Book Review | Secrets are passed down in the chain of generations and the prison camp leaves a long shadow in David Grossman’s excellent novel

David Grossman skillfully describes the transmission of tensions and secrets within a family and family from one generation to another.


David Grossman: When Nina found out (Itti ha-Hayyim mesahek harbe). Minna Tuovinen, Finland. Big Dipper. 286 s.

Provided Israel has become a top name in contemporary literature David Grossman would one day receive the Nobel Prize for Literature, the Swedish Academy awarding the prize would hardly get on the beak of the stick, on the contrary. Many would rather crack a joy in it. Namely, Grossman (b. 1954), who grabbed the International Booker Prize a few years ago, is in a wild blow. It is also revealed in his latest novel When Nina found out.

Published as an original language institution in Israel in 2019, the work is a rare dense, bold, ruthless, wise and even demanding novel. It attracts a dialogue that doesn’t stop even after you get to the end of the book.

This kind of reverberation is one of the hallmarks of sustainable literature. When Nina found out indeed, it is excitingly in motion all the time, and its narrative refuses to follow the traditional causal continuum. It applies as much to time levels, time forms, and geography as it does to themes, psychology, and meanings.

The narrative is broken, like the people depicted in the novel.

Generic looking at historical ballast and tensions within the family When Nina found out is a collective rather than a purely individualistic novel because it cunningly binds together the fates and stages of more people. Basically, the narrator is only one person, Gil, the youngest member of the Jewish community, whose upbringing has been largely left to Father Raphael.

Gil joins as the latest link in a chain that includes, in addition to his father Raphael, his mother Nina, grandmother Vera Novak and grandfather Tuvja Bruk.

The grandmother’s family is from the former Yugoslavia, Croatia, and the grandfather is from Israel. Tuvja and Vera find each other on a kibbutz in Israel near Haifa, both widows.

Tuvja has a son Rafael from a previous marriage, Vera has a daughter Nina. They also find each other, even though Nina is unable to commit. Nina is like a wild, unpredictable force of nature that ripples the environment and revolutionizes Raphael’s life. However, Rafael swallows the hook and can’t get out of it, even as he tries to struggle against it.

However, Nina leaves Raphael alone with Gil after a few years of marriage in Jerusalem, but Raphael’s love is by no means extinguished, it becomes almost obsessive.

Grossman builds a soaring psychological puzzle of the steps, decisions, choices, and secrets of this carefully drawn personal gallery, where each new piece changes the pattern created from previous pieces. Meanings rewind and rewind.

One one of the narrative and thematic focal points of the novel is the trip to Croatia after Vera’s 90th anniversary, which involves Gili’s entire close-knit mother and father. It is a kind of profane pilgrimage on the spot to the landscapes in which Vera, as a Stalinist accused, was thrown into a prison camp for nearly three years on a prison camp on the island of Goli Otok in the Kvarner Bay.

There the dictator of Yugoslavia Josip Broz Tito to mobilize their political opponents. Rift Joseph Stalin with the summer of 1948 making many former partisan enemies.

Vera, who acted as a partisan with her husband during the war, wants to reveal her own experiences, her own truth, to others. Rafael and Gil are making a documentary about that story, of which they themselves are active characters. They’re kind of figuring out why they’ve become what they are.

Perhaps at the same time there is also a reason for Nina’s whims, feeling unwell, internal restlessness, neuroses, and sexual rage, an almost obsessive promiscuity.

Filming a documentary naturally extends the expression of the novel to another art form, film. This is how Grossman approaches the contradictions of history and the deception of memories from two different perspectives, two different language games of art. Rafael is a film director by profession, Gil has again worked as a film secretary.

Life has not smiled in the sense that traveling health has forced Rafael to give up filmmaking and become a social worker. Ninak has also fled his past to the United States. In the novel, however, the spiritual diaspora becomes more important than the geographical diaspora.

Eventually When Nina found out targets an irreversible situation in which Vera has had to choose in the early 1950s whether she agrees to tarnish the reputation of her husband who committed suicide in a torture cell or whether she wants to hold on to her daughter Nina. The morally unsustainable choice is similar to that of Krakow-born Sofie Zawistowski in Auschwitz. William Styronin in the novel Choice of sofas.

The spiral of evil specifically determines the inflamed relationship between mother and daughter and is also reflected in the next generation. Nina doesn’t seem to get rid of her unexplained anger at her heroic mother Vera.

“Vera stared at her and stated in her mind that not even the UDBA torture chamber people in Belgrade or the female guards at the naked island camp had hated her as much as her own daughter hated her.”

The same goes for Nina and Gil. This is how Gil thinks of his mother, to whom the truth about his own past is revealed too late from a human point of view: “Let it also be revealed here that he is terribly light. It turns out that he is not only heartless, but judging by everything, other internal organs are also missing. ”

Too late because memory illness is already ruining Nina.

The novel however, Vera Novak, a symbol of courage fighting for justice, emerges as the real central figure, breaking the Hebrew-speaking former partisan who finds a new family and lineage in Israel. After all, he is in many ways a victim of war.

An example of this fictional character is Eva Panic-Nahir, which brought to wider awareness Tito’s silenced gulags.

It provides an even more solid foundation for David Grossman’s admirable polyphonic novel.


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