Falling Out of Time

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Following his magisterial To the End of the Land, the universally acclaimed Israeli author brings us an incandescent fable of parental grief––concise, elemental, a powerfully distilled experience of understanding and acceptance, and of art’s triumph over death.
In Falling Out of Time, David Grossman has created a genre-defying drama––part play, part prose, pure poetry––to tell the story of bereaved parents setting out to reach their lost...

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Falling Out of Time

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Following his magisterial To the End of the Land, the universally acclaimed Israeli author brings us an incandescent fable of parental grief––concise, elemental, a powerfully distilled experience of understanding and acceptance, and of art’s triumph over death.
In Falling Out of Time, David Grossman has created a genre-defying drama––part play, part prose, pure poetry––to tell the story of bereaved parents setting out to reach their lost children. It begins in a small village, in a kitchen, where a man announces to his wife that he is leaving, embarking on a journey in search of their dead son. The man––called simply Walking Man––paces in ever-widening circles around the town. One after another, all manner of townsfolk fall into step with him (the Net-Mender, the Midwife, the Elderly Math Teacher, even the Duke), each enduring his or her own loss. The walkers raise questions of grief and bereavement: Can death be overcome by an intensity of speech or memory? Is it possible, even for a fleeting moment, to call to the dead and free them from their death? Grossman’s answer to such questions is a hymn to these characters, who ultimately find solace and hope in their communal act of breaching death’s hermetic separateness. For the reader, the solace is in their clamorous vitality, and in the gift of Grossman’s storytelling––a realm where loss is not merely an absence but a life force of its own.

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Editorial Reviews

The New York Times Book Review - Edward Hirsch
…David Grossman has crafted a strange and riveting book—partly a folk tale, partly a play, partly a novel in verse. There's no genre to describe it. Capably translated from the Hebrew by Jessica Cohen, some of it unfolds in prose, some in short lines…Grossman operates in a different register here than in his previous novel, To the End of the Land, one of the great antiwar books of our era. In Falling Out of Time the characters are generalized types, as in a medieval allegory or a Beckett play, though their griefs are specific, their losses poignant and real.
Publishers Weekly
★ 01/27/2014
Although it’s identified as a novel, this searing narrative from Israeli writer Grossman is not cast in traditional form. A mixture of free-verse, prose, and stage directions, it’s a searching cri de coeur—an impassioned exploration of existential questions about life and death. In Grossman’s previous novel, To the End of the Land, a son is lost in battle; while Grossman was writing that book, his own son was killed in Israel’s 2006 war with Lebanon. Here, a bereaved father, who, after five years, still cannot come to terms with his son’s death, leaves his wife and home to try to find the “there,” where the boy’s soul resides. As he relentlessly walks through and around his village, the Walking Man is joined by others who have lost their children. His voice—intense, anguished, almost deranged by grief—is mediated by the Town Chronicler, who also introduces the voices of the other seekers—the net mender, the midwife, the duke, the cobbler, the math teacher, the centaur—who join the Walking Man. In hoping to be granted even a moment of communication with the dead, the Walking Man laments “the vast expanse his death/ created in me,” and his need to embrace “this/ lonely/ dead/ child.” This piercingly sad elegy culminates in a moment of peace in which the community of the bereaved contemplates the cycle of life and death. The precision and sensory depth of Grossman’s language renders this unconventional work an unforgettable and magnificent document of suffering. (Mar.)
Kirkus Reviews
A genre-crossing, pensive, peripatetic novel by Israeli author Grossman (To the End of the Land, 2010, etc.). Grossman's previous novel described a walk across the scorching Judean desert in quest of peace. The walking continues in this book, a blend of verse, drama and prose that recalls Karl Kraus' blistering Last Days of Mankind (1919) in both subject and form. Where Kraus described the self-immolation of Europe in World War I, Grossman ponders a world in which "[c]old flames lapped around us," a world caught up in formless, chaotic conflict about which we know only a few things—especially that people, young people, have died. The "Walking Man" goes in quest of the lost, but, leaving his home and village, he manages only to encircle it in an ever-widening ambit. Says "The Woman," "You /circle / around me / like a beast / of prey," but he is searching, not hunting, his circling an apparent effort at exhaustiveness. Others join him, the predator-prey metaphor working overtime: One woman likens her spirit to "a half-devoured beast / in its predator's mouth." In the end, Kraus gives way to a modernist verse reminiscent of Eliot: "We walk in gloom. / Across the way, on gnarled rock, / a spider spins a web, spreads out his taut, / clear net." The lesson learned from such observations? Perhaps this: Though death is final, the fact of death continues to reverberate among the living, awed and heartbroken. Rich, lyrical, philosophically dense—not an easy work to take in but one that repays every effort.
Library Journal
Shortly before publication of Grossman's recent To the End of the Land, which explores the emotional strains a family endures when a loved one is sent off to war, Grossman's younger son was killed in the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah War, or Second Lebanon War. Here, the author responds by examining aspects of silent and hidden mourning. Utilizing a variety of literary genres, each of which illuminates a means of releasing trauma and grief, he intertwines the lives of several nameless characters, among them the Walking Man, the Net Mender, the Midwife, and the Elderly Math Teacher, who have experienced the loss of a child. Each person carries a concealed burden, yearning for an overt articulation of their loss. It is through the discovery of their collective voice, written in poetic verse, that each character is able to unearth the covered traces of trauma and find closure. VERDICT Grossman's lyrical approach to the silent suffering of mourning is both a literary study in processing grief and a reminder that healing often comes through the action of putting into words the pain we thought was unspeakable. [See Prepub Alert, 9/9/13.]—Joshua Finnell, Denison Univ. Lib., Granville, OH
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780385350136
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 3/25/2014
  • Pages: 208
  • Sales rank: 61,516
  • Product dimensions: 5.20 (w) x 7.60 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

