David Grossman at the Literature Festival Zurich
On July 14th, 2022, the OMANUT association and the Literature Festival Zurich brought author David Grossman to speak at the Old Botanical Garden. It was a sunny and breezy day, a perfect evening for a book event. David read scenes from his new work, in Hebrew and Ariela Sarbacher read from the German translation. Pile of Books, a local bookstore in Zurich, set up a table for purchasing Grossman’s novels in multiple languages, and drinks were served in a greenhouse.
Grossman is one of the most important writers in contemporary Israeli literature. He has been awarded the International Man Booker Prize, Geschwister Scholl Prize, and the 2010 Peace Prize of the German Book Trade.
Jennifer Khakshouri conducted the interview.
To a packed audience, David spoke about his new novel, More Than I Love My Life, a story of three related women through European and Israeli history. Eva Panic-Naher, a friend of Grossman's, inspired the story about ninety-year-old Vera, her daughter Nina, and her granddaughter Gili, a thirty-nine-year-old filmmaker.
Secrets divide each mother-daughter pair. They all travel together to Goli Otok, an Island off the coast of Croatia, where the grandmother was imprisoned and tortured for three years.
At the event, David spoke of how he met Eva. She called him to give him feedback on something and began to tell him the intricate story of her life. He described her storytelling as “boiling.” She had a story that needed to be told, and he could provide a listening ear.
It took twenty years for the story of Eva’s life to become a book. She died at 97 before it was published.
When he spoke of writing the story, Grossman mentioned a trip to Svalbard, an island close to the North Pole, home to 3,000 polar bears.
“They are not Winnie the Pooh,” he said. He’d walked alone at night, terrified of encountering a polar bear, and the fear that arose in him compelled him to finally write Eva’s story.
“Books should be written only when they are inevitable,” he said.
On writing about someone he knew, he said “when you write about someone, you tell things they don’t want to see in themselves.” He did follow up, however, that “the book suited [Eva].”
Discussion topics at the event included the binary of motherhood and fatherhood and whether the world is progressing away from it, how memories either paralyze you or allow you to move on (in terms of living with the memory of the Shoah), and the power of art to place people in the shoes of others.
Writing about immigrants to Israel and living in Israel, Grossman also spoke about the concept of home.
“Where is home? This is the question I ask people when I meet them,” he said. “Quite a few people live in a place that is not home, so they live in permanent longing and discrepancy with their life.”
His answer, much like his writing, was thought-provoking and insightful.
“Home means everything that happens to you is deeply relevant to you, and that is why we stay, because we want a relevant life.”
At the end of the interview, Khakshouri asked David if he’d been planning on writing any more books. Her daughter is a fan of his children’s books, and told her mother his work was "not bad."
“During Covid I decided I would read only books that were older than me and write only books that were younger than me,” he replied.
After the event, Grossman signed books for his readers. You can find More Than I Love My Life at Book Depository and wherever books are sold.
Riv Begün is a historical fiction and fantasy writer based in Zurich, Switzerland. She is a Posse Foundation alumni and has been published in Format.Papier. Slippage Lit, and various Jewish publications. She can be found on Twitter at @BegunRiv, Instagram at @RivBegun, and at her website, rivbegun.com.