David Grossman’s new novel is a cross-generational saga of love and loss


And so we are introduced into a multigenerational saga of geopolitical brutality and familial trauma that features a vibrant and formidable 90-year-old matriarch named Vera with a “Ben Gurion-like domineering tone” and “a bubble like the late president.” Hafez Assads. ”This“ little woman with the sharp green eyes ”leads the novel and is indelibly imprinted on all the characters. But the more we believe that we have met Vera, be it through her narcissistic investment in her appearance – she keeps putting on red lipstick or wetting the stray locks on her forehead – or through her portrayal as if she had her freedom and possibly sacrificed her life for her first husband Milosz, a war hero and her great love, the reality she presented becomes all the more questionable.

The focus of “More Than I Love My Life”, translated by Jessica Cohen, is Vera’s imprisonment for almost three years on the remote Yugoslav island of Goli Otok, one of Tito’s gulags, also known as Adriatic Alcatraz, sometime during the early to mid-range 1950s (the period is unclear). She was sent to the island because of a drastic, life-changing decision that she was forced to make when she was interrogated by Tito’s security agents. Officially set up as a “re-education camp”, Goli Otok is a merciless prison run by vicious guards who abuse, beat and rape inmates condemned to senseless hard labor. Among the most captivating scenes in the novel are those in which Vera has to stand for days – 57 in total – on a mountain cliff in the blazing sun to provide shade for a sapling that one of the commanders brought to the island.

Grossman’s evocative gifts come into their own: “One hour, another hour. The sun moves over your body like a slow flamethrower. Head, shoulders, neck. Everything is on fire. The sweat is dripping. Her lips are cracked and bleeding. A cloud of flies is buzzing overhead. The bugs are nicely fattened up with their blood. It doesn’t scratch. Don’t brush them off anymore. Let them drink everything. This body is not hers. Neither it nor its pain. She is no longer human or animal or anything. Since yesterday, since she understood what she was doing here, her limbs and joints have been stiff. Your legs made of wood. She walks like on stilts. “

“More Than I Love My Life” is about the burden of history that affects the lives of individuals and the family spirits that wreak havoc in their wake. Because of Vera’s decision, her little daughter Nina, the child she had with Milosz, is stolen from her. Although mother and daughter are finally reunited, Nina never overcomes the feeling of having been betrayed by Vera. Nina, in turn, will leave her daughter Gili, who rejects her mother with a virulence that arises in equal parts from confusion and self-hatred.

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