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Writing in the Dark: Essays on Literature and Politics Paperback – September 1, 2009

4.6 out of 5 stars 7 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Peace activist and vocal advocate for relinquishing the Territories and ending the Occupation, Israeli novelist Grossman is unafraid of controversy; these six essays, however, address these concerns more obliquely, through the lens of literature. Books That Have Read Me merges the young reader's discovery that books are the place in the world where both the thing and the loss of it can be contained with the older writer's urge to describe contemporary political reality in a language that is not the public, general, nationalized idiom. Grossman's passions are two—an Israel at peace with its neighbors and a citizenry restored to dignity through the individual language of literature, which can bring us together with the fate of those who are distant and foreign. Grossman lays claim to an acquired naïveté in his hopefulness; how welcome and enlightening it is. (Oct.)
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Review

“Grossman is more than just another talented writer: Like Václav Havel, he is a moralist, a man with a conscience whose words cry out for absolute truth and fariness.” ―Newsday

“One of contemporary literature's most versatile and absorbing writers.” ―San Francisco Chronicle

“No other Israeli writer so far has approached the touchy subject [os Israeli Arabs]] with such compassion, or looked at it with, so to speak, bifocal eyes, Israeli and Palestenian.” ―The New York Review of Books

“An extended rumination on the struggle and the thrill of shaping words in to stories and reclaiming their meaning and beauty.” ―The Nation

“The Israeli Orwell . . . [Grossman] is a writer for the world stage, and the world has much need of him.” ―The Buffalo News

“[Grossman] asks the most difficult and searching questions. . . . His words have a tremendous, forceful eloquence about them, from first to last. . . . A delight to read . . . powerfully humanistic.” ―The Independent (UK)

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 144 pages
  • Publisher: Picador; Reprint edition (September 1, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 031242860X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312428600
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.3 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,299,406 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Hardcover
Writing in the Dark is a collection of essays on literature and politics by David Grossman, possibly one of the world's best living writers. This slim volume contains only 6 essays, but there's more insight and intelligence packed into these 131 pages than resides in most books. In perfectly crafted prose, Grossman speaks personally and passionately about his writing life: "I write, and the world does not close in on me. It does not grow smaller. It moves in the direction of what is open, future, possible. I imagine, and the act of imagination revives me."

Many of these essays touch on Grossman's love of reading and the effect of literature on his life. In one essay, he describes reading a good book: "I read the book over the course of one day and night in a total frenzy of the senses, and my feeling--which now slightly embarrasses me--will be familiar to anyone who has been in love: it was the knowledge that this other person or thing was meant only for me."

In addition to writing and reading, a couple of these essays touch on politics, particularly in relation to Israel, but this is not a political book in the usual sense. Grossman clarifies, "I am not planning to talk 'politics,' but rather to address the intimate, internal processes that occur among those who live in a disaster zone, and the role of literature and writing in a climate as lethal as the one we live in."

Without a doubt, this is the best collection of essays I've read in years. I'm perplexed as to why this book has not received the attention it so clearly deserves.
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David Grossman is an Israeli, born in Jerusalem in 1954. His father immigrated from Galicia in the 1930s and his mother was a Jew from Palestine. Writing in Hebrew, he has distinguished himself as a writer both of fiction and non-fiction. I confess that I had a difficult time getting into his fiction and I aborted my two attempts. Not so with his non-fiction. "The Yellow Wind", "Sleeping on a Wire", and "Death as a Way of Life" are among the finest and most perceptive books I have read on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. (For those not familiar with Grossman's non-fiction, be forewarned that he is a peace activist and a staunch critic of prevailing Israeli policy.)

WRITING IN THE DARK is not quite on the same plane as those three earlier books. It is a collection of six essays (or speeches) from between 1998 and 2007. As is almost inevitable with such collections, there is a certain measure of disjointedness or diffusion of focus. For the most part, they do not directly address the political situation in Israel or the schism between Israelis and Palestinians. The most "political" essay is the fifth (and best) one, "Contemplations on Peace", a lecture from 2004. In it Grossman considers how peace would help Israel develop normally as a state and society, perhaps even allow for the realization of a once fervently held dream of "a moral and just society, a society with a humanistic, spiritual vision, a society that would manage to integrate modern life with the ethics of the prophets and the finest Jewish values." Grossman fears that the protracted and constant state of war and anxiety will end up permanently stunting the development of Israel as a nation and that of its citizens as people.
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Format: Hardcover
I am always skeptical of collections of essays because they usually lack focus and cohesion. Collections of essays seem more likely to be the result of megalomania than a clear and organized plan. This book is different though, Grossman is at his sharpest in these observational essays. Yes, he is guilty of my criticism; most of these essays had been given as lectures or at conferences but they reveal the inner workings of one of the most talented living writers. Even one not familiar with Grossman's work will enjoy the approach he takes towards his various subjects--never falling too far from politics.
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David Grossman is a remarkable man. In this collection of six essays you get virtually no indication of the anger that surely must be there, at observing the stupidity of the endless violence that has spanned his entire life. Instead, there is a calm, rationale voice, a "light unto nations" if you will, that consistently and logically says that we (and the book was originally published in Hebrew, so his main audience is the nation of Israel) need to recognize that endless conflict is not in our best interest, is damaging to our soul and values, and that there are alternatives available. In one of the best essays that have been highlighted by other reviewers, his speech in Paris in 2004, which is entitled "Contemplations of Peace" he clearly identifies one of the central problems: "The government of Israel have showered hundreds of millions of dollars on settlements and settlers in the past decades. What is known as the `settlement enterprise' is the largest and most wasteful national project Israel has undertaken since its inception. A massive mechanism of propaganda, enticement and persuasion--ideological, religious, and national--was launched by all the governments of Israel, left and right, to impel Israelis to move to the Occupied Territories en masse. Scandalously excessive financial incentives were offered. But still, after almost forty years, fewer than 250,000 Israelis live in the settlements, and the vast majority of them are children who were born there."

The book is a short one, only 130 pages, and there have already been a couple of excellent reviews posted. But such is the richness, and density of his essays, that I think there is still much that can be said without being repetitive. Differences provide for the viability of horse races and stock markets.
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