David Grossman, Fresh Off Man Booker Award, Calls on Israel to Avoid Cutting Arts Budget

David Grossman says 'a wise regime knows how to give the arts the power of expression'

David Grossman reacting after winning an award in 2010. On Wednesday he won the 2017 Man Booker International Prize for "A Horse Walks Into a Bar."
David Grossman reacting after winning an award in 2010. On Wednesday he won the 2017 Man Booker International Prize for "A Horse Walks Into a Bar." Thomas Lohnes/AP

Writer David Grossman sent a clear message to Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev Thursday, a day after winning the 2017 Man Booker International Prize. “It is very important that the person in charge of budgets and policy does not hinder literature and art from expressing their complexity, because that is was they were meant to do,” he told Army Radio.

Interviewed by Ilana Dayan, Grossman said relations between the government and artists have never been so problematic, but that “a wise regime knows you must give art this power, this power of expression.”

Regev, meanwhile, congratulated Grossman for his award for the novel “A Horse Walks Into a Bar.”

“Grossman has been recognized this year in Israel and abroad for his exceptional talent to stir our hearts,” she said in a statement. “I have no doubt in my heart that Grossman is definitely a winning horse in the field of local and global culture and literature.”

“I gratefully accept the congratulations,” Grossman responded.

The Culture Ministry also congratulated him. “Grossman is one of the most talented authors our nation has,” it said in a statement. “His winning reinforces the world of Israeli literature and the fact that we are the People of the Book.”

Writer Amos Oz, who was also a nominee for his novel “Judas,” added his own congratulations. “I am happy for my good friend winning,” he told Army Radio.

Oz’s daughter, Fania Oz-Salzberger, congratulated Grossman and translator Jessica Cohen on Twitter, in the name of her family. She tweeted: “A wonderful tribute to Grossman, Cohen, and the great contemporary Hebrew literature!”

In his speech Wednesday, Grossman had praised Oz, calling him “my friend and teacher.”

Grossman told Army Radio he did not believe he would win, “because the book is so Israeli, in its Hebrew and in its slang. The jokes look so Israeli to me. This feeling – of being understood in a foreign language as well – is a wonderful feeling,” he added.

Grossman stressed he does not see himself as a representative of Israel, but admitted it is hard to shirk the role. “Anywhere an Israeli comes and speaks in public, whether he wants it or not, he turns into [a representative of Israel],” he said. “Perhaps I represent the complexity of our situation. And I insist on the complexity, and I insist on the preciseness of the situation, and I don’t let anyone talking with me to find refuge in clichés or generalizations.”

Grossman disagreed with the idea that Israeli art is admired abroad because it is “leftist.”

“No, it is because it is complex,” he said. “There is a sense that art is a kind of metaphysical organ, which created this reality to compensate us. It is like a person who has a defect – he doesn’t see, so he develops his sense of hearing. That is how Israel develops its sense of art, and so Israeli art is exploding with life and variety.”

Education Minister Naftali Bennett also congratulated the author. “David Grossman brought great honor to Israel,” he tweeted. Opposition leader Isaac Herzog wrote, “David Grossman is one of our greatest authors. His clear, piercing voice and pen leave a great impression. The Man Booker Prize suits him and he suits the prize.”

Grossman and Cohen will equally share the 50,000-pound (nearly $64,000) prize. In her acceptance speech Wednesday, Cohen said she would donate half of her prize money to the human rights organization B’Tselem.

The judges’ panel said it chose “A Horse Walks Into a Bar” because the novel “shines a spotlight on the effects of grief, without any hint of sentimentality. The central character is challenging and flawed, but completely compelling. We were bowled over by Grossman’s willingness to take emotional as well as stylistic risks: every sentence counts, every word matters in this supreme example of the writer’s craft.”