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Product details

  • Paperback: 346 pages
  • Publisher: Grove Press / Atlantic Monthly Press (25 April 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802121209
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802121202
  • Product Dimensions: 2.5 x 14 x 21.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 314,660 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

"Kashua's parable deftly examines universal themes of isolation vs. assimilation. A worthy contribution to the increasingly popular works coming out of the Middle East." --"Library Journal"
"This novel illuminates just how fluid identity can be, even--or especially--amid the Arab-Israeli tension of Jerusalem . . . A compelling two-sided narrative . . . [Kashua] has sharp insights on the assumptions made about race, religion, ethnicity, and class that shape Israeli identity." --"Publishers Weekly"
"[Kashua's] dry wit shines . . . with each of the main characters offering windows into the prejudices and longings of Arabs and Jews . . . The themes are universal in a world in which every culture, it seems, has an 'other' against which to play out prejudice, and feelings of supremacy." --"Los Angeles Times"
"At a time when Israeli attitudes toward Arabs seem to be hardening, Kashua's popularity is especially noteworthy . . . Kashua's protagonists struggle, often comically, with the tension of being both citizens of Israel and the kin of Israel's enemies. They usually end up encountering ignorance and bigotry on both sides of the divide, making his narratives more nuanced than some of the other Arabs writing about the conflict." --"Newsweek"
"Powerful . . . Kashua shows us the underside of success, with clear-eyed insight into an Israeli society that is becoming ever more tainted by discrimination based on class and money." --"Haaretz"
"Kashua's writing and insight serve to translate several different, and conflicting, realities at once . . . Kashua's work captures the unique and often painful situation of Israel's Arab citizens, while also opening a window for the non-Arab reader to better understand this dilemma." --"Tablet"
""Second Person Singular" triumphs as a tragicomedy composed of two suspensefully intertwined stories tracing the lives of two unnamed Arab protagonists, illuminating their fraught condition as insiders ands --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

About the Author

Sayed Kashua was born in 1975 and is the author of the novels "Dancing Arabs" and "Let It Be Morning," which was shortlisted for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. Kashua writes a weekly column for "Haaretz" and is a writer and the creator of "Arab Labor," one of Israel's most popular sitcoms. He lives in Jerusalem with his family.

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Robin Friedman TOP 500 REVIEWER on 13 April 2013
Format: Paperback
A 28-year old parapalegic, Yonatan, is a pivotal figure in Sayed Kashua's novel, "Second Person Singular". The book examines the relationship between Arabs and Jews in Israel as well as relationships between Arabs themselves. The book also raises broader questions about the nature of personal identity: what it is and the extent to which emphasizing it may be valuable or harmful to a person or a society. Sayed Kashua is a Palestinian who lives in Israel and who has a following among both Israeli Jews and Arabs. Originally published in Hebrew in 2010, the book was translated into English in 2012 by Mitch Greenberg, the military correspondent for the "Times of Israel". The book reads lucidly and quickly in translation.

The book tells the parallel stories of two Palestinian men who live and work in Jerusalem. The first is the story of a man identified only as "the lawyer". The lawyer is a successful criminal attorney who defends Palestinians in Israeli courts. He is married to a woman named Leila, a social worker who holds advanced degrees, and the couple has two young children. Leila came from a different class of Arab society than did the lawyer, a fact emphasized during Kashua's depiction of their courtship. The marriage appears somewhat tepid as the lawyer and Leila for the most part sleep separately. The lawyer's story is recounted in the novel in the third person.

The other protagonist is a young man, 28, who tells is story in his own words. Rather late in the book, his name is given as Amir. But as the book develops, Amir develops not one identity but several. Amir is trained as a social worker but develops an interest in photography for which he shows marked ability. He comes from a small settlement town in which his mother is an outcast.
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By M. G. de Paucar on 4 Oct. 2014
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Imaginative writing. Very poignant story.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 78 reviews
21 of 24 people found the following review helpful
Fascinating insight into Israeli Arabs 5 April 2012
By Alan A. Elsner - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This novel provides a fascinating insight into the lives of Israel's Arab minority wrapped in a skillful reworking of Tolstoy's novella "The Kreutzer Sonata."

In that story, a man falls prey to violent, uncontrollable and irrational jealousy and imagines his wife is having an affair with a violinist on the basis of no actual evidence. He hides his raging jealousy and goes on a trip, but returns early, finds the two together and kills his wife with a dagger. He is later acquitted of murder by the courts.

