most enchanting." —Il Mattino (Italy)
"Grossman has written a beautiful and hypnotizing book, on the friction between tragedy—both personal and collective—and life, which must go on." —Il Messaggero (Italy)
"A psychological, intimate chamber drama whose choreography and eloquence captivate and pain the reader in equal measure . . . By the end, the book not only radiates humanity but demands it as well." —Leipziger Volkszeitung (Germany)
"A magnificent book about the different levels of being that we carry within ourselves." —Le Monde (France)
"Resonant of Dostoyevsky and Kafka . . . The novel is not about one man alone; its significance lies in the exposure of the failings of humanity. We knew that stand-up comedy is inflammatory, but we didn't know that it can reveal the flames of hell." —Transfuge (France)
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 more than forty languages. 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 Umanitaria, the Premio Ischia--international award for journalism, Israel's Emet Prize, and the Albatross Prize given by the Günter Grass Foundation.
JESSICA COHEN was born in England, raised in Israel, and now lives in the United States. She has translated contemporary Israeli fiction, nonfiction and other creative works, including David Grossman's To the End of the Land.
Top customer reviews
The story or standup routine is a novella, fewer than 200 pages but packed with pain and sorrow. It reads as a continuous monologue with narrative interruptions by the childhood friend and others. The method brilliantly captures the atmosphere of a comedy club and the exhaustion a comic would feel as he bares his soul and tears down the props of propriety exposing repressed or painful memories. The interspersed narration anchors the story as a novella. The whole experience is rather like watching a train wreck. It seems indecent to keep staring--you want to look away but can't.
A Horse Walks Into A Bar is that riveting.
Greenstein goes off on his personal narrative right from the start, and I was left wondering what his usual act was like, if he even had one, if he had planned the strange performance, and even whether he actually was a successful comedian. Grossman answers none of these questions, and says nothing about the period in Greenstein's life between late adolescence and this performance nearly 40 years later. I have no idea how Greenstein got to that stage.
It is implied that this is intentionally an unusual performance, because Greenstein has invited one childhood friend who he has not seen since then, contacting him out of the blue to ask him to attend and later offer an assessment -- not of the show, but of Greenstein himself. It's an odd plot device, and it does not really work. The acquaintance, Avishai Lazar, is a former judge who was forced to step down for being too tough -- which is interesting, but not explored. There is a bit about Lazar's life and the loss of his wife, but it's approached elliptically and again, much is left unexplained.
What kept me going was the belief that all of this must be leading up to something. It's not. Dov G's lengthy set runs out of steam, the audience leaves, the show ends. Nothing is resolved. Perhaps that's Grossman's point, but it does not make for a satisfying reading experience.
In addition to its riveting format, it is rich in universal truths and insights (the tragic basis for comedy) ... . Even when perplexed the reader cannot help but identify with the comic's lneed to be seen, understood and redeemed ....and of course, there is plenty of political polemic going on too - a holocauste victim who epitomizes mercy (she scrubs her hands whenever there is a news report about soldiers killing Palestinians) ... Bullies who torment the weak and non-conforming ... Those who pretend not to notice the suffering of others .... In short, a thought-provoking, roller coaster ride that is as disturbing as it is exhausting .... Like a roller coaster, I couldn't wait to get off, but I feel richer from the experience
The translator did an admirable job rendering idiomatic Hebrew - even gutter Hebrew - into its American English equivalents. However, her faulty knowledge of Yiddish, especially standard YIVO transliteration, is apparent.