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More Than I Love My Life
Cover of More Than I Love My Life
More Than I Love My Life
A novel
A remarkable novel of suffering, love, and healing—the story of three generations of women on an unlikely journey to a Croatian island and a secret that needs to be told—from the internationally best-selling author of To the End of the Land
 
“A magnificent book . . . The way Grossman writes about these regions is unique, with a deep understanding of our experience.” —Josip Mlakić, Express (Croatia)
 


More Than I Love My Life is the story of three strong women: Vera, age ninety; her daughter, Nina; and her granddaughter, Gili, who at thirty-nine is a filmmaker and a wary consumer of affection. A bitter secret divides each mother and daughter pair, though Gili—abandoned by Nina when she was just three—has always been close to her grandmother.
 
With Gili making the arrangements, they travel together to Goli Otok, a barren island off the coast of Croatia, where Vera was imprisoned and tortured for three years as a young wife after she refused to betray her husband and denounce him as an enemy of the people. This unlikely journey—filtered through the lens of Gili’s camera, as she seeks to make a film that might help explain her life—lays bare the intertwining of fear, love, and mercy, and the complex overlapping demands of romantic and parental passion.
 
More Than I Love My Life was inspired by the true story of one of David Grossman’s longtime confidantes, a woman who, in the early 1950s, was held on the notorious Goli Otok (“the Adriatic Alcatraz”). With flashbacks to the stalwart Vera protecting what was most precious on the wretched rock where she was held, and Grossman’s fearless examination of the human heart, this swift novel is a thrilling addition to the oeuvre of one of our greatest living novelists, whose revered moral voice continues to resonate around the world. 
A remarkable novel of suffering, love, and healing—the story of three generations of women on an unlikely journey to a Croatian island and a secret that needs to be told—from the internationally best-selling author of To the End of the Land
 
“A magnificent book . . . The way Grossman writes about these regions is unique, with a deep understanding of our experience.” —Josip Mlakić, Express (Croatia)
 


More Than I Love My Life is the story of three strong women: Vera, age ninety; her daughter, Nina; and her granddaughter, Gili, who at thirty-nine is a filmmaker and a wary consumer of affection. A bitter secret divides each mother and daughter pair, though Gili—abandoned by Nina when she was just three—has always been close to her grandmother.
 
With Gili making the arrangements, they travel together to Goli Otok, a barren island off the coast of Croatia, where Vera was imprisoned and tortured for three years as a young wife after she refused to betray her husband and denounce him as an enemy of the people. This unlikely journey—filtered through the lens of Gili’s camera, as she seeks to make a film that might help explain her life—lays bare the intertwining of fear, love, and mercy, and the complex overlapping demands of romantic and parental passion.
 
More Than I Love My Life was inspired by the true story of one of David Grossman’s longtime confidantes, a woman who, in the early 1950s, was held on the notorious Goli Otok (“the Adriatic Alcatraz”). With flashbacks to the stalwart Vera protecting what was most precious on the wretched rock where she was held, and Grossman’s fearless examination of the human heart, this swift novel is a thrilling addition to the oeuvre of one of our greatest living novelists, whose revered moral voice continues to resonate around the world. 
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Excerpts-
  • From the book Rafael was fifteen years old when his mother died and put him out of her misery. Rain poured down on the mourn-ers huddled under umbrellas in the small kibbutz cemetery. Tuvia, Rafael’s father, sobbed bitterly. He had cared for his wife devotedly for years and now looked lost and bereft. Rafael, wearing shorts, stood apart from the others and pulled the hood of his sweatshirt over his eyes so that no one would know he wasn’t crying. He thought: Now that she’s dead, she can see all the things I thought of her.

    That was in the winter of 1962. A year later his father met Vera Novak, who had come to Israel from Yugoslavia, and they became a couple. Vera had arrived with her only daughter, Nina, a tall, fair- haired girl of seventeen whose long face, which was pale and very beautiful, showed almost no expression.

    The boys in Rafael’s class called Nina “Sphinx.” They would sneak behind her and mimic her gait, the way she hugged her body and stared ahead vacantly. When she once caught two kids imitating her, she simply pummeled them bloody. They’d never seen such fighting on the kibbutz. It was hard to believe how much ferocious strength she had in her thin arms and legs. Rumors started flying. They said that while her mother was a political prisoner in the Gulag, little Nina had lived on the streets. The streets, they said, with a meaningful look. They said that in Belgrade she’d joined a gang of feral kids who kidnapped children for ransom. That’s what they said. People say things.

    The fight, as well as other incidents and rumors, failed to pierce the fog in which Rafael lived after his mother’s death. For months he was in a self-induced coma. Twice a day, morning and evening, he took a powerful sleeping pill from his mother’s medicine cabi-net. He didn’t even notice Nina when he occasionally ran into her around the kibbutz.

    But one evening, about six months after his mother died, he was taking a shortcut through the avocado orchard to the gym-nasium when Nina came toward him. She walked with her head bowed, hugging herself as if everything around her was cold. Rafael stopped, tensing up for reasons he did not understand. Nina was in her own world and did not notice him. He saw the way she moved. That was his first impression: her quiet, sparing motion. The lim-pid, high forehead, and a thin blue dress that fluttered halfway down her shins.

    The expression on his face when he recounted—

    Only when they got closer did Rafael see that she was crying— quiet, muffled sobs—and then she noticed him and stopped, and curved inward. Their gazes entangled fleetingly and, one might sorrowfully add, inextricably. “The sky, the earth, the trees,” Rafael told me, “I don’t know . . . I felt like nature had passed out.”

