How a Horse Walked into a Bar


On Friday afternoon, book fair visitors flocked to a debate with one of Israel's most renowned contemporary writers David Grossman, presenting his latest book A Horse Walks into a Bar. Its story commences one night when an aging actor arrives in a small city to entertain the local audience with his stand-up comedy show. But the show gets out of hand and among the hilarious and often very coarse jokes the actor begins to address some of his real-life traumas.

The book has been published to exceptional worldwide acclaim and Grossman's appearance was attended by the Israeli ambassador Daniel Meron, who said that in Israel reality is so multifaceted and complex that prose is the best way to describe it in all its aspects, and admitted that he himself sometimes reads Grossman's books in order to understand Israel's complexity a little bit better. In the ensuing debate, moderated by Petr Fischer, Grossman acknowledged his affinity to Kafka, Hašek, his beloved Hrabal, and, above all, Ota Pavel and his book The Golden Eels. 

He also spoke about his love of Hebrew, a four-thousand-year old language, which, after one thousand eight hundred years, started discovering its new face as a living tongue, which needs to put names on new things and find new words for today's reality. David Grossman said that he had invited fifteen of his translators to a week-long retreat to one small German village, where he would read to them one passage after another from his new book and allow them time for discussion about the most fitting translations. In this context, he paid a compliment to his Czech translators Lenka Bukovská and Mariana Fischer. 

The title of the book, A Horse Walks into a Bar, is the opening sentence of one of the jokes, which the book's protagonist tells in his show. Unfortunately this gave rise to a somewhat prolonged and intellectually self-serving debate about jokes in general and also Jewish or Israeli humour, and one could not help but feeling that instead of discussing a psychologically finely structured masterpiece of a novel from, let us say, the world of car racing, all the talk was about the type of tyres the book's hero sports on his car. The essence of Grossman's book lies elsewhere and that is also its strength.