The book Duel by David Grossman was one of my favorite books as a kid. I read it in the original Hebrew. When I saw it was available on Amazon in English for a ridiculous price, I had to get it.
As soon as it arrived, I read it in one seating. No, that’s not accurate. I read it in one standing, unable to tear myself away long enough to find a chair.
This book is a lot like the Lord of the Rings. It’s not exactly an unreliable narrator – what the narrator says happened probably did “happen”. But it is a narrator who assumes that it is their story which is important, while it is really tangential to the “real” plot.
The protagonist, a tween kid, is trying to stop a duel between his elderly friend and the friend’s college frenemy. Unfortunately, he is in way over his head. The frenemies have a lot of history together, which includes dealing with German anti-semitism, escaping the holocaust, and being dirt poor in British-occupied Israel.
Reading this story as an adult, I finally read the real story between the lines. A story about love, conflict, and struggling with a secular Jewish identity in a post-Holocaust world.
Everyone he meets has traumas from the time between the end of World War II and to Israel becoming a state. As a kid growing up in Israel, the Holocaust was part of his background knowledge, which is part of the problem. He assumes he understands it because he has learned about it.
Yet, just like the Hobbits in LotR, he manages to save the day in the nick of time. Like the Hobbits, he has had help that he barely understood.
Duel is two books for the price of one: one for kids, and one for adults.