Page 135 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 50

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LOWIN / DAVID GROSSMAN’S USEFUL FICTIONS
127
windmills,” he asserts, “are justice, reason, and progressive pol­
itics. Any moral system we take pride in.”
(SOL,
p. 179)
What then is the meaning of the novel’s final chapter, in which
Khilmi, having enticed Katzman up to his cave to “rescue” Uri,
shoots, not Uri, but Katzman? It is not at all certain from the
novel whether Katzman dies from this shot. Nevertheless, in
shooting Katzman, and not Uri, Khilmi becomes another ver­
sion of both Katzman and Meursault, a person who finds relief
not in fiction but in the trigger of a revolver.
David Grossman, in
The Smile of the Lamb,
seems to be making
an effort to universalize the Meursault phenomenon. He ap­
pears to be articulating the statement that there are many
Meursaults in the world; sometimes they are called Katzman
and sometimes they are called Khilmi.
The question remains: Is David Grossman a Jewish writer,
one who uses fiction to Jewish ends? For all its universalizing,
the novel does lead us to the threshold of Jewish particularism.
As this essay has tried in part to demonstrate, one of Grossman’s
main interests in the novel has been to understand how the
Jewish historical experience has led a man like Katzman to be­
come a Meursault. But what makes a person Jewish is not only
his or her immersion in Jewish history; it is also a matter of
looking at life in a certain way. Early in the novel, Grossman
hints that there is something very Jewish going on. Katzman,
when he was in hiding in an underground cave with his father
during the Holocaust, had learned to become a “cautious de­
coder,” one who is able, from his underground hiding place,
to “conjecture the world above on the flimsiest of evidence”
(SOL,
p. 20). Grossman’s Hebrew text calls this decoder a
“mefa’aneah, tzefanim
,” that is, an interpreter of hidden things.
And yet, while the term
mefa’aneah
alludes to the biblical Joseph,
who was an interpreter of dreams for the sake of heaven —
called by Pharaoh
Tzofnat P a ’neah
— Katzman, as we have seen,
does not use his interpretive capacity exclusively to Jewish ends.
In this novel David Grossman’s useful fictions are not yet use­
ful for a Jewish analysis of life. It is only in
See Under: Love,
Grossman’s next novel — and his masterpiece — that the nov­
elist will move from the position of a universalist conjecturer
of the world to become a Jewish interpreter of it, as he develops
the art of make-believe into an art of redemption.