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The Book of Intimate Grammar
Cover of The Book of Intimate Grammar
The Book of Intimate Grammar
A Novel
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Leading Israeli novelist David Grossman gives us the story of the greatest and most universal tragedy, the loss of the world of childhood. At twelve, Aron Kleinfeld is the ringleader among the boys in his Jerusalem neighborhood, their inspiration in dreaming up games and adventures. But as his friends begin to mature, Aron remains imprisoned for three long years in the body of a child. While Israel inches toward the Six-Day War, and the voices of his friends change and become strange to him, Aron lives in his child body as though in a nightmare. Like a spy in enemy territory, he learns to decipher the internal codes of sexuality and desire, to understand the unyielding bureaucracy of the human body. Hurled between childhood and adulthood, between the pure and the profane, he is like a volcano of emotions and impulses. But, like his hero Houdini, Aron still struggles to escape from the trap of growing up.



The Book of Intimate Grammar is about the alchemy of childhood, which transforms loneliness and fear into creation, and about the struggle to emerge an artist. Funny, painful, and passionate, it is a work of enormous intensity and beauty.



Leading Israeli novelist David Grossman gives us the story of the greatest and most universal tragedy, the loss of the world of childhood. At twelve, Aron Kleinfeld is the ringleader among the boys in his Jerusalem neighborhood, their inspiration in dreaming up games and adventures. But as his friends begin to mature, Aron remains imprisoned for three long years in the body of a child. While Israel inches toward the Six-Day War, and the voices of his friends change and become strange to him, Aron lives in his child body as though in a nightmare. Like a spy in enemy territory, he learns to decipher the internal codes of sexuality and desire, to understand the unyielding bureaucracy of the human body. Hurled between childhood and adulthood, between the pure and the profane, he is like a volcano of emotions and impulses. But, like his hero Houdini, Aron still struggles to escape from the trap of growing up.



The Book of Intimate Grammar is about the alchemy of childhood, which transforms loneliness and fear into creation, and about the struggle to emerge an artist. Funny, painful, and passionate, it is a work of enormous intensity and beauty.



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  • Copyright © 1991 by David Grossman. Translation copyright © 1994 by Betsy Rosenberg. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever...

    The Book of Intimate Grammar

    1

    Aron is standing on tiptoe for a better view of the street below, where Mama and Papa have just stepped out to breathe some fresh air at the end of a long hot day. They look so small from here. He can taste the dusty metal of the blinds on his lips. His eyes glow. It isn't nice to watch like this. From above. They almost seem like dolls down there, a slow tubby one and a little snippety one. It isn't nice to watch, but it is kind of funny, and kind of scary maybe. The trouble is, Zacky and Gideon see them too. Still, he can't tear himself away. Y'alla, let's go, grumbles Zacky, his nose squashed flat against the blinds. If What's-her-name turns up now we're history. Hey, whispers Aron, here come the Kaminers. Old man Kaminer is going to die, says Gideon. See how yellow he is? You can tell.

    Mama and Papa stopped to talk to the Kaminers from Entrance A. They flickered in and out of sight behind the spreading fig tree. Don't ask, sighed Esther Kaminer. Snatches of conversation drifted up to the fourth-floor window. Poor Avigdor—she shook her head—it's a miracle he's still alive, and Mama clucked her tongue: God help anyone who falls into a doctor's clutches. They chop you to pieces for diploma practice. Avigdor Kaminer, slouching as usual, stared blankly at his chattering wife. And you wouldn't believe what it's costing, she moaned, what with the medication and the dietetic food, and a taxi home every time after the dialysis. If you ask me, said Mama as she and Papa continued their stroll, she can hardly wait to be rid of him, he's gettingtoo expensive for her—Aron saw her lips move and guessed what she was saying—and who does La Kaminer hope to hook after he's gone, with her hair falling out by the handful already, as if she didn't have enough of a dowry; she isn't fooling anyone with that savings-and-loan bouffant, the bald spots show a mile. Papa merely nodded as usual, distracted by a bit of litter on the sidewalk, a scrap of newspaper, a lemon rind. Don't look now, it's Strashnov, said Mama, her lips twisting into a sour smile. You think the snob will say hello? Hello, Mr. Strashnov, how's the family?

