Saturday, January 31, 2009

See Under: Love

See Under: Love by David Grossman 1989 translated from Hebrew by Betsy Rosenberg. Grossman is an Israeli novelist and this is his second novel.
The novel is divided into four distinct sections.
The first section is set in the 1950's and is about a child, Momik, whose parents and neighbours are all Holocaust survivors. There is a wall of silence regarding the War and Momik just has glimpses of the mysterious land 'Over There' and the 'Nazi Beast'. Grossman gets right into the psyche of a young child and creates a small masterpiece in this section as Momik battles 'the beast' on his own. This is a brilliant stand-alone piece that gave me enough stamina to endure the next section which is the most challenging section of the book. Here we find Momik, now a flawed adult, still obessed with the Holocaust even to the expense of his marriage. Communing with the sea, Momik seeks the truth of an alternate fate for writer Bruno Schulz who was shot by Nazis, and here Grossman takes us off into a magical world of the ocean, spawning salmon and Momik himself floating in the sea attempting to find this answer to writer Bruno Schulz's alternate life as a fish.
And on to the third section which takes place in a death camp and there are still magical elements at play here. Momik's greatuncle Anshel Wasserman is forced to tell stories, like Scheherazade, to the Camp Commander Obersturmbannfurer Neigel. These stories are based on the characters of a popular children's series he wrote many years earlier that Neigel loved as a child. Momik has a presence as an imaginary onlooker, a chronicler of the events. Grossman is brilliant here subtly weaving Wasserman and his stories around Neigel until Wasserman’s bitter motive becomes clear. The last section uses encyclopedia entries to take the tale of Wasserman, Neigel and the extraordinary tales of the Children of the Heart to its inevitable end.

Overall this book was a reading experience - challenging, complex, rewarding and also very frustrating. The characters of the child Momik, Wasserman and Neigel are memorable. The magical elements of the book almost overwhelm the reader, some of the crazy characters and plots in Wasserman's stories add to your reading perplexity, but why should reading about the Holocaust ever be easy. While the first part of the book brings elements of the Israeli film - The Wooden Gun to mind the later part of the book is more David Lynch with generous sprinklings of Pans Labrynth.
I definitely recommend reading the first section of this book even if you don't feel like tackling the rest. I’ll be reading more books by David Grossman and am especially keen to read his children’s books. I’m also interested in reading some Bruno Schulz. CarlosMcRey has just reviewed one of Schulz’s books on his 999 thread #43
My 999 thread can be viewed here:

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