Page 133 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 50

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LOWIN / DAVID GROSSMAN’S USEFUL FICTIONS
125
ertheless, a type of fiction that Katzman finds attractive. This
is the fiction that engages itself with real life as it is lived, that
engages itself with — one would perhaps not be going too far
to insert here Ozick’s formula — “behavior and the conse­
quences of behavior.”
What characterizes Katzman’s reading is “his sensitivity, his
empathy and willingness to suffer with literary characters”
(SOL,
p. 83). One of his favorite authors is Albert Camus and his
favorite novel is Camus’s
The Plague.
His favorite line in the
novel is T a rrou ’s declaration: “It is tiresome to be infected but
even more tiresome not to want to be so.” Tarrou, drawn to
catastrophe, is the real artist for Katzman. And Katzman has
tried to draw an analogy for Uri between artists and people
drawn to disaster “It’s a compulsion with them. . .. Like the
compulsion an artist has to paint. An urge to put things right.
A deep, true sense of symmetry”
(SOL,
p. 223).
It is obviously no coincidence that Grossman has situated the
initial meeting between Katzman and Uri in an Italian town
devastated by an earthquake to which both of them had been
drawn as volunteers. Both Katzman and Uri imitate Camus’s
Tarrou, going out of their way to fight catastrophe.
Returned to Israel, Katzman re-enlists in the army. Uri de­
cides to become his own one-man Peace Corps; after the ex­
perience of the earthquake in Italy, he looks for further catas­
trophe in Israel and finds it in the plight of the Arabs living
under Israeli occupation in the West Bank.
But this book is not only about Uri and his simplistic smile.
It is also about Katzman, who sees things more clearly and
through a more complex lens, the lens not of epic poetry but
of tragedy. He looks at the situation in Israel with honesty and
sincerity.
. . . Katzman did what army personnel and Israeli civilians alike
were normally prevented from doing — he carefully and honestly
considered his attitudes toward the conquered territories. He
didn’t hate the Arabs he lived with side by side. He didn’t love
them either. He didn’t want to go on occupying their territories,
but an independent Palestinian state, fueled only by its hatred
for Israel, was pretty frightening.
(SOL,
p. 147)
Katzman comes to the conclusion, depressing in the extreme,
that there is no way out of the dilemma. In this way Grossman’s