Second Person Singular
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Second Person Singular

3.9 of 5 stars 3.90  ·  rating details  ·  408 ratings  ·  85 reviews
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...more
Hardcover, 352 pages
Published April 3rd 2012 by Grove Press (first published 2010)
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I remember when I saw "Life is Beautiful" in a small movie theater in upstate New York. The film was in Italian with subtitles which I always find a bit distancing, especially when it comes to humorous moments. That didn't stop the audience from laughing uproariously, though, even when some of the jokes seemed a bit lame, and my cynical side wondered how much of the audience's laughter resulted from the actual humor quotient vs. how much of it came from the sense of superiority that might come f...more
Kashua presents a compelling, compassionate yet sometimes chilling, look at identity -- how we see ourselves, how others see us, what others see in us. His is a universal tale, but also unique in its specifics (people & locale). Things are not always as they seem, whether we deceive ourselves or deceive others (or both or neither). Kashua aptly delineates the divides between wanting to stay true to self, yet to change/have what someone else has/grow. His timely commentaries are so fitting in...more
Jim Leffert
Sayed Kashua has a great sense of humor but I found his latest novel to be totally humorless and even painful to read, in its tale of two unhappy souls. The main characters are two Israeli Arabs. Each has escaped the stifling, small-minded milieu of a home village in the Triangle near the Green Line in central Israel, to settle in Jerusalem. In Jerusalem these men are outsiders to the Jewish majority, whose culture in many ways they aspire to emulate, and also separate from the West Bankers livi...more
I wish I'd read this book in Hebrew. I've read articles by the author in Ha'aretz magazine and his writing is humorous and honest.

It would be nice to judge the book purely on its literary merits, but as the author is an Arab Israeli who writes in Hebrew, I couldn't help but pay attention to its politics.

I was pleasantly surprised, because the book is so apolitical. There are no heroes or villains, just characters going about their lives - trying to belong, building relationships, questioning the...more
The cover of this photo caught my eye in the "new arrivals" section at the library, and I picked it up, hoping for an interesting read.
I wanted to like this novel, I really did. I read it within the span of two days, picking it up and setting it down and picking it back up again, hoping that the novel would get better if only I'd continue reading.
The lawyer was incredibly agitating. His complete overreaction at such a simple note written by his wife felt extremely unrealistic. His violent though...more
Gripping narrative and some very interesting ideas on Arab-Jewish societies co-existing, forcibly most of the time, and a sharp criticism of each side, in an extremely compelling plot. Kashua skewers almost everything that could ever be criticized: religion, lifestyle, morals, among many others. I read this for a class, and really --really-- liked it -- especially the ending. Relatively easy language, OK translation.
A good read, Sayed's observations on the political-personal and the cultural reality in Israel are very sharp and insightful and are the book's added value. For example; one of the two protagonists is a lawyer, he represents Palestinians arrested by the Israeli security forces. He knows they are guilty and will be put in prison-his main concern is getting them put away on a charge with "no blood on their hands" so that in the next round of prisoner swaps they will be eligible. This absurdity rin...more
Fascinating novel about identity and the possibility of cultural assimilation. The plot involves two characters, both Arab Israelis who have left their Palestinian villages to pursue a new life in Jerusalem. One is a successful criminal lawyer and the other a social worker turned artist. Their very different lives intersect when the lawyer picks up a copy of The Kreutzer Sonata by Tolstoy in a second hand bookshop. In it he finds a love note written by his wife. He then goes on a relentless purs...more
Bonnie Brody
Second Person Singular is a very interesting novel that follows two story lines.

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...more
Meg Storey (Editor, Tin House Books): Stay with me here; this is going to get a little complicated: A successful Arab Israeli lawyer who lives and works in Jerusalem and who considers himself somewhat of an intellectual buys a used copy of Tolstoy’s The Kreutzer Sonata, out of which falls a love note in his wife’s handwriting that is not for him. An Arab Israeli social worker becomes the caretaker for a paralyzed Jewish man who had been a photography student and the caretaker slowly assumes this...more
Kim Olson
This novel tells the stories of two Arab Israeli men living in Jerusalem, one a status-conscious attorney who suspects his wife of cheating on him, the other a struggling social worker. As the main characters straddle two cultures, the book deftly sheds light on issues of personal identity, assimilation, the meaning of leaving village life behind, and even a bit of gender politics.

The book does a great job of revealing the complex challenges faced by Arabs Israelis. And the plotlines, which even...more
Two stories that eventually intersect. One is told in the third person the other the third. Both characters are Israeli Arabs that are attempting to assimilate in Israeli culture and raise their social status in a culture that does not completely accept them.
The story in the third person is nameless and rising in society via education, job as a lawyer, car, office location, books he reads etc. When he discovers or believes his wife may be cheating on him he begins to regress to his roots. Arab c...more
Very reminiscent of early-20th century African American literature. (Nella Larson's Passing comes to mind for obvious reasons, as does Richard Wright's Native Son.) By weaving two narratives into one multifaceted story, Kashua is able to deftly portray the complexities of living as an Arab-Israeli. Second Person Singular will likely find a place of prominence in future minority literature classes.
Having never read anything by Kashua before, I was swept up by his characters and his theme. The Israeli Arab is "the other," the "You" of the title, fitting in with neither Israeli Jews, and no longer with the village Arabs and their outlook. the nameless lawyer, struggling to stay on top as the most successful Arab lawyer in town and Amir, the social worker/artist struggling to find his identity & work are two different aspects of the same character. Powerful.
Probably the most interesting and most compelling novel I have read this year. Sayed Kashua is an Arab Israeli author who writes in Hebraic. And while we hear and see lots of news on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict what do we really know about the every-day life of people on those territories?
This novel features a very thrilling plot mixed with many details of what it means to be an Arab in Israel. And you understand how hellish it must be to cope with a religious identity for the rest of your...more
Just re-read this in preparation for the Etz Chaim Book Club on Tues. and I'm changing my rating from 4 to 5 stars. Can't wait to discuss it! Also watched a few episodes of Arab Labor on DVD (written by Kashua) - funny and fascinating.
Khulud Khamis
goes deep into issues of identity and the ease with which we can move between identities, even in a conflict zone. Reminds me of the "Human Stain".
Ridiculous plot....looked interesting and funny at the beginning though...Then I just couldn't stand it...Thank God I have finished it.
Second Person Singular is easily one of the strangest books I’ve ever read, and I read fantasy.

