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  • Written by David Grossman
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  • To the End of the Land
  • Written by David Grossman
    Translated by Jessica Cohen
  • Format: eBook | ISBN: 9780307594341
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Synopsis

ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR: The Christian Science Monitor, The Economist, The New Republic, The New Yorker, The Washington Post, and The Pittsburgh Post Gazette
 
A NEW YORK TIMES NOTABLE BOOK
 
Just before his release from service in the Israeli army, Ora’s son Ofer is sent back to the front for a major offensive. In a fit of preemptive grief and magical thinking, so that no bad news can reach her, Ora sets out on an epic hike in the Galilee. She is joined by an unlikely companion—Avram, a former friend and lover with a troubled past—and as they sleep out in the hills, Ora begins to conjure her son. Ofer’s story, as told by Ora, becomes a surprising balm both for her and for Avram—and a mother’s powerful meditation on war and family.

Excerpt

Prologue, 1967
 
 
HEY, GIRL, quiet!
 
Who is that?
 
Be quiet! You woke everyone up!
 
But I was holding her
 
Who?
 
On the rock, we were sitting together
 
What rock are you talking about? Let us sleep
 
Then she just fell
 
All this shouting and singing
 
But I was asleep
 
And you were shouting!
 
She just let go of my hand and fell
 
Stop it, go to sleep
 
Turn on a light
 
Are you crazy? They’ll kill us if we do that
 
Wait
 
What?
 
I was singing?
 
Singing, shouting, everything. Now be quiet
 
What was I singing?
 
What were you singing?!
 
In my sleep, what was I singing?
 
I’m supposed to know what you were singing? A bunch of shouts.
 
That’s what you were singing. What was I singing, she wants to know . . .
 
You don’t remember the song?
 
Look, are you nuts? I’m barely alive
 
But who are you?
 
Room Three
 
You’re in isolation, too?
 
Gotta get back
 
Don’t go . . . Did you leave? Wait, hello . . . Gone . . . But what was I singing?
 
 
AND the next night he woke her up again, angry at her again for singing at the top of her lungs and waking up the whole hospital, and she begged him to try to remember if it was the same song from the night before. She was desperate to know, because of her dream, which kept getting dreamed almost every night during those years. An utterly white dream. Everything in it was white, the streets and the houses and the trees and the cats and dogs and the rock at the edge of the cliff. And Ada, her redheaded friend, was also entirely white, without a drop of blood in her face or body. Without a drop of color in her hair. But he couldn’t remember which song it was this time, either. His whole body was shuddering, and she shuddered back at him from her bed. We’re like a pair of castanets, he said, and to her surprise, she burst out with bright laughter that tickled him inside. He had used up all his strength on the journey from his room to hers, thirty-five steps, resting after each one, holding on to walls, doorframes, empty food carts. Now he flopped onto the sticky linoleum floor in her doorway. For several minutes they both breathed heavily. He wanted to make her laugh again but he could no longer speak, and then he must have fallen asleep, until her voice woke him.
 
Tell me something
 
What? Who is it?
 
It’s me
 
You . . .
 
Tell me, am I alone in this room?
 
How should I know?
 
Are you, like, shivering?
 
Yeah, shivering
 
How high is yours?
 
It was forty this evening
 
Mine was forty point three. When do you die?
 
At forty-two
 
That’s close
 
No, no, you still have time
 
Don’t go, I’m scared
 
Do you hear?
 
What?
 
How quiet it is suddenly?
 
Were there booms before?
 
Cannons
 
I keep sleeping, and all of a sudden it’s nighttime again
 
’Cause there’s a blackout
 
I think they’re winning
 
Who?
 
The Arabs
 
No way
 
They’ve occupied Tel Aviv
 
What are you . . . who told you that?
 
I don’t know. Maybe I heard it
 
You dreamed it
 
No, they said it here, someone, before, I heard voices
 
It’s from the fever. Nightmares. I have them, too
 
My dream . . . I was with my friend
 
Maybe you know
 
What?
 
Which direction I came from
 
I don’t know anything here
 
How long for you?
 
Don’t know
 
Me, four days. Maybe a week
 
Wait, where’s the nurse?
 
At night she’s in Internal A. She’s an Arab
 
How do you know?
 
You can hear it when she talks
 
You’re shaking
 
My mouth, my whole face
 
But . . . where is everybody?
 
They’re not taking us to the bomb shelter
 
Why?
 
So we don’t infect them
 
Wait, so it’s just us—
 
And the nurse
 
I thought
 
What?
 
If you could sing it for me
 
That again?
 
Just hum
 
I’m leaving
 
If it was the other way around, I would sing to you
 
Gotta get back
 
Where?
 