David Grossman was born in Jerusalem, where he still lives. He is the best-selling author of many works of fiction, nonfiction, and children’s literature, which have been translated into thirty-six languages. His work has also appeared in The New Yorker. He is the recipient of numerous awards, including the French Chevalier de L’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, the Buxtehuder Bulle in Germany, Rome’s Premio per la Pace e l’Azione Umanitaria, the Premio Ischia International Award for Journalism, Israel’s Emet Prize, and the 2010 Frankfurt Peace Prize. 

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Interviews & Essays

Barnes & Noble Review Interview with David Grossman

In 2010, four years after he lost his son Uri in the invasion of Lebanon, Israeli writer David Grossman utilized his grief to create the deepest yet most soaring kind of novel. To the End of the Land was also a commercial success, selling more than 100,000 copies in a land of 7 million. But the grief was far from extinguished, and Mr. Grossman has subsequently published a novella-length book — Falling Out of Time — that uses a minimum of words and plot lines to dig even deeper, using archetypal characters with names like the Walking Man, the Midwife, the Town Chronicler, all of whom share the heartache of losing a child. It felt more than a little invasive to delve into these matters in a recent interview, but cowardly not to. Our discussion follows. —Daniel Asa Rose

The Barnes & Noble Review: This new book reads more like poetry than straight narrative, perhaps befitting its dirge-like quality. It also strikes me as having the incantatory cadences of a prayer book:

Whether I come or go,
whether rise or lie —
it is here.
When I am alone
or sitting in the square,
or teaching a class —
it is here
David Grossman: It is kind of a prayer book for a secular person who faces the question of death and cannot find solace in the belief of the afterlife, and will try as hard as he can to reach the most remote place where the living can be in touch with those who are dead.

BNR: Would it be correct to see Falling Out of Time as a kind of companion piece to To the End of the Land? A sort of coda, using up leftover vapors of grief?

