David Grossman, translated from the Hebrew by Jessica Cohen, Falling Out of Time (New York: Vintage, 2014), 193pp.
David Grossman (b. 1954) is an Israeli writer who was born and lives in Jerusalem. His dozen award-winning books of both fiction and non-fiction have gained a global audience and been translated into thirty-six languages. This genre-bending book is hard to categorize. It reads like a play, novel, drama, and a prose poem.
Whereas the genre is a hybrid, Grossman's theme is crystal clear — the grief of a parent over the death of a child. The ten or so characters in the story have all been "wounded by disaster." They live, if you can call it living, "on the gallows of grief." For all of them, death is not an absence, but a fearsome presence that haunts them: "He is dead, / he is / dead. But / his death, / his death / is not / dead."
The characters are types, signalling that no one is exempt from the grief of the grim reaper: Walking Man, Net Mender, Cobbler, the Duke, the Elderly Math Teacher, and so on. Together, they walk to find their loved ones, but they discover that there is no there there.
In grief, space and time seem not to apply to the dead. There is no there where they can be said to be. Similarly, as one of the characters puts it, "I seem to understand / only things / inside time." Even his grief is "trapped in time," whereas his lost loved one is "outside of time."
By the end of the book the tone has softened. One parent relishes the memory, "You loved us, and were loved, / and you knew that you were loved." And a little boy observes at the end of the story, "There is / breath / there / is breath / inside the pain / there is / breath."
There's nothing in the novel that tells you this, even on the cover, but Grossman's twenty-year-old son Uri was a tank-commander who was killed in 2006 in Lebanon during the war between Israel and the Hezbollah. Falling Out of Time isn't a political book; it's a book of deeply personal pain that addresses a most universal theme.