On the subway this morning I finished George Packer's sad and beautiful New Yorker profile of the Israeli novelist David Grossman, an outsized figure in his nation's literary and left-wing political scene, whose young son was killed in the 2006 war in Lebanon.
The piece was so moving I stopped reading at several points just to stare into space and absorb it all. For some reason, I was particularly affected by the section about Grossman's aborted friendship with the Palestinian intellectual Ahmad Harb. The two men would like to translate each other's books, but their respective publics, Israeli and Palestinian, would consider such an effort politically suspect, so they don't. And Grossman and Harb, though admiring, can never truly get to know one another because of the travel restrictions to and from the West Bank. Packer writes:
In a better world, [Harb] and David would be close friends. “I hope, sometime in the future,” [Harb] 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.