Page 129 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 50

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LOWIN / DAVID GROSSMAN’S USEFUL FICTIONS
121
ing; and Khilmi, a mad old Arab who dwells as an outcast in
a small Arab village in Katzman’s command, and whose insanity
is characterized by the far-fetched stories he tells.
The novel alternates among these four personae, presenting
the “matter” of the narrative from four different perspectives.
Lest one think, however, that the structure of the novel is there­
fore straightforward and perhaps even formulaic, slavishly fol­
lowing a prosaic narrative recipe, Grossman seasons his text with
hints that an intricate design is being offered here. The first
clue we have of the novel’s complex composition is that while
Uri, Shosh, and Khilmi all speak their chapters in the first per­
son, the chapters that relate to Katzman are presented in the
third person. Immediately, the reader is invited to ponder the
meaning of the expansion of the structure into an extra dimen­
sion, that of an omniscient narrator.
The chapter that finally convinces us to look for meaning
in the very structure of the text is Chapter 20 of the novel,
devoted ostensibly to Katzman. What characterizes this chapter
is a dizzying alternation of narrative frameworks. It begins in
a straightforward manner, with an account of the plot: Khilmi
has captured Uri, is holding him hostage in his cave, and has
issued an “ultimatum” to the Israeli government; Katzman is
observed plotting the military strategy which will resolve the
situation. All of a sudden, we move from narrative to epistolary
novel. Katzman begins a letter in which he tries to explain to
Uri about the army’s attack on the Arab village of Kalkilya and
of Katzman’s involvement in the attack. Two sentences into the
letter, the scene changes once more, by flashback, to an evening
Katzman had spent in the company of Shosh and Uri, playing
Scrabble. Abruptly, the Scrabble board becomes the narrative
framework. This is a Scrabble that is by no means babble. The
meaning of the intricate pattern of words laid down tile by tile
by the players bursts through more dramatically than any
straightforward narrative might convey.
The chapter proceeds to alternate styles among narrative,
confessional letter, and Scrabble game. The Scrabble game hints
that we are to look in Katzman’s direction and to the global
structure of the novel itself for the novel’s meaning. Indeed,
just as meaning is conveyed by the pattern of the tiles, so too
is it conveyed by the very layout of the chapters themselves.
The novel divides itself into 26 chapters that further arrange