- 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: 5.8 x 1.2 x 8.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
- Average Customer Review: 98 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,197,594 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Second Person Singular Hardcover – April 3, 2012
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"This novel illuminates just how fluid identity can be, evenor especiallyamid 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 messageone 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
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The book tells the parallel stories of two Palestinian men who live and work in Jerusalem. The first is the story of a man identified only as "the lawyer". The lawyer is a successful criminal attorney who defends Palestinians in Israeli courts. He is married to a woman named Leila, a social worker who holds advanced degrees, and the couple has two young children. Leila came from a different class of Arab society than did the lawyer, a fact emphasized during Kashua's depiction of their courtship. The marriage appears somewhat tepid as the lawyer and Leila for the most part sleep separately. The lawyer's story is recounted in the novel in the third person.
The other protagonist is a young man, 28, who tells is story in his own words. Rather late in the book, his name is given as Amir. But as the book develops, Amir develops not one identity but several. Amir is trained as a social worker but develops an interest in photography for which he shows marked ability. He comes from a small settlement town in which his mother is an outcast. His father had apparently been killed for collaborating with the Israelis.
The two stories are gerrymandered together through the figure of Yonatan. Amir gets a part-time job caring for Yonatan. And one night, the lawyer, ever seeking to improve himself, buys a used copy of Tolstoy's short novel, "The Kreutzer Sonata". A note falls out written in Arabic in his wife's handwriting that appears to be a love note to another man. Yonatan's name is written in the cover of the book. In spite of his training as a criminal lawyer which encourages skepticism and a careful weighing of evidence, the lawyer is beside himself, thinking that his wife is involved with another man and with a Jewish man at that.
There is a great deal in this book about differing groups of Arab people in Israel and their tenuous, difficult relationship to the country. The best scenes of the book describe the backgrounds of the lawyer and of Amir and their varied attempts to make something of themselves. The story of the lawyer, his insane jealousy, and of how Amir dovetails into the situation is too complex and contrived to be convincing. The story descends into something of a parable.
The characters and the author face questions about personal identity that are most provocatively addressed by two secondary figures, a young Palestinian lawyer Tarik who works with the lawyer and Ruchaleh, the mother of Yonatan. For example, in a scene early in the book, Tarik is invited to a gathering of educated Palestinians who are discussing what they see as a separate Palestinian "narrative" in Israeli schools. Tarik boldly questions his peers on why a "narrative", Zionist or Palestinian, is important at all. The lawyer fleshes out the thought with the elliptical observation: "sometimes I think a tree is a tree and a man is a man."
Although it is marred by heavy-handed plotting and by the use of coincidence, this book offers insight into Israeli Palestinians and into Jewish-Palestinian relationships in Israel. The book also invites the reader to think about the possible limitations in holding to a strong sense of personal identity. The suggestion is that people are not like trees who need their "roots" to survive and grow. Individual identities may change and may be more like one another than sometimes is supposed.
In addition, I learned the author stars in a sitcom, popular in Israel, called Arab Labour. I have yet to order it from Netflix, but planned to do so as my friend tells me it is hilarious.
Most recent customer reviews
I recommend this book, it's a good read you won't regret it !