DG: To the End of the Land is a book that describes the fear of losing a beloved one and tells of an attempt to turn back the wheel of events, while Falling Out of Time describes the situation after the catastrophe has occurred. It tells of the attempts of the characters to find a language with which to speak the unspeakable. When we lost our son Uri almost eight years ago, we received many letters of condolence from Israel and abroad, many of them from writers. I was astonished to see that they wrote with almost the same formulation, as if dictated — "we are speechless," "there are no words to describe," and so forth. Other people who came to see us spoke the same way — not because they are insensitive but because often we do not have words to express such sadness. It is in these moments that we need to have the most nuanced language, to describe exactly where you are now, what you are experiencing. In the beginning I was mute and had no words that could match what I felt, but after a while I found a growing need to articulate it; to give names to what happens to us is what makes us human. And the more nuanced we are verbally the more nuanced we are within our being. At the same time I felt the temptation to avoid the pain that comes from direct contact with grief — the temptation to deny and to find solace by escaping it. On the contrary, I wanted to be there fully with what I faced. I think this book is the result of these two contradictory powers — the first to remain silent in the face of what happened and then the need to give a name to every sensation. If I were doomed to be exiled to this island of grief, then at least I would try to map it with my own words. The result is this book that as you have noted contains much poetry — since poetry is the closest art to silence.

BNR: To the End of the Land, and this book even more so, read as though the words weren't so much plucked from the air as mined from someplace deep within. Was there a sense of inevitability behind the words?

DG: I always prefer books that are inevitable. So many of the books I read are simply too "evitable." But I am always attracted to books where I feel the author had no choice but to write this story.

BNR: To my ear, the language as well as the sentiment of Falling Out of Time has the same distilled quality as something from Samuel Beckett. Will you ever get to the point where the language and the sentiment are distilled so much that, like Beckett, there's little left but silence? Would you want it to get that far?

DG: When we talk about death, when we talk about the loss of our beloved, we always stand in a place where there are not enough words and they are beyond our reach. This book was an attempt — as far as I could go — where words can still serve me and words can still radiate and through them find a way back to life, to find a way for me and for the reader to return to life and fight against the gravity of loss and grief.

BNR: The other connection I kept making was to the Noh plays of Yeats. The same semi-mystical dream quality, the same obsession with-not ghosts, exactly-but with deceased people whose presence is not absent, to use your kind of construction, or whose absences are still very much present. Have you read much Yeats, or are you aware of being influenced by him?

DG: Thank you — these are deep, intelligent questions and I am flattered with the comparison. I love to read Yeats but I cannot say he is my literary mentor. I think that Yeats is a religious writer in his soul, a mystic, and I am very much a secularist. It is important for me to acknowledge that there is no afterlife, and that we must create our solace alone and by ourselves.

BNR: The short, choppy lines lend the book a breathlessness that feels like after one has wept a great deal. Intentional?

DG: I would say the contrary. There is no crying and not a drop of tears in this book. It is not sentimental. It is emotional. And what you see as breathlessness is of one holding back his tears.

BNR: A technical question: Why does the midwife have a stutter, at least in the beginning? Is it to distinguish her voice from the others or that, as someone who brings new life into the world, she has particular trouble articulating the un-articulatable?

if only I knew the th-th-there, too,
when you arrived,
when you finished
you were welcomed with loving arms
and a warm, fragrant t-t-towel ?.
DG: Many of the protagonists have difficulty expressing themselves. This is the paralysis one often feels in such situations of loss, when reality does not progress naturally and harmoniously. The midwife's experience is inarticulate: both life and words are chopped off. There is a violation of the right order of things with the death of her child. But when the midwife decides to join the walking people she then stops stuttering and like them she starts using poetry. The usage of poetry indicates the beginning of the recovery from her paralysis.

BNR: As the child of Zionists (my parents met at a Zionist youth camp in the Catskills in the late '40s), I witnessed a generation of American Jews grow from a state of rapturous idealism to one of increasing despair, not to say disgust, with the nation of Israel. What would you offer the old believers?

DG: I would offer them that with all the criticism they have for the Israeli government, it is important not to forget the great idea that is the basis and at the heart of the creation of Israel. Even for those who are against the policies of the government, it is essential to remember the story of the homecoming of a whole people after a millennium, and after persecution and the Shoah. Coming back to the place where they originated as a nation, as a religion, as a language. For me it is still one of the greatest human stories and I insist on remembering this when I criticize the government and the occupation and the army. Things went terribly wrong since Israel occupied the territories in 1967. But I believe the options that are in front of us are still worth fighting for, to have a normal life and to experience a life of peace and removing the threat of death that has been hovering over our heads for so many years. All of these things can be achieved when we have peace with our neighbors, a struggle with which I have been involved for the past three decades. Not just to settle the territorial problems between us and our neighbors but to also allow them and us another way of being in this life.

