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Monday 25 April 2016

Award-winning Novelist David Grossman in conversation with (in English) Swiss journalist Mikaël Krogerus, 20 April 2016, Kaufleuten Zurich, 9* out of 10

Thanks to his sensitive and creative interviewing style and the eloquent interviewee Swiss journalist and author Mikaël Krogerus got Israeli author David Grossman to share about himself and the manner in which he works. Much wisdom and and true human warmth shone through. The audience in packed Kaufleuten hall in Zurich was delighted. They left thoroughly satisfied and keen to get their hands on the German translation of his new book.

For exclusively English speaking residents or tourists in Zurich availability of high quality events is growing but still somewhat limited. 

One place that they may not easily come to mind, but which has in the last year yielded some memorable and thought-provoking entertainment in the English language is the Kaufleuten complex near Paradeplatz in the heart of Zurich’s shopping and Banking district. Kaufleuten has a literature series where authors are interviewed when the German translations of the latest works are launched. The last year included John Cleese (of Monty Python fame) who launched his auto biography, Karl Ove Knausgaard with his epic biographic novel My Struggle to Gary Shteyngart’s Little Failure. All of which turned out to be rather entertaining and highly informative events which were largely held in English (except for the excerpts read by an actor from their books, which were in German).

It was therefore without hesitation that I bought tickets for the launch of David Grossman’s new novel. David Grossman is an internationally known Israeli writer. He writes in Hebrew and for his latest book the German translation precedes the English. Its title is Kommt ein Pferd in eine Bar (A Horse Walks Into a Bar). It tells the story of a stand-up comedy evening in the provincial Israeli coastal town of Netanya that swings from funny-ha-ha via funny-peculiar to tragically dramatic.

The Kaufleuten hall is packed to the last seat. As a Swiss audience can be expected to understand English very well, the interview is in English without translation. 

Mikaël Krogerus gets David Grossman to speak eloquently in English about his novel, about a person he thinks about at the moment (his infant grand-daughter in this case), about his writing process. The characters of his novel come first; their physical characteristics and mannerisms come before their inner life and thoughts reveal themselves to their creator. For Grossman, the happiest moment in the creative process is when he has got his characters ready in his mind but before they have started to act. That is for him the moment of the greatest potential, a moment of great excitement when Grossman does not yet know where the characters will lead him. As soon as they take an action or make a decision, the infinite potential is restricted and the hard work of writing a coherent story begins. Grossman tells his audience that the desk where he writes is close to a long corridor. He needs to physically walk up down that corridor to develop his ideas, they won’t just come to him when he is sitting still.

Grossman, a peace activist lost his son Uri an officer in the Israeli army in the latest with the Lebanese Hezbollah. But while dealing with the pain of losing his beloved son, he has firmly turned his gaze to the outside world, to the present, to the future. He is an acute observer of the individual human being n their natural habitat trying to cope with the other human beings around them. Hell s other people, but no man (or woman) is an island. Grossman is a friendly witness of his characters’ struggles. His observations in his books as well as in his interview are full of wisdom and good will towards his characters full of their quirks and foibles. Nevertheless, his generally kind eye sees people in a down to earth and realistic way. 

From this quite profound and wide-ranging interview there also emerged the picture of a man who loves his country and above all its language, Hebrew, the most important instrument of his art and craft. And so he includes a reading of an excerpt from his new novel in the original Hebrew.

Deservedly and fittingly Grossman remarks that Mikaël Krogerus, his interviewer for the evening, has been outstanding and asked Grossman has not been asked before in interviews.  I have had the pleasure of seeing Krogerus interview other award-winning authors (Karl Ove Knausgaard, Gary Shteyngart) and he does an excellent job in making them feel at ease, but not so much at ease, that they don’t care about their answers. Krogerus strength is that he appears much more interested in what his interviewees will say than in self presentation. The Kaufleuten literature series is lucky to have him. Long lasting warm applause for above all for Grossman but also Krogerus as well as the actor who read the excerpts in German.

Man-Booker-Prize-winning author Yann Martel (the Life of Pi) is next on the Kaufleuten Literature interview list. I look forward to it.

David Grossman

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