Book Review for “More Than I Love My Life” by David Grossman (translated by Jessica Cohen).
Summary: “[This novel] is the story of three strong women: Vera, age ninety; her daughter, Nina; and her granddaughter, Gili, who at thirty-nine is a filmmaker and a wary consumer of affection. A bitter secret divides each mother-and-daughter pair, though Gili–abandoned by Nina when she was just three–has always been close to her grandmother. With Gili making the arrangements, they travel together to Goli Otok, a barren island off the coast of Croatia, where Vera was imprisoned and tortured for three years as a young wife after she refused to betray her husband and denounce him as an enemy of the people. This unlikely journey–filtered through the lens of Gili’s camera, as she seeks to make a film that might help explain her life–lays bare the intertwining of fear, love, and mercy, and the complex overlapping demands of romantic and parental passion.“
Age: Adult; Genres: Literary, Fiction; Settings: Contemporary – Israel, Croatia; Historical; Other Categories: Novel, Women, Biographical, Translation, Family Saga.
The summary of this book also says it was “inspired by the true story of one of David Grossman’s longtime confidantes, a woman who, in the early 1950s, was held on the notorious Goli Otok (“the Adriatic Alcatraz”). With flashbacks to the stalwart Vera protecting what was most precious on the wretched rock where she was held, and Grossman’s fearless examination of the human heart, this swift novel is a thrilling addition to the oeuvre of one of our greatest living novelists, whose revered moral voice continues to resonate around the world.” Well, that’s one hell of an inspiration, and I hope that his confidante appreciates her story being told by Grossman in this way.
Confession time – this is the first book by David Grossman I’ve ever read. Yes, you heard me. Sad, isn’t it? But you see… this is also the first time that I’ve gotten an ARC for one of his books translated into English. See, while I can speak Hebrew pretty well (nearly fluent), because of my dyslexia, I cannot read a whole novel in Hebrew. That, and the usually prohibitive cost of the translated versions, has kept me from reading Grossman in the past. So, obviously, when I saw this available as an ARC, I jumped at the chance, and was really excited to get approved. The thing is, I know Grossman on a slightly personal level, because he is an avid supporter for the organization I worked for before I retired. Unfortunately, I never got a chance to meet him, but I’m sure I would have made a fool of myself if I had! Anyway, that out of the way… I have read other books and stories translated by Jessica Cohen, however, and one thing I can say for sure – once again, I feel like she did a beautiful job here. I could see where she obviously took words Grossman used in Hebrew and carefully chose what to use in English.
What I found here was a very layered story, which was at the same time fascinating and a bit frightening. Much of it centers around how these three generations of women related to each other, to their pasts, their present, and their expected futures. Obviously, other elements come in as well, such as the men in these women’s lives, and how the love of these women for these men (as well as these men’s love for the women) impacted their relationships with each other. As the story unfolds, we learn about these intertwined people in a type of dance that takes them along their own pasts, as well as the through the journey to this horrible island. Grossman uses this island as a turning point in their lives and connections, with revelations – both painful and uplifting. Furthermore, Grossman also recounts Vera’s experience of part of her time on the island as a type of metaphor for how these three women see themselves in each other’s eyes, or perhaps how these three women want to be seen by the others. Admittedly, there were times when certain elements of this story weren’t easy to read on a very personal level, yet despite some tears, I couldn’t stop reading.
In addition, I truly appreciated how carefully Grossman developed each of these women, and Gili in particular, who is the first-person narrator for this book. Mind you, I had a harder time relating to Nina, because it felt like there were parts of her that were missing for me. Vera, on the other hand, I identified with very much – especially with her love and devotion to her first husband. This once again proves that you don’t have to be a woman to write believable female characters – you just have to be a very good writer! Finally, I have to say that not only did this story touch my heart, but it also made me laugh many times – some of Gili’s side remarks were really funny. So… if I laughed and cried, what does that mean? Yes, I’m going to give this very high marks. This is another book that rightfully deserves 4.75 stars, which I have to round up to 5/5, which is a very warm recommendation.
Knopf (will) release(d) “More Than I Love My Life” by David Grossman, translated by Jessica Cohen, on August 24, 2021. This book is (will be) available (via the following affiliate links) from Amazon, The Book Depository (free worldwide delivery), Foyles, Waterstones, WHSmith, Wordery (UK), Wordery (US), Walmart (Kobo) US (eBooks and audiobooks), the website eBooks.com, Booksamillion.com, iTunes (iBooks and audiobooks), new or used from Alibris, used from Better World Books (promoting libraries and world literary), as well as from as well as from Bookshop.org and UK.Bookshop (to support independent bookshops, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic) or an IndieBound store near you. I would like to thank the publishers for sending me an ARC of this novel via Edelweiss.