Where, where, to lie with my forefathers, to bring me down with sorrow to the grave, that’s where
 
What? What was that? Wait, do I know you? Hey, come back
 
 
AND the next night, too, before midnight, he came to stand in her doorway and scolded her again and complained that she was singing in her sleep, waking him and the whole world, and she smiled to herself and asked if his room was really that far, and that was when he realized, from her voice, that she wasn’t where she had been the night before and the night before that.
 
Because now I’m sitting, she explained. He asked cautiously, But why are you sitting? Because I couldn’t sleep, she said. And I wasn’t singing. I was sitting here quietly waiting for you.
 
They both thought it was getting even darker. A new wave of heat, which may have had nothing to do with her illness, climbed up from Ora’s toes and sparked red spots on her neck and face. It’s a good thing it’s dark, she thought, and held her loose pajama collar up to her neck. Finally, from the doorway, he cleared his throat softly and said, Well, I have to get back. But why? she asked. He said he urgently had to tar and feather himself. She didn’t get it, but then she got it and laughed deeply. Come on, dummy, enough with your act, I put a chair out for you next to me.
 
He felt along the doorway, metal cabinets, and beds, until he stopped way off, leaned his arms on an empty bed, and panted loudly. I’m here, he groaned. Come closer to me, she said. Wait, let me catch my breath. The darkness filled her with courage and she said in a loud voice, in her voice of health, of beaches and paddleball and swimming out to the rafts on Quiet Beach, What are you afraid of? I don’t bite. He mumbled, Okay, okay, I get it, I’m barely alive. His grumbling tone and the heavy way he dragged his feet touched her. We’re kind of like an elderly couple, she thought.
 
Ouch!
 
What happened?
 
One of these beds just decided to . . . Fuck! So, have you heard of the Law of Malicious—
 
What did you say?
 
The Law of Malicious Furniture—heard of it?
 
Are you coming or not?
 
The trembling wouldn’t stop, and sometimes it turned into long shivers, and when they talked their speech was choppy, and they often had to wait for a pause in the trembling, a brief calming of the face and mouth muscles, and then they would quickly spit out the words in high, tense voices, and the stammering crushed the sentences in their mouths. How-old-are-you? Six-teen-and-you? And-a-quar-ter. I-have-jaun-dice, how-a-bout-you? Me? he said. I-think-it’s-an-in-fec-tion-of-the-o-va-ries.
 
Silence. He shuddered and breathed heavily. By-the-way-that-was-a-joke, he said. Not funny, she said. He groaned: I tried to make her laugh, but her sense of humor is too— She perked up and asked who he was talking to. He replied, To my joke writer, I guess I’ll have to fire him. If you don’t come over here and sit down right now, I’ll start singing, she threatened. He shivered and laughed. His laughter was as screechy as a donkey’s bray, a self-sustaining laughter, and she secretly gulped it down like medicine, like a prize.
 
He laughed so hard at her stupid little joke that she barely resisted telling him that lately she wasn’t good at making people roll around with laughter the way she used to. “When it comes to humor, she’s not much of a jester,” they sang about her at the Purim party this year. And it wasn’t just a minor shortcoming. For her it was crippling, a new defect that could grow bigger and more complicated. And she sensed that it was somehow related to some other qualities that were vanishing in recent years. Intuition, for example. How could a trait like that disappear so abruptly? Or the knack for saying the right thing at the right time. She had had it once, and now it was gone. Or even just wittiness. She used to be really sharp. The sparks just flew out of her. (Although, she consoled herself, it was a Purim song, and maybe they just couldn’t come up with a better rhyme for “Esther.”) Or her sense of love, she thought. Maybe that was part of her deterioration—her losing the capacity to really love someone, to burn with love, like the girls talked about, like in the movies. She felt a pang for Asher Feinblatt, her friend who went to the military boarding school, who was now a soldier, who had told her on the steps between Pevsner Street and Yosef Street that she was his soul mate, but who hadn’t touched her that time, either. Never once in two years had he put a hand or a finger on her, and maybe that never-touched-her also had something to do with it, and deep in her heart she felt that everything was somehow connected, and that things would grow clearer all the time, and she would keep discovering more little pieces of whatever awaited her.
 