Sayed Kasua makes the connection to the novella very clear. A wealthy and successful Arab lawyer who practices in Jerusalem seems to have it all -- he is accepted by Israeli society, drives a fancy car and has a pretty wife and two young kids. But we're quickly aware that not all is well in the marriage. He and his wife do not sleep together and their sex seems perfunctory. And the lawyer, whose name we never learn, seems obsessed with various status symbols, perpetually measuring his place in a society in which he never quite feels completely at home.

One day, he buys a second-hand copy of the Tolstoy book and a piece of paper falls out of it in his wife's handwriting. He immediately jumps to the conclusion she is having an affair.

We then meet a young Arab social worker who is looking after a paraplegic Jewish man called Yonatan. We learn his story and how in a strange way it intersects with the lives of the lawyer and his wife.

This is skillfully done but what elevates this book is the unusual background. We learn about the relations between Arabs and Jews but also the different strati of Arab society -- the differences between those from the city and from villages, those from the Galilee and the area known as the Triangle -- the way Israeli Arabs disdain Palestinians from the West Bank, the treatment of those suspected of being collaborators with the Israelis. We learn about the inferiority complex some suffer from in relations with Jews, about the meaning of identity. We learn a lot about the concept of honor and the fragility of women's rights in this society.

This isn't the perfect novel. The lawyer's total irrationality is hard to understand and has been forced on the author by his adaptation of Tolstoy's template. But the book's virtues overwhelm this flaw.
17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
Seeing Israel Through Arab Eyes 7 Mar. 2012
By Word Lover - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Second Person Singular by Sayed Kashua is one of the most fascinating books I have read about contemporary Israel, and the first, I must confess, from an Arab-Israeli perspective. From an anthropological point of view the novel deserves 5-stars simply for illuminating non-Israeli readers on the highly Westernized habits and attitudes of the Arab protagonists as they become upwardly mobile, from the cars they drive to the coffee they drink. An American reader gets an `it's-a-small-world-after-all' vibe reading the book's revealing, abundant detail.

But there is much more to this novel, which addresses the question of identity, rendered especially difficult for Arabs in Israel. For the most part, the story chronicles two Tel Aviv Arabs who re-invent themselves through education, hard work and materialism--harshly separating themselves from their roots. One character is a naïve, kind-hearted social worker-turned-photographer, who literally steals the identiy of Yonaton Forschmidt, the young, talented Ashkenazi Jewish-Israeli paraplegic for whom he cares. The other, who is never named, is a successful but self-loathing and equally insecure criminal lawyer. Their plotlines run on parallel courses and intersect only at the book's conclusion.

Perhaps the most interesting character of all, however, is the Jewish-Israeli who suffers a mysterious accident and is left in a vegetative state to be cared for by the young Arab who adopts his identify. I was puzzled by the statement the author was trying to make. Does Yonaton represent the state of Israel and if so, why is he is voiceless and powerless? Are we to believe that he is as self-loathing as the Arabs? Is Sayed Kashua, a celebrated Israeli novelist and creator of a popular sit-com, saying his country is also trying to reconcile what its founders intended it to be with what it has become? I would have given the book 5-stars were this point made clear, and I be eager to explore this question in a book club. I recommend this book to any reader eager to get insights into what it means to live in Israel today, especially if you are an Arab.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Extraordinary Insight Into the "Palestian Problem" in Israel 12 Jun. 2012
By Alan L. Chase - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Sayed Kashua has written a deeply moving and powerful novel. The center of the theme is Tolstoy's novella, "The Kreutzer Sonata." The music piece by the same name was composed by Beethoven. Tolstoy's piece examines the irrational jealousy of a husband who kills his wife in a fit of passion. Kashua has taken these dynamics and transplanted them to present day Jerusalem amid the background noise of the "Palestinian Question" in Israel.

A successful Palestinian, a lawyer who is an Israeli citizen, buys a copy of Toltoy's novella, and in it finds a love note written in his wife's hand. Assuming that she is carrying on an elicit affair with Yonathan, whose name is in the used book, the lawyer becomes consumed with discovery the treason and punishing his wife. Yonathan is a poor Palestinian social worker from the humble Triangle region. He aspires to become a photographer, and changes his identity so that he can pass as Jewish. The identity he steals is that of a patient who hovers in a vegetative state after a failed suicide attempt.

