Grossman on Samson and China

By Chitralekha Basu (China Daily)
Updated: 2010-03-12 09:48
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David Grossman, who is doing the rounds of the various book festivals held across China this month, became a broadcast journalist with Israel Radio at the absurd age of 10. Now at a ripe 56, Grossman, not surprisingly, has an impressive body of writing behind him - novels, non-fiction, short stories, essays and a sparkling range of books for young readers.

Grossman on Samson and China

Widely known for his role as an advocate of peace, who with fellow writers Amos Oz and AB Yehoshua made a public appeal to the Ehud Olmert-led Israeli government to stop unleashing ammunition on the West Bank and Gaza Strip in August 2006, Grossman is also one of Israel's most visible faces of literature, whose works have been translated into 25 languages.

Two days after the appeal to stop the Israeli invasion, Grossman lost his son Yuri, then 20, a staff sergeant in the Israel-Lebanon war. Reluctant to talk about this, Grossman focuses on the pervasive and unrelenting nature of protracted wars.

"So many thousands of people lost their lives in the Israel-Palestine conflict and neither side apologized. I think we should start the dialogue (for a peace process) with a mutual apology instead of trying to end it with one," he says.

His grief and empathy for the conflict-riddled Jewish community in Israel, and Palestinian refugees, are evenly balanced. The Yellow Wind (1987), a series of articles based on interviewing Arabs in Palestinian refugee camps, was marked by an unsparing censure of Israeli policy - a moving document of the way Arabs and Jews had been inexorably alienating each other.

"A wrinkled old Palestinian woman showed me around the refugee camps, but when I wrote that she reminded me of my grandmother - who, in fact, was herself a refugee from Poland at the time of Nazi occupation - Israeli readers were outraged," Grossman says.

In Lion's Honey (2005), Grossman re-tells the myth of Samson with a contemporary twist. The Biblical strongman, betrayed by his beloved, and rid of his tresses - the source of his insuperable strength - decides to bring down the roof on his philistine adversaries, killing himself in the process. The resonances with a modern-day suicide bomber are obvious.

In Grossman's rendition, Samson is a metaphor for the state of Israel - a "single, lonely and turbulent soul who never found, anywhere, a true home in the world, whose very body was a harsh place of exile".

"Our potential as human beings is draining out. Sometimes we prefer to suffer as long as we know that the other side is not going to benefit either," says Grossman, utterly distressed by the apparent stasis in the peace process and the Israel government's inability to take a pro-active role in resolving the crisis.

He remembers with gratitude the time when 30,000 Jewish refugees found asylum in Shanghai between 1933 and 41, "when most of humanity had turned its back on Jews".

His maiden visit to China could not have been better timed. "You could not be a person living in this time without having an experience of China," Grossman says. "The totality of one's China experience is so strong that everything else pales into insignificance."

"Israel and China are countries with an immense capacity for memory, time and language," he says, "two among the very few places where one could experience a range of history simultaneously."

It's important not to forget, he concludes.

China Daily

(China Daily 03/12/2010 page19)