For a moment she could see herself at fifty, tall and thin and withered, a scentless flower taking long, quick steps, her head bowed, a wide-brimmed straw hat hiding her face. The boy with the donkey laugh kept feeling his way toward her, getting closer and then farther away—it was as if he were doing it on purpose, she realized, like this was a kind of game for him—and he giggled and made fun of his own clumsiness and floated around the room in circles, and every so often he asked her to say something so he’d know which direction she was in: Like a lighthouse, he explained, but with sound. Smart-ass, she thought. He finally reached her bed and felt around and found the chair she had put out, and collapsed on it and breathed heavily like an old man. She could smell the sweat of his illness, and she pulled off one of her blankets and gave it to him and he wrapped it around himself and said nothing. They were both exhausted, and each of them shivered and moaned.
 
Still, she said later from under her blanket, your voice sounds familiar. Where are you from? Jerusalem, he said. I’m from Haifa, she said, accentuating slightly. They brought me here in an ambulance from Rambam Hospital, because of the complications. I have those too, he laughed, my whole life is complications. They sat quietly. He scratched his stomach and chest and grumbled, and she grumbled, too. That’s the worse thing about it, isn’t it? she said. She also scratched herself, with all ten fingernails. Sometimes I’m dying to peel all my skin off, just to make it stop. Every time she started talking, he could hear the soft sticky sound of her lips parting, and the tips of his fingers and toes throbbed.
 
Ora said, The ambulance driver said that at a time like this they need the ambulances for more important things.
 
Have you noticed that everyone here is angry at us? As if we purposely. . .
 
Because we’re the last ones left from the plague.
 
They sent home anyone who was feeling even a little bit better. Especially soldiers. Wham-bam, they kicked them right back to the army so they could make it in time for the war.
 
So there’s really going to be a war?
 
Are you kidding? There’s been a war for at least two days.
 
When did it start? she asked in a whisper.
 
Day before yesterday, I think. And I told you that already, yesterday or the day before, I can’t remember, the days get mixed up.
 
That’s right, you did say . . . Ora was dumbstruck. Clots of strange and terrifying dreams drifted through her.
 
How could you not hear? he murmured. There are sirens and artillery all the time, and I heard helicopters landing. There are probably a million casualties by now.
 
But what’s going on?
 
I don’t know, and there’s no one to talk to here. They have no patience for us.
 
Then who’s taking care of us?
 
Right now there’s just that thin little Arab woman, the one who cries. Have you heard her?
 
That’s a person crying? Ora was stunned. I thought it was an animal wailing. Are you sure?
 
It’s a person, for sure.
 
But how come I haven’t seen her?
 
She kind of comes and goes. She does the tests and leaves your medicine and food on a tray. It’s just her now, day and night. He sucked in his cheeks and said thoughtfully, It’s funny that the only person they left us with is an Arab, isn’t it? They probably don’t let Arabs treat the wounded.
 
But why does she cry? What happened to her?
 
How should I know?
 
Ora sat up straight and her body hardened, and she said coldly, quietly, They’ve occupied Tel Aviv, I’m telling you. Nasser and Hussein are already sipping coffee at a café on Dizengoff Street.
 
Where did you come up with that? He sounded frightened.
 
I heard it last night, or today, I’m almost positive, maybe it was on her radio, I heard it, they’ve occupied Beersheba and Ashkelon and Tel Aviv.
 
No, no, that can’t be. Maybe it’s the fever, it’s because of your fever, ’cause there’s no way! You’re crazy, there’s no way they’ll win.
 
There is, there is, she mumbled to herself, and thought, What do you even know about what could or couldn’t happen.


From the Hardcover edition.
David Grossman

About David Grossman

David Grossman - To the End of the Land

Photo © Peter-Andreas Hassiepen

David Grossman was born in Jerusalem, where he still lives. He is the best-selling author of many works of fiction, nonfiction, and children’s literature, which have been translated into thirty-six languages. His work has also appeared in The New Yorker. He is the recipient of numerous awards, including the French Chevalier de L’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, the Buxtehuder Bulle in Germany, Rome’s Premio per la Pace e l’Azione Umanitaria, the Premio Ischia International Award for Journalism, Israel’s Emet Prize, and the 2010 Frankfurt Peace Prize. 

Praise

Praise

“A masterpiece. . . . One of the few novels that feel as though they have made a difference to the world.”
—Colm Tóibín, The New York Times Book Review

“A boundary-pushing novel. . . . Like all great literature, it is an act of generosity, opening itself to every human possibility. . . . Grossman invites us to look beneath the shrill headlines, beyond the roadblocks, within the clenched fist—to see Israel’s predicament not as ‘the situation’ but as many situations, one for every person.”
The Washington Post

“Enthralling. . . . Unsparing yet compassionate . . . Grossman’s electrifying narrative seems excruciatingly timely. . . . Unforgettable. . . . The unstudied beauty and psychological complexity of Grossman’s language, his deft and lively dialogue, are utterly compelling. . . . Rendered in Jessica Cohen’s exquisite translation, Grossman’s symphonic novel straddles despair and hope, a journey into inner and outer landscapes, delivering stunning rewards.”
The Miami Herald
 
