Saturday, October 23, 2010

So Close and Yet So Far

I really enjoyed the recent article by George Packer in the New Yorker about Israeli author David Grossman.

The article mentions Mr. Grossman’s relationship to Palestinian writers, such as a professor called Ahmad Harb. Here is a quote from the article:
“I visited Harb, a tall, painfully formal man in his late fifties, in his Ramallah home. His living room looked out over a hillside that was covered with Palestinian construction projects. In the early aughts, Israeli troops had the town under siege, and Grossman phoned him often to be sure that he was all right. Harb did the same after Uri’s death. Harb had once thought of writing a book on the works of David Grossman, but the political situation in the West Bank wasn’t right—it might have led to trouble.

“Yesterday, I was talking to David about the possibility of translating one of my novels into Hebrew,” Harb told me. “He said, ‘Honestly, there isn’t much interest to translate Palestinian literature.’ And if a Palestinian translated or taught Israeli literature he would be considered a kind of collaborator.” There was no reason for this, Harb believed—in spite of their enmity, the two peoples should know each other and read each other. But, for now, all that they tried to build twenty years ago has come to nothing. In a better world, he and David would be close friends. “I hope, sometime in the future,” he said. “But it’s like a phantom. You say, ‘At some point I will reach it,’ but then anything will explode everything else, and you are back at square one.”

As I left, Harb gave me an English translation of his new novel, “Remains,” to carry the eight miles from Ramallah to Grossman’s home, in Mevasseret Zion.”

I tend to believe, perhaps idealistically, that reading literature about other people is a way of bringing us closer. That’s one reason why we need translation and translators. There’s something very sad about the fact that two people living in such close proximity and yet not reading each other’s literature. Something is seriously wrong with this situation.

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