on 30 July 2001
"Not all kids are square", says Nonny's substitute mother, Gabi. "Some are square, some are round and some are Zigzags."
Nonny, a spirited Israeli boy, affectionately dubbed "the zigzag kid" by Gabi, is fast approaching the most significant day in his young life, his Bar Mitzvah (13th birthday). As a special "treat" his Dad and Gabi bundle him aboard a train to Haifa where he believes he is heading straight for his Professor Uncle's home to receive a famously boring pre-barmitzvah lecture.
He is on a very different journey to the one he imagines. The wacky Gabi and his Detective Dad have planted a host of bizarre characters on this train for his sole amusement. By means of a cryptic note left on his seat they instruct him to pick a character to accompany him on an adventure. Nonny is magnetically drawn towards the immaculately turned-out old man in the white suit. Together they embark on a wild adventure beginning with hijacking the train and speeding off in a vintage car that is waiting for them further along the tracks.
This book is full of surprises, brightly coloured characters and important lessons. Nonny learns that who he is need not be determined by who his parents are, he has aspects of both of them in him but he is unique. With this realisation he can truly appreciate himself - the bad and the good in him. Both adults and children will be delighted by this book which is at once a fantastical tale and a realistic account of a child's growing towards adulthood.
on 20 September 2001
Nonny will soon be thirteen. Before he can cross that wobbly bridge, he has to prepare for his Bar Mitzvah. Like it or not - and he doesn't - his father and long-suffering partner, Gabi, pack him off on a train journey to his uncle's for a pre-b-m tutorial. On the train, his policeman father and the eccentric Gabi have prepared an elaborate joke. Nonny, however, misreads the clues and is soon drawn into the feather-light grasp of the elegant and mysterious Felix.
This is no kidnapping, however; or at least, Nonny is a willing victim. He has to face a cross roads: his uncle's or - ? Soon, Felix hijacks the train. Nonny is shocked but thrilled too. The boy loves the feeling of power as his hand (his hand!) controls the raw power of the locomotive. He is hooked. Being thirteen, his conscience is easily salved and he alights at the unscheduled stop.
There follows a series of adventures, both funny and moving, as Nonny learns about who he is, and where he came from. Why was he born with the sweet taste of chocolate in his mouth? Nonny's life on the run is contrasted with the life he had with the eccentric Gabi and his loving, if gruff, father. Given Grossman's references to chocolate, it would be too easy to descibe this as a bitter-sweet novel. What it is, however, is a magical story full of vivid contrasts: likeable rogues and pillars-of-the community-straight fupholders of the law; Nonny's regimented home life and the pirate-like freedom of the road; and, above all, the old Nonny and the new, wiser Nonny. Many authors tackle the rites of passage story. Most forget to add a central plot. David Grossman blends the two effortlessly to create a story as addictive as the very substance that bonds Nonny with his past...
on 24 May 2013
With the style, wit and charm unique to Israeli literature, David Grossman creates this whimsical page-turner about a 13 year old boy in 1970 Israel, who has a strange adventure with a veteran master criminal and a aging actress. Amnon (Nonnie) pieces together his family's history, while way from his gung ho cop father and his father's grossly overweight girlfriend.
Translated with all the charm, white and satire/humour of the original. This is a must read for lovers of contemporary literature. Sadly due to politically correct far-left anti-Israel racism, some libraries in Europe and the UK are now refusing to stock any books by Israeli authors, no matter how left wing or conciliatory towards the Arabs, these authors may be. So due to racism and hate and the genocidal drive to destroy an entire country and culture, many will miss out on the richness of authors like this and other masters of Israeli literature.
on 14 November 2010
This early book by the great Israeli writer, David Grossmann, is a delightful original fun book about a host of wild adventures planned for 'the zig zag kid' as a rite of passage just before his bar-mitzvah but beneath the story line a warm enlightening picture of family relationships, love and understanding and tolerance and acceptance.
The Zigzag Kid is an early picaresque novel by David Grossman, written in 1994. This translation from the Hebrew by Betsy Rosenberg was published three years later.
The hero, who describes his adventures from a distance of some thirty years later, is Amnon Feuerberg, Nonny, who is approaching his bar mitzvah. His mother died/disappeared in his first year and he lives with his father, a self-obsessed police detective who is unable to communicate with his son, except where police matters and procedures are concerned, and their housekeeper, Gabi, who offers the boy the only way out of his isolation. She would also like to do the same for his father but is constantly rebuffed, despite the fact that she was originally his secretary. The pair have regular arguments which lead to threats that she will leave but, because of her love for the two men in her life, she never does.
Throughout the course of the novel, Nonny narrates the every-day happenings at home, with his school friends and in his father's workplace. A great deal of the back story of all three characters is thus revealed without the forward story being inhibited or its pace slowed down. In his observations, Amon shows that he has picked up a great deal of knowledge from his father in assessing character, motivations and the fronts/disguises that people wear in their everyday lives.
To celebrate bar mitzvah, Gabi and his father have planned a train trip of discovery for Nonny, disguising this initially as a visit to the boy's grumpy Uncle Shilhav, "the great educator" in Haifa. From the very beginning strange characters appear and, in a message delivered in a bizarre manner, Nonny is told what action he has to take to start his real journey - to walk up to an unknown person and ask "Who am I?". His lack of self-confidence almost brings the novel to a close after a few chapters but it is only when he ask the question that the story gathers pace.
To say much more about the novel would be to spoil it for the reader, except to say that Nonny gets to drive a train and a car, meet one of the greatest criminals the world has ever seen, dress up in his mother's clothes, meet a famous film star and eat a meal at the top YUMTUM restaurant. He also learns a great deal about his family, his parents and a vat of hot chocolate and himself.
The translation succeeds perfectly in seeing the world through a 12-year old's eyes (albeit by a narrator approaching middle age). It has more than a whiff of South American Magic Realism and would have made a wonderful film a decade or more ago when children had much simpler tastes.
When Nonny receives the letter in the Haifa-bound train describing what is planned for him, he reads it over a number of pages, interspersed with his thoughts. I felt that a 12-year old receiving such an extraordinary letter would have read it through to the end before thinking about its implications. Apart from this, the author never put a foot wrong.
For those who have read Grossman's later work, this is a delightfully light confection but the author's skill shows in every page. The Magical Mystery Land of Israel that the author shows us seems not to contain any Palestinians, however. But this is a minor quibble.
This is a delightful book that should appeal to readers young and old, from any ethnic or religious background. I have Grossman marked down as a future Nobel Prizewinner and this novel is a significant contribution to his overall work and shows his ability to write a successful lighter book.