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David Grossman’s astonishing new novel

 “A Horse Walks Into a Bar” by David Grossman. (Knopf, 2017)

While this novel portrays the performance of an Israeli stand-up comedian, it is not funny.

Dov Greenstein, aka Dovaleh G, is performing in a small basement cafe/bar in Netanya. In between jokes, he manages to tell his audience the story of his life. The narrative moves back and forth between Dovaleh’s jokes and the story of his childhood. He was bullied at school; his parents were Holocaust survivors, which particularly traumatized his mother. The audience laughs; but slowly many begin to leave the café. In the audience is a local judge who was Dov’s friend when they were in school. He remains until the bitter end of the performance.  

There are many parallels between Dovaleh’s life and the author’s, beginning with the similarity between their names. Grossman is also the child of Holocaust survivors. And while Dovaleh works out his lifelong issues on the stage making jokes, Grossman has used his art to deal with the traumas in his life. This novel is tough. Some of the jokes are very funny. Nothing in Dovaleh’s life is funny. Yet in total, readers are presented with a portrait of a misfit child who suffered bullies, and somehow survived. There is the portrait of the survivor parents who did their best, which for Dov was not enough. There is the portrait of the old friend who knows now that he let his friend down by failing to protect him from the bullies. Finally there is a portrait of a man who knows how to make jokes about his life, but fails himself.

This book is not easy to read, but the results are amazing. David Grossman doesn’t hide behind his jokes or his story. He tells it like it is. What an experience!

Andrea Kempf is a retired librarian and award winning book reviewer who speaks throughout the community on various topics related to books and reading.