“The Grammar of God” by Aviya Kushner is Ms. Kushner’s experience reading the Bible in English for the first time. Ms. Kushner isn’t an immigrant, in face she’s from New York, but until she began graduate school she had never read the Bible in a language other than Hebrew. When she begins her class on the English Bible, she learns, from the very first verse in Genesis, that the experience of reading the Bible in English is not the same as she has experienced the Bible in Hebrew.
She embarks on a journey to explore some of the subtle and not so subtle differences between the Hebrew and English Bibles. Throughout her journey she weaves in some of the personal moments that are related to some of the texts she is exploring.
When I read non-fiction, I do so with one of two mindsets. Either I’m looking to learn about someone’s life and relate/experience what life is like through their eyes or I’m looking to be taught by the author about the subject upon the book is based. While reading this book I couldn’t figure out which mindset I should use to approach the book, nor which one Ms. Kushner was attempting to have her readers adopt.
On the one hand, she’s explicating texts in both Hebrew and English and discussing the nuances and sometimes shockingly different views of God that are revealed. Then, on the other hand, she’s writing powerful pieces about her family’s background in their neighborhood and the extended family’s experience with WWII.
As much as I wanted to like this book, I feel that juggling both of these objectives was too much and the book fell flat for me. Ms. Kushner is a talented writer and were she to have written two books, one about her family and one about the translations of the Bible, I would have read both. But to keep juggling between two different objectives that were not always conveyed harmoniously, it gives one a headache.
There were specific chapters of the book that resonated with me and it’s these that are my takeaway. In these chapters Ms. Kushner’s talent for writing and connecting with readers shines. In one, she describes how the plight of the Hebrew slaves in Egypt is much more grim and violent than is depicted in the English translation. The other chapter is the history of her maternal grandfather and his journey from Nazi Germany to Israel and Ms. Kushner’s relationship with him.
While I appreciate the point the book is trying to communicate, I can’t say that I would recommend this book to just anyone. I think readers of this book need to be strong readers because they are going to have to wade through two different purposes for this book.