Page 130 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 50

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JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
themselves into seven distinct groups. Curiously, the arrange­
ment of the first group of four chapters is the same as that
of the seventh group, while that of the second group parallels
that of the sixth. In this highly structured way, Grossman creates
a reverberating poetic effect. This chiasmus permits the fusion
of poetical elements by setting up a four-part verbal m irror im­
age in which the outside elements cross through the inside el­
ements to meet each other on the outside once more. What
this technique does is to increase the scenic space of the text,
to take it beyond the confines of narrative into the realm of
meaning.
KHILM I’S ART OF MAKE-BELIEVE
It is Khilmi who sets the tone for the novel. Indeed, we are
made aware that, even before the characters had come together
to form a novel, Khilmi had adopted the creation of fictions,
the art of make-believe, as an instrument for making life bear­
able. To assuage the pains inflicted by harsh reality — whether
from the cruelties of the village’s children who throw stones
at him or from his perception of the indignities inflicted on
an ancient tribal society by a modern power — Khilmi has re­
treated into the world of
kan-ya-ma-kan.
Grossman uses this ex­
pression, the Arabic equivalent of “once upon a time,” as a leit­
motiv for the book itself. Only in fiction, Khilmi had learned
from experience, is the world tolerable. This is a lesson Khilmi
has taught Uri in the literary space that preceded the novel.
Indeed, as the novel opens,
kan-ya-ma-kan
has already had
its effect on Uri, who appears initially to be the novel’s hero
and its narrative voice. He even speaks like an author. No less
a self-referential writer than Robbe-Grillet, Uri’s very first words
in the novel — though not addressed directly to the reader
— invite us to adopt a readerly attitude that is antithetical to
the conventional requirement of suspension of disbelief:
No, no, believe me, Khilmi, I made them up, all of them.
Shosh... . , Katzman.... And even you, Khilmi. You’ll be better
off as a figment of my imagination, you’ll see.
(SOL,
p. 3)
To make things more complicated, Khilmi himself is presented
by the narrator as “no more than a
kan-ya-ma-kan,
a fictional
inventor of fictions”
(SOL,
p. 7). It is when Uri becomes Uri,