David Grossman’s More Than I Love My Life Review – Staff are Political | fiction

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DGrossman’s eager follow-up to the International Booker-winning A horse walks into a bar is a Russian doll from a novel, a book of secrets shrouded in secrets. It is told by Gili, a filmmaker, a damaged young woman who has already tried once to end her life. In a slightly declining tale, moving back and forth between different time periods, between first and third person voices, we slowly learn the tragic story of Gili and her family, how the brutal legacy of violence from the The 20th century has become a part of the lives of these honest, wounded people.

It is the early 1960s and Gili’s grandfather, Tuvia, lives with his ailing wife and their son, Rafael, in an unnamed kibbutz, a joyous place of progressive politics and honest toil. The woman finally succumbs to her illness and Tuvia remarries, his new wife a recent Yugoslav immigrant, Vera Novak, widow and mother of the beautiful Nina. Rafael falls in love with Nina, known at school as the “Sphinx”, a proud, distant and enigmatic figure. The two sleep together – though it soon becomes clear that this first meeting is more of an act of rebellion on Nina’s part than anything else. It’s the start of a long and uneven relationship, with Rafael picking up the pieces every time Nina breaks down. So Gili is born and, not wanting to don the mother’s mantle, Nina runs away.

The novel moves to 2008 and Vera’s 90th birthday, which the family gathered to celebrate, even Nina, who after giving birth to Gili embarked on a series of increasingly self-destructive adventures, from first in New York, where she slept in the city, then on an island north of Lapland. Rafael and Nina pick up where they left off, his devotion to her both touching and pathetic, her behavior more erratic than ever. Soon Nina reveals the truth: she suffers from a degenerative disease, her memory gradually fading. She returned home to Israel knowing her time was running out.

It’s like Rafael is waiting for such a moment: “I just know how to love her no matter what state she is in,” Rafael tells Gili. “This is my thing in the world: to love a person who is not easy to love.” Gili has already made a movie about Vera’s birthday; now Rafael urges her to turn this film into something else, a recording of Nina’s life before she loses all memory of it. This, however, requires the family to take a journey together, a journey that will take them into Nina’s past and that of her mother, uncovering secrets and heartaches that help explain the desperate downward spiral in Nina’s life.

The second half of the book is between the family’s trip to Croatia, a country that has just emerged from its own bitter war, and Vera’s memories of being held in a camp by Tito’s brutal secret police. , UBDA. These memories of the island-prison of Goli Otok are terrifying: “the beatings and the torture… the bedbugs and the marshes and the rocks”. The reader sees the story as an endless stream of violence, with Vera’s parents sent to Auschwitz, her own suffering under Tito, and the family’s current existence in an Israel with its own “charming conflict”. We find out that during her incarceration, Vera was forced to make a terrible decision, which would impact generations of her family.

Israeli novelist Ayelet Gundar-Goshen said: “I don’t think it’s possible to write anything in Israel without referring to politics, and if you decide to write something without referring to political, so that’s in itself a political decision. . ” More than I love my life is at first glance an Israeli family that remains largely untouched by violence in their homeland – it is a love story, a story about a family and their myriad of individual tragedies. But it’s also about how the staff can never be entirely separated from the political, the lingering wounds of history, how violence seeps into every dark corner of a life. It is, in the end, Israel. Perfectly translated by Jessica Cohen, this is another extraordinary Grossman novel, a book as beautiful and sad as anything you’ll read this year.

More than I love my life by David Grossman, translated by Jessica Cohen, is published by Jonathan Cape (£ 18.99). To support the Guardian and Observer order your copy on guardbookshop.com. Delivery charges may apply


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