Dave Eggers, the literary wunderkind, almost mustered some courage. This week he refused to go to Germany to accept the prestigious, $50,000 literary award created by Gunter Grass—the Nobel laureate who recently caused on international uproar over his poem chastising Israel for threatening global stability. But Eggers’ seeming act of courage was more apparent than real. Essentially, he declined the award because he didn’t want to talk about Grass—not because he wanted to criticize him.
As Eggers’ publicist said in a statement: “The issues raised in Grass's recent poem are not issues I am prepared to speak about, and I would have been expected to comment on them repeatedly. That said, I am happy that the Foundation has recognized my book and has brought attention to the issues of justice and interfaith cooperation I attempted to highlight in ‘Zeitoun’.”
“Zeitoun” was Eggers last book, a non-fiction work about a Syrian-American caught up in the Hurrican Katrina fiasco. The book was the occasion for the Grass Foundation award—which, by the way, has given the award to the Israeli novelist David Grossman. I’ve already commented on the Grass affair. And just to repeat, I wholeheartedly defend his right to write what he did, and don’t even think it wasterribly radical, nor anti-Semitic, though I do think it was heavily jaded. More important, I’m embarrassed that Netanyahu’s government would bar Grass from entering Israel, which only gives credence to the perception that Israel is becoming less democratic.
Still, I wish Eggers would have taken a stronger stance. Whether he came out in support or not is less important to me than that a prominent writer engaging with the world of politics. Instead, Eggers chose to pretend that literature is too prim for such things. Surely Eggers knows writers have an obligation to engage with politics—“Zeitoun” did—even when it may not be convenient. Here’s hoping next time he realizes that.