I read this book for my Jewish Studies class because it was the only work of fiction on the list we could choose from. This book was published in April 2012 by Sayed Kashua, an Israeli Arab who lives in Jerusalem. I think that Kashua’s nationality and background had a large role to play in the writing of this book, since both main characters are of similar background.

The book follows two main storylin...more
The nameless Arab lawyer who is the primary protagonist of this story has managed to build an enviable life for himself and his family in the comfortable Jewish section of Jerusalem, becoming quite Westernized and sophisticated in the process. If he often feels insecure and disconnected from his life and wife as a result; well, that is a price he is willing to pay.

Amir, like the lawyer, left his village to be educated and work in Jerusalem. Unlike the lawyer, his sociology degree yields only a m...more
May 23, 2012 Mary rated it 2 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: found at the library in the new books
An book with an interesting, twisting, plot development. I picked this up to get more of a flavor of life in Israel and Palestine. Both main characters are Palestinians who live in Jerusalem, both, as we learn, are striving upwards, which for them, means striving to be more like Jews. The lengths to which one of them goes is intense.
This book is about the minority culture trying to "assimilate" into the majority culture. Maybe not assimilate, but to prove themselves to be as good as.
The lawyer...more
Kashua's writing is clear and succinct prose that somehow pulls you in because it sounds like a report mixed with some sort of human emotion you can accept as fact.

There is very little about the book that is lyrical or superfluous in description, and yet I did feel it was beautifully told. I admit that I am still a little confused about the timeline of the three main characters: the lawyer, the lawyer's wife and the caretaker. Maybe I was rushing too much towards the last 75% to find out how it...more
The author is a Palestinian, writes in Hebrew, lives in Jerusalem, and apparently is well-known in Israel, having won many literary awards. I was intrigued, and SECOND PERSON SINGULAR did not disappoint. The story is about two men, one a successful Arab attorney, the other a social worker turned artist. The attorney has "made it", a thriving practice, office in the right part of town, a beautiful home, a Mercedes, and a wife and two children. The social worker is unfulfilled at an agency and tak...more
I picked this book up without knowing what to expect since I had never read any of Kashua's other books, or really any books about Israel/Jerusalem that aren't Guy Delisle's latest travelogue. Even with my limited understanding of what life is like for Arab Israelis, I was totally immersed in the world of these two men. His writing is very clear, which allows for the reader to get a wonderful picture of the thoughts and motivations of the characters. What I liked best about his characterizations...more
READ THIS BOOK! This novel by a Haaretz columnist and writer of the sitcom Arab Labor is all about identity. What makes it particularly striking is that most of the characters are Israeli Arabs, like the author himself. Kashua tells a story with Shakespearean twists of switched identity, miscommunication, self-doubt and the search for love and acceptance. Bureaucracy and religion play a back seat but are seen in this very Israeli story.

With very direct writing, Kashua brings the lives of the cha...more
Sayed Kashua spoke at Notre Dame this afternoon under the sponsorship of the Kroc Institute for Peace Studies and the Theology Department. It was a very interesting presentation from a man who lives the life of his protagonists--an Arab Israeli living in Jerusalem. He writes in Hebrew but his birth language is Arabic. However, no one publishes in Arabic in Israel.

The theme of identity is important, both for the unnamed lawyer and Jonathan (or Amir) and after hearing Kashua speak, I see how it p...more
The Book Outline
The cover design consists of one half of a face diagonally dividing a white background and gradually blurring itself into the background. Exposure has a very simple cover. Pun unintended, I should say this is a very simple design compared to the industry's focus on love at first sight. Fortunately, I do not go by the cover unless it is too repelling to be in my library, and Exposure by Sayed Kashua definitely does not fall in that category. Going with the story that is partly themed on identity...more
Second Person Singular is an exciting tale of how hard it is coming to terms with our true beliefs, and the personal torments of someone stuck between being part of a traditional society and wanting to belong to a modern one.
Carol Simon
Fascinating story of an Israeli Arab attorney. Told in the third person (despite the title), this novel crawls around inside two very interesting people's heads.
During the first part I began to wonder whether this book could be a good thing, even though skillfully written and highly intelligent. The writer primarily writes in Hebrew though he is Arabic. This was dispelled as the characters developed their respective, strange dimensions. It was eerily suspenseful, though not belonging to that genre specifically. It portrays both humanity and inhumanity, mostly from the Arabic citizen point-of-view and vividly evokes personal fear and loss.

I decided to g...more
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“Nor did she believe in identity, certainly not the local nationalistic version of it. She said that man was only smart if he was able to shed his identity.

"Skin color is a little hard to shed," she said, "it's true. But the DNA of your social class is even harder to get rid of.”
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