Friday, March 30, 2007

Lion's Honey by David Grossman

[ just a review -- not for any challenge ]

Title: Lion's Honey

Author: David Grossman

Copyright: 2005 for the original publication in Hebrew, 2006 for the English translation, published by Canongate U.S., ISBN:1-841-95742-9

Length: 176 pages (including notes and bibliography)

Genre: Essay

Summary: Grossman allows us to participate in his thinking out loud about the myth of Samson, "Samson the Hero" as children in Israel are taught. The hero is one most widely known for his strength which is taken away from him by the wickedly seductive Delilah. Samson foolishly entrusts Delilah with the knowledge that his strength is tied to his unshorn hair and she betrays that trust by shaving his head while he sleeps. She then turns him over to the Philistines when he has no capacity to resist capture. The weakened Samson is taken and chained but, even after the hideous, physical abuse by his captors, he triumphs by pulling down the pillars of the building in which he is imprisoned -- killing himself and many Philistines in the process.

Grossman doesn't shrink from the essential barbarity of Samson's story, additional elements of which do not appear in the preceding paragraph (see Judges 13-16 for the full narrative). Samson is destined to be a hero to his people, but the loneliness presented by Grossman as a key aspect of this hero represents his vulnerability. Samson is different, set apart from birth by the singular fashion in which his mother learns of his ultimate destiny and the instructions given for his fostering. Grossman focuses on Samson's inner sense of "other-ness" on the grounds of his uncanny strength and his moments of poetic expression. Samson's frustration and unhappiness fuel his actions and there is no alternate ending to the way those play out, given the nature of his emotional pain.

Grossman sees the myth of Samson as reflective of his country's policies. A noted peace activist in Israel, Grossman's modern rendering of this myth takes into account both the individual and the corporate experience of those perpetually at odds with the world surrounding them. You can get a glimpse of his current views on the Israeli conflict based on his comments at the memorial for Yitzhak Rabin last year.

Also relevant: You can read this as a parable of the creative temperament at odds with social norms. It is possible to read it as well in the vein of a political statement. Grossman fleshes out the tale with a certain realism and understanding. His thought processes work through the brusque biblical narrative in the same way that a man with a flashlight might work his way along a narrow and dark hallway, stepping rather than striding. It's still a fast read; I finished the book in a single sitting.

Grossman presents a sympathetic portrait of a frustrated, sensitive personality trapped by internal and external conflicting forces. Somehow it works.