Second Person Singular

By Sayed Kashua; Mitch Ginsburg (Translator)
(Grove Press, Hardcover, 9780802120199, 352pp.)

Publication Date: April 2012

Other Editions of This Title: Paperback

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Description

Acclaimed novelist Sayed Kashua, the creator of the groundbreaking Israeli sitcom, “Arab Labor,” has been widely praised for his literary eye and deadpan wit. His new novel is considered internationally to be his most accomplished and entertaining work yet.

Winner of the prestigious Bernstein Award, Second Person Singular centers on an ambitious lawyer who is considered one of the best Arab criminal attorneys in Jerusalem. He has a thriving practice in the Jewish part of town, a large house, speaks perfect Hebrew, and is in love with his wife and two young children. One day at a used bookstore, he picks up a copy of Tolstoy’s The Kreutzer Sonata, and inside finds a love letter, in Arabic, in his wife’s handwriting. Consumed with suspicion and jealousy, the lawyer hunts for the book’s previous owner—a man named Yonatan—pulling at the strings that hold all their lives together.

With enormous emotional power, and a keen sense of the absurd, Kashua spins a tale of love and betrayal, honesty and artifice, and questions whether it is possible to truly reinvent ourselves. Second Person Singular is a deliciously complex psychological mystery and a searing dissection of the individuals that comprise a divided society.




NPR
Friday, Jul 25, 2014

Sayed Kashua is an Arab who writes novels in Hebrew and a sitcom in Arabic. A contradiction? Maybe. But his newest book is a good look at an often-overlooked segment of the Israeli population. More at NPR.org

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Praise For Second Person Singular

* Winner of the Bernstein Award

"Kashua’s parable deftly examines universal themes of isolation vs. assimilation. A worth 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

"A master of subtle nuance in dealing with both Arab and Jewish society." —The New York Times

"[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

"Part comedy of manners, part psychological mystery . . . Issues of nationalism, religion, and passing collide with quickly changing social and sexual mores." —Boston Globe

"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 and outsiders and their painful struggle to create a life of meaning . . . Kashua’s razor-sharp wit and irony are on full display . . . [This] is storytelling of the highest order." —Jewish Daily Forward

"[This] story is one of loneliness and reinvention, also offering an uncommon view of Israeli society. Kashua narrates powerfully, with careful attention to detail." —The Jewish Week

"Kashua presents Israel with a mirror that inverts the dominant story of Jewish marginalization. Here it is Arabs who carry the burden of alienation that is so familiar from Jewish existence in the diaspora." —J Weekly

"[Kashua] has a gift for taking the small absurdities of everyday existence and the comic humiliations of family life, themselves served up with self-effacing deadpan humor, and making them comment on the bigger, often darker, contradictions of his life and the two cultures in which he lives." —Jewish Review of Books

"[Kashua’s] work contains an implicit political message—one of coexistence, curiosity and cultural ambiguity . . . [Second Person Singular] is a kind of existential mystery, probing for answers about how one fashions a sense of self under excruciating political and social conditions. . . . His work is not only aesthetically satisfying; in what it represents and the humane point of view it expresses, it has the feeling of something essential." —The National

"Second Person Singular is many things: a psychological mystery reminiscent of Nabokov; a touching examination of what it means to be Arab in a Jewish state . . . a family comedy that involves all sorts of delusions and secrets and lies; a family tragedy about a young, paralyzed, Jewish man; and, finally, a triumphant escape from one identity into another . . . Kashua is an unusually ambitious and gifted writer." —The Arts Fuse

"[Second Person Singular] resonates with all of us, all strangers and The Other at one time or another in our lives . . . A must-read." —The New World Review

"Sayed Kashua is a brilliant, funny, humane writer who effortlessly overturns any and all preconceptions about the Middle East. God, I love him." —Gary Shteyngart, author of Super Sad True Love Story

"In his newest novel, Kashua explores what it means to be a Palestinian and an Israeli; a father and a working man. The preoccupations of Second Person Singular strike me as adult preoccupations, ones many readers will relate to. Kashua has long been seen as Larry David meets Edward Said, but in this novel, he comes into his own. Incomparable." —Randa Jarrar, author of A Map of Home

"Much of what this novel leaves me thinking about is how identity, borders and names can shape and influence opportunity and destiny . . . An interesting story and an exceptional insight into a world few really know or understand." —Word by Word

"Kashua uses stark, sometimes harrowing prose to depict young men struggling with the paradox of being Israeli and being Arab….his weekly columns in the Israeli paper Haaretz reveal a neurotic, irreverent, and very, very funny man. He has been called the Arab Woody Allen; he prefers to think of himself as Jerry Seinfeld." —Meg Storey, Words Without Borders

"At a time when Israeli attitudes toward Arabs seem to be hardening, Kashua’s popularity is especially noteworthy. Second Person Singular, which will be published in English later this year, has been a bestseller since it appeared in stores last summer. A satirical column he writes weekly in Haaretz reflecting on his experiences as an Arab in Israel regularly generates more feedback than just about anything else in the newspaper. And this fall, Israeli television will air a third season of the sitcom Kashua pens, titled Arab Labor, about an Arab Israeli family trying to negotiate life in a mostly Jewish environment. 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

"If you were to ask Sayed Kashua about his new, best-selling book, Second Person, he’d say it’s ‘a satire disguised as a cheap melodrama.’ But, of course, you shouldn’t take his word for it. As intimated by its name, Second Person is a story of identity, and one as deceptive as its author. Kashua, 35, is the acclaimed writer of three novels; he writes an acerbically introspective weekly column in Haaretz and has just completed the second season of his TV show, Arab Labor. With many clues borrowed from Kashua’s own autobiography, the story of Second Person cunningly follows two Israeli Arabs, a lawyer and a young social worker. Both have renounced their village heritage, moved to Jerusalem and are now trying to reconcile what they were born as with what they wish to be." —Jerusalem Post

"A fascinating and satirical . . . novel [that] addresses the split identity of the Arab Israeli, with its contradictory wishes and its impossible yearnings. Courageously, but also with considerable humor, Kashua . . . sharpens—for both the characters and the readers - questions of belonging, identity and identification." —From the Bernstein Award citation

"Kashua's satire manages, miraculously, both to skewer everyone and somehow bring Arabs and Jews together in wincing, barrier-breaking laughter." —Donny Inbar, Freedom of Expression Award, San Francisco Jewish Film Festival

"[Winner] of the Bernstein Prize for 2011 . . . Kashua received the prize for an original novel in Hebrew for Second Person Singular . . . The jury called Second Person Singular an important work in the emerging trend of Arabs who write in Hebrew, ‘which challenges the boundaries of Hebrew literary discourse.'" —Haaretz

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