When I began writing fiction, I never thought I would see a collection of five stories being published in English, in the United Kingdom. I had previously published academic books, but writing literature was an altogether different experience. After the death of my father, an old penchant for creative writing was awakened. For three weeks I stood with my family by his deathbed at the Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem, and then he passed away. As I left the hospital I decided I would begin to write a story.
After concluding three stories I thought they might be worthy of publication. I sent them to Aharon Appelfeld, a world-renowned Israeli writer, whom I truly admire. After a couple of weeks – when I had practically given up any hope he would answer me – Appelfeld called. In his gentle, soft tone he flattered me, to a point that in spite of my embarrassment I couldn’t stop the tears. If it hadn’t been for his strong support, the stories probably wouldn’t have been published.
I write in Hebrew. It is my mother tongue. I feel so confident that I can allow myself to deviate from strict grammatical rules, to create a personal voice. But when translating my work into English – wishing it to be available to a wider public – I wasn’t sure whether I should keep the unconventional grammar. I decided to leave it the way it was. Only in this way could I truly express myself.
Luckily, a most outstanding editor, Robert Peett of Holland House Books, accepted the book for publication. One sleepless night I searched the web and found a publisher, “We publish quality literary fiction and, through dedicated imprints, the best genre fiction.” I sent the stories, and was thrilled when Robert accepted them.
When editing the stories, he left the somewhat unique grammar untouched, for which I am truly grateful. It wouldn’t have been the same with strict, proper language. When we met in London to discuss the book, he suggested I start a blog. I was puzzled, and wondered out loud “but what will I write about?” Robert simply smiled and said, “I think you will be very good at it”. My blog, On Ourselves and Others, has turned into a true source of joy for me. Not only is it a vehicle for self-expression, regardless of the book, it has also generated some fascinating interactions with people I wouldn’t have gotten to known otherwise.
When the review copies were ready, a friend in London suggested he would ask Miriam Gross to read it. I read her fascinating autobiography, An Almost English Life, and knew she was a highly regarded literary critic. Miriam agreed, and a copy was sent to her. I was anxious; I thought she might not like my style. But a after a couple of days I got an email from her, “Dear Emanuela, I was most impressed and moved by your book…” Miriam is a true source of inspiration, and I am very fortunate to have her advice on literary matters.
The stories unfold in Israel. But no, they are not about the Arab-Israeli conflict; in fact, only one story is specifically about life in Israel. Seen from an international perspective, it would appear that this conflict is the core of Israeli identity. The truth is that although it does play a central role, life in Israel is intriguing and complex in many ways.
Zionism is, essentially, a detachment from Jewish life in the Diaspora. I couldn’t speak with my only living grandparent, grandma Gusta. She spoke German and Yiddish; I spoke Hebrew. She use to wink at me, smile, sometimes caress my head, but we couldn’t talk. Though my father was an art historian, a man who dedicated his life to intellectual engagement, both he and my mother accepted the notion that life in Israel is a fresh start. Today this detachment is confronted by an urge to reconnect with previous generations.
The first story, ‘A Bird Flight’, is about a woman traveling from Israel to Chicago after the death of her father. It is the story of my own dealing with the death of my beloved father. ‘Earrings’ is about a relationship between a grandmother and granddaughter in Israel – three generations of Israeli women, three stages of Israeli society. ‘The Grammar Teacher’ is a reflection on the changing values of our world; an excellent, hardworking teacher is fired because she is not assertive or ‘modern’ enough. ‘Watchdog’ is a story about dealing with phobia. A young man manages to overcome his fear of dogs. And ‘Aura’, an experimental work, depicts a man waking up after a severe accident, unable to recognize his family. It is an attempt to adopt a primordial perspective.
So here it is. The book will be released on February 15th and will be available in hardback, paperback and ebook formats on Amazon, Waterstones, and all good bookshops. I hope you enjoy it, and I would be more than glad if you share your reflections on the stories with me.
Lovely to see my book on this list, The Mail on Sunday, February 15th
I was very glad to see this reviw at The Jewish Chronicle, February 26th 2015.
I am thrilled with a Publishers Weekly starred review, March 28th 2015.