The story is told beautifully in counterpoint - going back and forth between the two Palestinian protagonists. It is at once a psychological thrill and a deep exploration of the sociological dynamics at work within present day Israel and even within the fractured Arab community. Kashua has a keen eye and ear for detail, so the dialogue captures fine nuances of conflict and attempts at communication.

In the Epiloque, just when it appears that the lawyer's suspicions have been laid to rest, he stops by a photo exhibit, and the scab is pulled off the and doubts reappear. The reader is left hanging in suspense - much as Yonathan had hung suspended from his bedroom ceiling in his suicide attempt. It has the feel of a musical coda that ends with an unresolved dissonance. Very apt.

Reading this book was a rich and enriching experience.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Interesting Novel About Arab Israelis 30 April 2012
By Bonnie Brody - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
The first plot line is about an Israeli lawyer of Arab descent whose first name we never know. He is a socially and economically competitive man who holds `salons' at his house with other Israeli Arabs who he feels come up to his level of distinction. He feels that he must show the Jewish Israelis that he has succeeded and this needs to be done, for the most part, materialistically. He drives a Mercedes and lives in a very exclusive area of Jerusalem.

One day the lawyer buys a copy of The Kreutzer Sonata by Tolstoy and within its pages he finds a love letter in his wife's handwriting. It is not to him. He is filled with rage. He wants to kill her. "Nothing would be all right. Nothing would be as it was. His hand trembled as it held the note written by his wife. He reminded himself that he had to remain calm, to give her no indication, but he didn't know how he could do it. How could he temper his rage, stifle the urge to harm her, and still plot her ruination. Because that is precisely what she had done to him, ruined his world." The lawyer is a man who foresees every possible calamity that can befall him. "How had it come to pass that he, who prepared himself for every scenario, had not even considered the possibility that his wife might cheat on him?" The letter that the lawyer finds in the book is signed `Yonatan'.

Interestingly, the second plot line is about a social worker who takes a second job caring for a man who is said to be in a vegetative state whose name is Yonatan. Yonatan is supposed to be nonresponsive but "Soon enough I realized that Yonatan had more than one frozen expression - sometimes he smiled, or did something that looked like a smile with his lips, and sometimes he made noises. I could tell by the sounds he made when was pleased or upset." It is the social worker's job to turn Yonatan over in his bed, change his diapers and bathe him. Who is Yonatan and what is his relationship, if any, to the letter that the lawyer found.

The novel provides a great deal of information about the Arab citizens of Israel and their strivings to be either doctors, lawyers, or accountants. Once they attain Israeli citizenship after attending university there, they do not want to return to their villages. This upsets their families greatly. There are no opportunities in the small villages from which they came. In Jerusalem, especially in the Arab section, there is acceptance and the opportunity to make a good living.

The two plot lines come together at the end of the novel and it is an interesting resolution of the book. I found that the novel itself was written in a manner that felt `cold' to me. It was difficult to empathize with the protagonists or put myself in their place. I also found that there was a lot of extraneous information in the book that could have been edited out. While the novel is interesting, I never felt truly involved or driven to continue reading.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
a gem that promotes intercultural, interracial dialogue 19 July 2012
By AIROLF - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This novel is simply a gem.

Reading it is the exoerience of falling in love with reading for the first time. It takes you by surprise, swishes you around, amazes you, and then, just when you think the author has had his share of fun, the ending leaves you wanting more. As any good novel's ending, the ending is open-ended enough that it also leaves you free to draw your own conclusion.

The novel is about two men trying to fit into the environment and make the best of their circumstances. The duality of personality, of human existence is questioned in the novel. What does it mean to be Arab? What does it mean to be Jewish? What is a Palestenian? The novel throws these questions at the reader, shows that we are really all alike, and lets the reader contemplate what it is that makes us all human.

What makes an Israeli? What makes an Israeli Arab? What makes an Israeli Jew? What does it mean to live in Israel as an Arab?

More importantly, what emotion or experience must be present to believe that all races, all nationalities, all people are equal?

Even though the novel raises these and many other hard questions, the writing is fluid, sharp, witty, with elements of black humor intersperced throughout.

To reveal more of the plot or how it unfolds is to cheat the reader. The magic that happens when you read and allow yourself to delve into the story itself can't be described in one short review. Just let it in.

If there was a Top Ten Imported Books of 2012 list, I'd nominate this book for it. If you only read one book this year that has been translated into English, let it be this one.

Simply put, you can't afford to miss out on reading it.
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