    It's your father, said Aron flatly. Y'alla, let's go, said Gideon, transfixed at the window: his father, dressed to the nines in Terylene trousers, with a tie on, even in this khamsin. Mr. Strashnov nodded disdainfully and pursed his lips as he minced along. Well, that's a fine hello; thinks he's too good for us, does he? Papa blocked his way. Back from the whatsit ... the university? Mr. Strashnov pursed his lips again. Ha, he has to make faces before he'll talk, before he'll open his mouth and say hello, afraid to let in a little air, is he? And his wife has to take in typing and work her fingers to the bone, because Professor Inallectual can't earn a decent living, hissed Mama, waving goodbye and shuddering in his chilly wake.

    Come on, Ari, let's go, said Gideon, backing away from the window. But we haven't seen anything yet, whispered Aron. Why're the two of you so scared all of a sudden? Zacky and Gideon exchanged glances. Look, Ari, said Gideon, staring down at his sandals, actually ... there's something I wanted to tell you before, before we broke in—Not now! fumed Aron, we'll go ahead as planned! And he strutted back to the center of the room, with Zacky and Gideon reluctantly following him till they too fell under the spell of this raided sanctuary, this unsuspected ice cube in a block of steamy flats, and they tiptoed after him over the rug-checkered floors, past the black leviathan of a piano in the salon; Aron pointed to a trio of ivory figures on the...

About the Author-
  • David Grossman has received several international awards for his writing, including the Premio Grinzane and the Premio Mondelo for The Zigzag Kid. He is the author of several novels and children's books, and a play. He lives in Jerusalem with his wife and children.
Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    Starred review from August 1, 1994
    Again displaying the special insights into adolescent psychology previously seen in See Under: Love , Israeli novelist Grossman has fashioned a powerful, emotionally devastating novel that chronicles a young boy's fears, anguish and breakdown. Aron Kleinfeld is 11 and a half when we meet him and his crass, ill-bred parents in a seedy Jerusalem housing project. Sensitive and imaginative, he is a great dreamer and ringleader of escapades among his circle of friends, though they are beginning to scorn his childish fantasies. Other signs of stress soon appear: his parents' anxious references to Aron's slow growth and his own awareness of his short stature and scrawny physique, coupled with his observation of the signs of puberty in his pals, make Aron acutely self-conscious and arouse feelings of humiliation and self-hatred. Aron, reluctant to mature socially, psychologically and physically, becomes so revolted by the adult world of hairy armpits and sex and complex, mediated feelings that he eventually feels that ``having a body is itself a defect.'' Yet the reader's sympathy for this naive, gauche nebbish grows in proportion to Aron's suffering, as Grossman brilliantly creates Aron's agonized stream of consciousness. Painfully lonely, feeling rejected by family and friends, to Aron ``. . . words had come to be utterly inward, whispering a grammar so intimate and tortuous they could never break forth into the light.'' Grossman's portrait of Aron will stand as a classic study of adolescent turmoil set against the muted backdrop of his country's imminent, violent and compromised coming of age in the Six-Day War of 1967.

  • The Boston Globe

    "When the Israeli writer David Grossman's See Under: Love was published...he was compared legitimately to Kafka, Grass, Márquez and Joyce....David Grossman's own intimate grammar will speak to anyone who was ever 12."

  • Chicago Tribune "Like [Virginia] Woolf, Grossman is uncanny at reproducing an experience from the inside out...the writing reminds you of the great, solemn mystery of literature, what the poet Czeslaw Milosz calls 'the human possibility of being someone else.'"
  • The New York Times Book Review "Mr. Grossman's balance between the poetic and the profane is perfect....[The Book of Intimate Grammar] is See Under: Love's stylistic twin: the beauty and intelligence of the writing are dazzling....It can be read at once, as a tale of magic realism, a parable about the damage left in the wake of the Holocaust, a psychological portrait of a child's descent into madness, and, finally, as a comical but searing indictment of the Jewish family."
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David Grossman
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