"To the End of the Land"
Wednesday, December 1, 2010
Yes, it is a beautiful book. The characters are complex, flawed, understandable, inscrutable. They live with an impossible backstory and an equally impossible present that is part of living in a country where the political is overwhelmingly, pervasively personal.
The story is this: Ora, mother of a son in the army, leaves her home to hike through the country so that if/when the “notifiers” come to her door with bad news, she will not be there to receive it. It is a hike she had planned to take with her son. She takes it, instead, with an old friend, “old friend” in this case being a bloodless euphemism for how these two intertwined lives have unfolded.
“A Woman Escaping News,” the novel’s title in Hebrew, carries a very different message from the English. “To the End of the Land” has echoes of geopolitics and journey. “A Woman Escaping News” deals more in magical thinking, the illusion that anything we do could be a bargaining chip for the lives and safety of those we love. The news the woman, Ora is trying to escape exists not only in the world and possibly on her doorstep, but also in her anguished rehashing of past events, regrets, misunderstandings.
Because so much has been written about this book and its author it is impossible to come to it without the knowledge that Grossman’s son Uri, who was in the Israeli army, was killed while his father was writing the book. But even knowing that, it feels like a shock to come to the afterword in which Grossman tells how he started this book three years before Uri’s death, gave Uri updates on its progress, and completed it after the story had taken this tragically personal turn.
This is a sad book, yes, but it’s also an extraordinary one that I highly recommend.