    Nina was the first to recover. She gave an angry puff and hurried away. He had time to glimpse her face, which had instantly shed all expression, and something inside him coursed toward her. He held out his hand after her.

    I can actually see him standing there with his hand out.

    And that is how he’s remained, with the outstretched hand, for forty- five years.

    But that day, in the orchard, without thinking, before he could hesitate and trip himself up, he sprinted after her to tell her what he’d understood the moment he’d seen her. Everything had come to life inside him, he told me. I asked him to explain. He mumbled something about all the things that had fallen...
About the Author-
  • DAVID GROSSMAN was born in Jerusalem. He is the author of numerous works of fiction, nonfiction, and children's literature. His writing has appeared in The New Yorker and has been translated into more than forty languages. He is the recipient of many prizes, 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 Journalism Award, Israel's EMET Prize, the Man Booker International Prize, and the Albatross Prize given by the Günter Grass Foundation. He lives in Jerusalem.

    JESSICA COHEN translates contemporary Israeli prose, poetry, and other creative work. She shared the 2017 Man Booker International Prize with David Grossman, for her translation of A Horse Walks into a Bar, and has translated works by major Israeli writers, including Amos Oz, Etgar Keret, Ronit Matalon and Nir Baram.
Reviews-
  • Library Journal

    March 1, 2021

    In this latest from internationally renowned Israeli novelist Grossman, 90-year-old Vera takes daughter Nina, with whom she has a tense relationship, and granddaughter Gili, who's close to Vera but distant from Nina, to a barren island off the Croatian coast. There, she explains, she spent three years imprisoned and tortured for refusing to denounce her husband.

    Copyright 2021 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Publisher's Weekly

    Starred review from May 24, 2021
    Grossman’s tender and disquieting latest (after A Horse Walks into a Bar) looks at three generations of women whose bonds are fissured by histories of restlessness and war. Gili, an aspiring filmmaker, has never forgiven her mother, Nina, for leaving her and her father when Gili was a toddler. Nina was raised in Yugoslavia and hasn’t recovered from her own sense of abandonment after her mother, Vera, an anti-Nazi partisan, was held in a prison camp for refusing to renounce communism. Vera, who’s both Gili’s biological grandmother and the stepmother of Gili’s father, Rafael, is the family’s center. When Nina visits for Vera’s 90th birthday party, she asks filmmaker Rafael to make a documentary for the family about their relationship; ultimately, Gili, who once worked as Rafael’s assistant, insists on having the final edit both out of a desire for creative fulfillment and to make sure they get the project right. The four talk, film, and revisit the dilapidated island prison, and their relationships shift as they grapple with Vera’s and Nina’s past. Grossman shines a light on the victims of the violent split between Tito and Stalin, as well as on the stories people tell themselves to explain, survive, and forgive. And in Vera, who is nimble and sharp at 90, endlessly self-mythologizing, and possessed of a broken Hebrew that Cohen renders into idiosyncratic broken English, the author has created an unforgettable character. This adds another remarkable achievement to Grossman’s long list.

  • Kirkus

    July 1, 2021
    Three generations of women confront a shared legacy of trauma. When Nina was 6 years old, her mother was imprisoned on Goli Otok, an island off the coast of what was then Yugoslavia, after refusing to denounce her husband for his allegedly Stalinist sympathies. Nina and her mother, Vera, survived the three-year ordeal, but with lingering scars. Grossman's latest novel is an account of their belated attempt to confront those scars and the extent to which they might have contributed to their own suffering. In the mid-1950s, Vera and Nina took off for Israel, where Vera remarried, becoming the matriarch of a sprawling family, and Nina launched a disparate, sexually promiscuous life. The first part of Grossman's novel, in which Vera's family holds a 90th birthday party for her and Nina's adult daughter, Gili, reflects on her own parents' relationship, is the most moving. As the novel progresses, though, it begins to feel overdetermined. The device Grossman uses to tell the story--Gili is a documentary filmmaker recording conversations about the past--isn't an entirely necessary one. In fact, all the asides about turning cameras on or off, zooming in or out, distract from the more important--and more interesting--details. Worse is the way that Grossman pushes the pathos of the story to its breaking point, and then beyond. Together with her mother, father, and grandmother, Gili visits Goli Otok, where they all confront not only the climax of their shared story, but also a literal storm that leaves them stranded overnight. Grossman, a justly celebrated Israeli novelist, could have done a lot more with a lot less. Occasionally moving but more often overwrought, Grossman's latest novel is not his finest.

    COPYRIGHT(2021) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Booklist

    July 1, 2021
    Three generations of women confront the traumatic events that shaped their lives in this powerful novel from internationally acclaimed Israeli author Grossman. Gili was raised by her father, Rafael, after her mother, Nina, abandoned her when she was just over three. Aloof and cold, Nina has grappled with her own abandonment issues all her life; her own mother, Vera, was taken to Goli Otok, a Croatian penal colony, when Nina was just six-and-a-half. When the three women are reunited to celebrate Vera's ninetieth birthday, Nina reveals a startling diagnosis and makes a powerful request. She asks Vera, Rafael, and Gili to take a trip with her to Goli Otok to film Vera's account of what happened to her during the years she was absent from Nina's life. As they journey to the island, Vera confronts her devastating time in the re-education camp and confesses a long-held secret. Nina tries to reconnect with Rafael and Gili, and Gili confronts the way her mother's abandonment has shaped her own sense of family. Grossman performs a deft exploration of how trauma impacts succeeding generations.

    COPYRIGHT(2021) Booklist, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

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