Literature was a means of escape for him and later a means of earning a living. In some of these essays his early love of literature is portrayed. This is exemplified in the story of Bruno Schulz. This early 20th century writer produced works of huge originality. He argued that daily life was but a series of legendary episodes, fragments of a mythology. Human language was a primeval snake cut into a thousand pieces which subsequently seek each other out as a means to unify meaning and being.
Grossman echoes Schulz’s writing in this yearning for wholeness. He argues, too, that Israel yearns for it, being a state of bits and pieces. Schulz’s end was horrific, casually shot in the head by a Gestapo officer in the Ukraine town of Drohobcyz.
In Israel, war is never far away. And the escape to literature can’t ignore the reality of war forever. Grossman’s concluding essay in this riveting book is a plea to Israel’s leader in 2006, Ehud Olmert, to listen to the Lebanese peace strategy. In it, he reveals the death of his own conscripted son, Uri, in that pointless war.
His son’s death is acutely painful for him, but writing about it brings him a ‘space’. In writing, he says, he is able to purge some of the demons that assail him. In short, writing is healing. And by writing the story of his own country, his aim is to heal that too.
He still pleads for peace, or at least a move towards peace: “Ask yourselves if the time has not come to pull ourselves back, snap out of the paralysis, and demand for ourselves, finally, the life we deserve.”