“Magnificent. . . . A powerful meditation. . . . Foremost among Grossman’s achievements is the creation of Ora, a modern-day Scheherazade and icon of the mourning mother.”
The Seattle Times

“Grossman’s greatest fictional creation [is] Ora: tender, passionate, angry, funny, self-doubting, intuitive, above all a woman of ‘abundance.’ . . . [Her story] encompasses both the complex fullness of one life and the broader history of Israel’s modern conflicts. . . . This most Israeli of Grossman’s novels is also his most universal.”
—George Packer, The New Yorker
 
“A tour de force. . . . Unforgettable. . . . [Grossman’s] best.”
The Star-Ledger
 
“Penetrating. . . . Grossman has produced a sprawling novel that stretches over nearly 35 years of Israeli history. Along with war and peace, life and death, Grossman reckons with the emotional and sexual geometry of Israelis, particularly the secular liberals now in middle age, much like their author.”
Newsday

“This is a story of love and friendship, family and society, parents and children, life and death. And war and peace. . . . Whether lushly descriptive, emotive or narrative, Grossman’s writing is both controlled and passionate. . . . Ora’s voice is authentic and true, honed to perfection.”
Chicago Jewish Star
 
“Profound. . . . A reminder of what Israel—what any country—is capable of doing to its sons.”
The Boston Globe
 
“There are some writers in whose words one recognizes the texture of life. David Grossman is such a writer. He is a master of the emotionally accurate and significant. His characters don’t so much lie on the page as rise before the reader’s eyes, in three dimensions, their skin covered in prose that both stabs with insight and shines with compassion.”
—Yann Martel, author of Life of Pi
 
“Moving. . . . A convincing portrait of maternal grit and ingenuity in a time and place of relentless challenge. . . . In this powerful book, there are surprising answers of a kind, but the ongoing strife goes on.”
The Washington Times
 
“Very rarely you open a book and when you close it again nothing can ever be the same. Walls have been pulled down, barriers broken, a dimension of feeling has opened in you that was not there before. David Grossman has the ability to look inside a person and discover the unique essence of her humanity; his novels are about what it means to defend this essence against a world designed to extinguish it. To the End of the Land is his most powerful, unflinching story of this defense.”
—Nicole Krauss, author of The History of Love

“A courageous and powerful antiwar novel.”
Kansas City Star

“Grossman’s most ambitious work to date. . . . His imagination is secular, worldly, self-questioning and ironic. The Israel he imagines, beautifully and sorrowfully, is not going to be saved by any divine intervention.”
The Economist
 
“Bold and uncompromising, this great emotional rush of a story sings and cries, exults and mourns.”
The Forward
 
“An extraordinary epic of love, war, and sorrow. . . . Stunning—brilliantly written and beautifully constructed.”
The Times (London)
 
“A deeply serious, utterly honest work about the state of Israel.”
Financial Times
 
“Flaubert created his Emma, Tolstoy made his Anna, and now we have Grossman’s Ora—as fully alive, as fully embodied, as any character in recent fiction. I devoured this long novel in a feverish trance.”
—Paul Auster, author of Invisible

Reader's Guide|About the Book|Author Biography|Discussion Questions|Suggestions

About the Book

The questions, discussion topics, and reading list that follow are intended to enhance your reading group’s discussion of To the End of the Land, David Grossman’s powerful, deeply moving novel about life during endless wartime.

About the Guide

“This is a book of overwhelming power and intensity, David Grossman’s masterpiece. Flaubert created his Emma, Tolstoy made his Anna, and now we have Grossman’s Ora—as fully alive, as fully embodied, as any character in recent fiction. I devoured this long novel in a feverish trance. Wrenching, beautiful, unforgettable.”  —Paul Auster
 
From one of Israel’s most acclaimed writers comes a novel of extraordinary power about family life—the greatest human drama—and the cost of war.
 
Ora, a middle-aged Israeli mother, is on the verge of celebrating her son Ofer’s release from army service when he returns to the front for a major offensive. In a fit of preemptive grief and magical thinking, she sets out for a hike in the Galilee, leaving no forwarding information for the “notifiers” who might darken her door with the worst possible news. Recently estranged from her husband, Ilan, she drags along an unlikely companion: their former best friend and her former lover Avram, once a brilliant artistic spirit. Avram served in the army alongside Ilan when they were young, but their lives were forever changed one weekend when the two jokingly had Ora draw lots to see which of them would get the few days’ leave being offered by their commander—a chance act that sent Avram into Egpyt and the Yom Kippur War, where he was brutally tortured as POW. In the aftermath, a virtual hermit, he refused to keep in touch with the family and has never met Ofer.
 
