Grove Press
Grove Press
Grove Press

Second Person Singular

by Sayed Kashua

“With Second Person Singular, Sayed Kashua has become one of the most important contemporary Hebrew writers.” —Haaretz

  • Imprint Grove Paperback
  • Page Count 368
  • Publication Date April 09, 2013
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-2120-2
  • Dimensions 5.5" x 8.25"
  • US List Price $18.00

About The Book

Sayed Kashua, the author of two acclaimed novels and creator of the groundbreaking Israeli sitcom, Arab Labor, has been widely praised for his literary eye and deadpan wit. An Arab who writes in Hebrew, Kashua defies classification and lives the very contradictions he captures in his work—straddling two cultures and navigating tricky fault lines with no comfort zone in sight. He has been featured in The New York Times and Newsweek, and his new novel, Second Person Singular, is internationally considered to be his most accomplished and entertaining work yet.

Winner of the prestigious Bernstein Award, Kashua’s third novel centers on an ambitious lawyer who is one of the best Arab criminal attorneys in Jerusalem. He has a thriving practice in the Jewish part of the city, a large house, speaks perfect Hebrew, and is in love with his wife, Leila, and their 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, according to the inscription, 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, to shed our old skin. Second Person Singular is a deliciously complex psychological mystery and a searing dissection of the individuals that comprise a divided society.

Tags Literary


“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

“[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

“[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

“[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

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

“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

“[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

“[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

“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

“With Second Person Singular, Sayed Kashua has become one of the most important contemporary Hebrew writers.” —Haaretz

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

“Sayed Kashua is one of modern-day Israel’s very best writers. . . . Skilfully and powerfully, Kashua narrates two parallel stories, which only barely intersect and yet greatly complement each other.” —Der Spiegel

“Kashua uses stark, sometimes harrowing prose to depict young men struggling with the paradox of being Israeli and being Arab. . . . 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 has been a bestseller since it appeared in stores. . . . Kashua’s protagonists struggle, often comically, with the tension of being both citizens of Israel and the kin of Israel’s enemies.” —Newsweek

“As intimated by its name, Second Person Singular is a story of identity, and one as deceptive as its author. . . . With many clues borrowed from Kashua’s own autobiography, the story of Second Person Singular 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

Second Person Singular is the story of an identity swap, which begins playfully and ends in a clear betrayal. . . . Like all of Sayed Kashua’s works, it’s very funny. It’s also bitter and pessimistic.” —Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung


Winner of the Bernstein Award
Named one of the Best Books of 2013 (Fiction in Translation) by The Independent


He put the knife back in the drawer and went to his daughter.

He headed down to the lower floor, looked for the note in the bed and didn’t find it. He searched furiously through the folds in the blanket. For a second he entertained the notion that he had been mistaken, that he had imagined the whole thing, that fatigue had authored the note.

Then he saw it beside his daughter’s bed. He picked it up, wedged it deep inside the pages of the book and carted the evidence off to his study. He eased the door closed behind him, lit a cigarette, and tried to organize his thoughts. A long drag. A slow exhale. Who the hell did she think she was? He didn’t even know her. That had to be the basis of his plan, that he did not know her. In the end he would kill her, that much was clear. Maybe not with his own hands, because he had no intention of paying the price for her crimes, but he would bring about her death, of that there was no doubt.

At the end of the day, the husband was not responsible for the wife’s honor. Her family members—father, brothers, cousins—were the keepers of the family’s honor; it was their blood, and it was on them alone that the dishonor would rest if they did not take it upon themselves to obliterate it. Not on him, not by any means.

There was something he wanted to see. Up on the top left-hand side of the page he found what he was looking for, written in a thin delicate hand, in blue ink: “Yonatan.”