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Love and sacrifice through three generations of women

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FICTION: More Than I Love My Life, David Grossman, Jonathan Cape, $32.99

The novelist and essayist David Grossman is routinely cited as a likely contender for the Nobel Prize for Literature after winning every other major literary award, including the Man Booker International for his last novel, A Horse Walks into A Bar, the French Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et Lettres, the Frankfurt Peace Prize and the Israel Prize.

David Grossman invites us to consider what one generation owes the next, what mothers owe their children.Credit:Stefania D’Alessandro

Hailed as the “conscience of the nation”, he is an outspoken critic of the moral corruption the Occupation has engendered in Israel. He was already part of Israel’s literary royalty when his son was killed in the 2006 Lebanon war. As a consequence of that tragedy, according to political scientist Shlomo Avineri, “he became morally uncriticisable, above criticism. Bereavement is holy in this country.”

In More Than I Love My Life, Grossman reworks the biography of Eva Panic Nahir, his friend of 20 years, a Yugoslav partisan who asked him to write her life story. He agreed, noting, “I was granted the freedom to tell the story but also to imagine and invent it in ways it never existed.”

He reimagines three generations – a mother, daughter and granddaughter – wrestling with each other, their resentments, the drive to settle scores, to rewrite each other’s versions of the past, their mutual betrayals, the giving of love and its withholding, yearning for steadfastness and the consequences of abandonment.

This is a novel about love and the sacrifices it demands.

The narrative thread is the decision to embark on a “roots” journey from a kibbutz to the Croatia of the matriarch’s youth. Vera is 90 years old; she is a vain, self-dramatising character with a carefully maintained curl in the middle of her forehead, lipstick always at the ready, pencilled eyebrows, “a bladder like the late President Hafez Assad” and a “Ben-Gurion-like domineering tone”. Her granddaughter, Gili, is the filmmaking chronicler of this journey.

Wedged most unhappily between these two is the “Sphinx”, Nina, who having been abandoned as a three-year-old inevitably flees motherhood. Late in life Nina has returned, with a degenerative illness that involves losing her memory. She wants a record of the past, to fill in gaps in the family history for the time when she no longer can make sense of it.

This is a novel about love and the sacrifices it demands. The narrative cuts from the 1950s through to the 21st century. At its heart is Vera’s extraordinary account of her brutal imprisonment for three years in a re-education camp on a remote, rocky island, “an Adriatic Alcatraz”. She endures 57 days standing in the searing heat providing shade for a sapling that a camp guard wants to nurture. It is a powerful image of the particularity and arbitrariness of sadism.


FICTION: More Than I Love My Life, David Grossman, Jonathan Cape, $32.99

The novelist and essayist David Grossman is routinely cited as a likely contender for the Nobel Prize for Literature after winning every other major literary award, including the Man Booker International for his last novel, A Horse Walks into A Bar, the French Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et Lettres, the Frankfurt Peace Prize and the Israel Prize.

David Grossman invites us to consider what one generation owes the next, what mothers owe their children.

David Grossman invites us to consider what one generation owes the next, what mothers owe their children.Credit:Stefania D’Alessandro

Hailed as the “conscience of the nation”, he is an outspoken critic of the moral corruption the Occupation has engendered in Israel. He was already part of Israel’s literary royalty when his son was killed in the 2006 Lebanon war. As a consequence of that tragedy, according to political scientist Shlomo Avineri, “he became morally uncriticisable, above criticism. Bereavement is holy in this country.”

In More Than I Love My Life, Grossman reworks the biography of Eva Panic Nahir, his friend of 20 years, a Yugoslav partisan who asked him to write her life story. He agreed, noting, “I was granted the freedom to tell the story but also to imagine and invent it in ways it never existed.”

He reimagines three generations – a mother, daughter and granddaughter – wrestling with each other, their resentments, the drive to settle scores, to rewrite each other’s versions of the past, their mutual betrayals, the giving of love and its withholding, yearning for steadfastness and the consequences of abandonment.

This is a novel about love and the sacrifices it demands.

The narrative thread is the decision to embark on a “roots” journey from a kibbutz to the Croatia of the matriarch’s youth. Vera is 90 years old; she is a vain, self-dramatising character with a carefully maintained curl in the middle of her forehead, lipstick always at the ready, pencilled eyebrows, “a bladder like the late President Hafez Assad” and a “Ben-Gurion-like domineering tone”. Her granddaughter, Gili, is the filmmaking chronicler of this journey.

Wedged most unhappily between these two is the “Sphinx”, Nina, who having been abandoned as a three-year-old inevitably flees motherhood. Late in life Nina has returned, with a degenerative illness that involves losing her memory. She wants a record of the past, to fill in gaps in the family history for the time when she no longer can make sense of it.

This is a novel about love and the sacrifices it demands. The narrative cuts from the 1950s through to the 21st century. At its heart is Vera’s extraordinary account of her brutal imprisonment for three years in a re-education camp on a remote, rocky island, “an Adriatic Alcatraz”. She endures 57 days standing in the searing heat providing shade for a sapling that a camp guard wants to nurture. It is a powerful image of the particularity and arbitrariness of sadism.

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