Now, as Ora and Avram sleep out in the hills, ford rivers, and cross valleys, avoiding all news from the front, she gives him the gift of Ofer, word by word; she supplies the whole story of her motherhood, a retelling that keeps Ofer very much alive for Ora and for the reader, and opens Avram to human bonds undreamed of in his broken world. Their walk has a “war and peace” rhythm, as their conversation places the most hideous trials of war next to the joys and anguish of raising children. Never have we seen so clearly the reality and surreality of daily life in Israel, the currents of ambivalence about war within one household, and the burdens that fall on each generation anew.
 
Grossman’s rich imagining of a family in love and crisis makes for one of the great antiwar novels of our time.

About the Author

David Grossman was born in Jerusalem. He is the author of numerous works of fiction, nonfiction, and children’s literature. His work has appeared in The New Yorker and has been translated into thirty-six languages around the world. He is the recipient of many prizes, including the French Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, the Buxtehuder Bulle in Germany, Rome’s Premio per la Pace e l’Azione Umitaria, the Premio Ischia International Award for Journalism, Israel’s Emet Prize, and the Albatross Prize given by the Günter Grass Foundation.

Discussion Guides

1. What one word would you use to describe the central theme of this novel? Is it a political novel?

2. In an interview, Grossman said about grief, “The first feeling you have is one of exile. You are being exiled from everything you know.” How do both grief and exile figure into this story?

3. Throughout the novel is the notion of tapestry, of threads being woven. What does that tapestry signify?

4. What do you think was Grossman’s intent with the prologue? What did this opening lead you to expect from the rest of the novel? Was it significant to you as a reader, later in the story, to have known these characters as teenagers?

5. On page 22, Ora says, “I’m no good at saving people.” Why does she say this? Is it true?

6. What function does Sami serve in the novel? What do we learn about Ora through her interactions with him?

7. Why does Ora consider Ofer’s reenlistment to be a betrayal? Why do his whispered, on-camera instructions affect her so strongly?

8. Discuss Adam’s assertion that Ora is “an unnatural mother” (page 109). What do you think he means by that? What does Ora take it to mean?

9. On page 149, Ora tells Sami to drive “to where the country ends.” His reply: “For me it ended a long time ago.” What does he mean by that? How does this change your interpretation of the novel’s title?

10. What is the significance of Ofer’s film, in which there are no physical beings, only their shadows?

11. In both Adam and Ofer, the influence of nature vs. nurture seems quite fluid. How is each like his biological father, and how does each resemble the man to whom he is not related by blood?

12. What role does food play in the novel? What does vegetarianism, especially, signify?

13. On pages 319-320, Ora says to Avram, “Just remember that sometimes bad news is actually good news that you didn’t understand. Remember that what might have been bad news can turn into good news over time, perhaps the best news you need.” What is she hoping for here? Does her advice turn out to be accurate?

14. Why does Ora refuse to go back for her notebook? As a reader, could you identify with Ora’s actions? What about elsewhere in the novel?

15. What do we learn about Ora, Ilan, and Ofer through the story of Adam’s compulsive behavior? What is “the force of no” (page 450)?

16. Discuss the significance of whose name Ora draws from the hat. Did she choose that person intentionally? How might the lives of Ora, Ilan, and Avram have been different if the other name were drawn?

17. Why does Ora react so strongly to what happened with Ofer in Hebron? How does it relate to what happened to Avram as a POW? Why does her reaction lead to the implosion of her family?

18. When Ora says to Avram, “Maybe you’ll even have a girl” (page 647), what is she really saying?

19. Discuss the final scene of the novel. What does Avram’s vision signify? Was Ora’s motivation for the hike wrong, as she fears?

20. How did Grossman’s personal note at the end change your experience of the novel? What seems possible for Ora and Avram, and the other characters in the book, at the end of the story?


(For a complete list of available reading group guides, and to sign up for the Reading Group Center enewsletter, visit www.readinggroupcenter.com)

Suggested Readings

Midnight Convoy and Other Stories by S. Yizhar; A Tale of Love and Darkness by Amos Oz; Once Upon a Country by Sari Nusseibeh; Friendly Fire by A. B. Yehoshua; Wittgenstein’s Nephew by Thomas Bernhard; Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert; War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy.
David Grossman

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David Grossman - To the End of the Land

Photo © Peter-Andreas Hassiepen

12/8/2014

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