The appearance of David Grossman’s novel (in English translation, To the End of the Land) in 2008 was a key event in Israeli culture for a number of reasons. After many years of publishing adolescent novels and minor novels about domestic relations, Grossman returned to an engagement with the discourse of national life. The result was a gigantic and over determined work of the imagination that was thrust into the public realm by death of the author’s son Uri in the last days of the Second Lebanon War while the novel was still unfinished. The novel became a bestseller that was read with feverish intensity by those who could not help identifying with the anxieties of Israeli parenthood as embodied by the protagonist Ora. Yet despite this extraordinary success, a number of influential academic critics rendered negative judgments about the novel’s achievement as a work of art. Some pointed to a lack of writerly discipline that resulted in a verbal texture that was over-packed and excessively florid. Others found the novel emotionally manipulative. For yet others, the source of the problem was political: despite Grossman’s progressive public utterances, he had written a novel that ennobled resignation and viewed the sacrifices of young men and the anguish of their families through a fatalistic lens.
These contradictions in the reception of To the End of the Land made it a perfect candidate for an experiment in scholarly exchange. The leadership of the NAPH was in a process of rethinking the formats of presentation at its annual conference and seeking alternatives to papers read aloud on disparate subjects. The proposal was made to place an important text at the center of the discussion and ask scholars with different points of view to offer their interpretations; these interpretations, furthermore, would be circulated in written form before the conference so that the actual session could stage an active dialogue and exchange of views. An additional condition of this dialogue would be that the participants should be drawn from scholars working in both Israel and America; this division would give us the opportunity to think about the ways in which the subject position of the reader-interpreter—here or there—might affect the kind of reading that is undertaken. Jessica Cohen’s excellent translation of Grossman’s novel into English had recently [End Page 285] been published, and this provided us with a chance to observe the reception of the book not only in Israel but in America as well. Thus the session came together. Nitza Ben-Dov, Iris Milner, and Shimrit Peled participated from the Israeli side and Anne Golomb Hoffman, Todd Hasak-Lowy, and Alan Mintz from the American side. The paper by the Israeli scholar Smadar Schiffman, which had been given at the NAPH meeting the previous year, has also been included. [End Page 286]