BNR: Is the Holocaust still a subject for young Israeli writers? Will it ever again be a living topic for them or as has it been forever relegated to ancient history?

DG: The Holocaust is significant not only for young writers, but for most young people in Israel. It is present in many ways. Some are authentic and express the attempt to understand how the Shoah could have happened and what lessons we should learn. And it also exists in the manipulations of politicians. Our prime minister is an expert in confusing the echoes of the past traumas with the real dangers we are now facing. It is heartbreaking how many people are almost helpless in front of such manipulations, and how we are paralyzed because of the way we are programmed to translate every situation into the terminology of the Shoah. Even when we are given an opportunity to engage in the peace process with the Palestinians, a process we need desperately, we are unable to respond accordingly.

BNR: With these two books of mourning behind you, do you hope to get back to more secular works, even sexual ones? In earlier books such as Be My Knife and See Under: Love you had a way of getting under a woman's skin that always made me feel you must have been a woman in an earlier incarnation.

DG: It is always a pleasure to write about characters who I will not be. I remember when I was writing Ora [the main character in To the End of the Land], how long it took me to understand her. But eventually I surrendered to her being within me. Inside each of us there is the potential for so many other selves, but because of conventions we congeal into one story line. Writing gives me the pleasure of melting into the others that are within me.

BNR: A question about translation. Your language is so nuanced I'm surprised you never translate your own work. Why do you trust professional translators to do a better job?

DG: You are very generous but I know my limitations. I prefer to give the act of translation to my very gifted translator, Jessica Cohen.

BNR: Finally, after putting down one of your books, what do you most hope your readers come away with?

DG: I don't know what to tell my readers, but I know my own expectations as a reader: I want to come out a bit different from the way I went into the reading and I want to feel a little bit less lonely. I want to feel that someone out there understands me.

April 9, 2014
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Reading Group Guide

The questions, discussion topics, and reading list that follow are intended to enhance your reading group’s discussion of Falling Out of Time, internationally acclaimed author David Grossman’s powerful, genre-defying exploration of grief and bereavement as experienced by residents of a small village.
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 2 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Posted July 2, 2014

    Read at your own risk.

    Death is always a part of life no matter one's age, but at my age one begins to lose more and more people to death. I lost my dad ten years ago this month and my mom five years ago in April. Just two days after I fell ill in May, my favorite uncle passed away at 93 years of age. Simultaneously my favorite aunt fell and broke her shoulder. She had just turned 96 and was deemed too elderly to withstand an operation. She died in hospice care a week later.

    I am not writing of all this death as a plea for pity or condolences. I had read Falling Out of Time two weeks before and felt my own grief about my parents understood by someone more fully than before, because this book is a work of mourning and an examination of the mourning process more precise, more reverberating, and yet more gentle than anything I have read or heard.

    However, I do not recommend it lightly. David Grossman and his wife Michal, live outside Jerusalem where they have raised three children. Their youngest, Uri, a tank commander, was killed in 2006 in Lebanon. After writing To The End of the Land, a novel loosely based on the experience, he had more to say.

    Most reviewers and even the publisher have scrambled to describe Falling Out of Time, calling it part play, part prose, part poetry. For us Americans, it rather defies labeling. The work is a hybrid and involves the reader best who takes her time and just lets the words and images sink in.

    By involving several characters who are mourning those they have lost, Grossman hits on the truth that each person has his or her own unique reaction to death. No one ritual or series of steps is right for every person.

    An even deeper concept is, whether you have a religious belief about where the dead go or if you believe that death is the end of a person, the saddest most unacceptable part is the annihilation of one's connection with the dead one in real time, because he or she has fallen out of time.

    Then comes a final conclusion. It may not work for everyone but it clearly worked for the author. Because of that, I was left feeling unburdened of my own past and future losses somewhat. But reading David Grossman's deeply personal meditation on his loss also left me stirred up, my thoughts in a whirl, my heart aching.

    The next to the last sentences: "He is dead, he is dead. But his death, his death is not dead."

    Read at your own risk.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 25, 2014

    Searing... e Elegant! Searing...

    Prose and poetry... Wonderful!

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