Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Reading in the Dark

"Lights out!"

When I was a young boy, this parental request meant an end to my nightly reading adventures, whether they be solving mysteries with the Hardy Boys or traveling 20,000 leagues under the sea with Jules Verne. In those days, I was obedient to a fault. The lights in my bedroom invariably went out at chapter's end. I never read books by flashlight because I could barely breathe under the covers.

Four decades later and my reading preferences and habits have changed. Now, the words "Lights out" declared in my conjugal bedroom signal a start to the night's literary activities. My wife and I fire up our tablets, turn off the lights, and start reading in the dark.

I teamed up with Maggie James, Bristol-based author of psychological novels including Sister, Psychopath, His Kidnapper's Shoes, and Guilty Innocence, to raise the question of what is better for late-night reading in the digital age. A dedicated e-reader or an all purpose tablet?

What is your preferred method of reading in the dark?

Read the rest of this article on Maggie James Fiction.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Would You Jump Off This Bridge If Someone Paid You?

As we crossed the picturesque bridge in Mostar, a young man in a bathing suit was resting on the rails. He waited patiently, as if he had all the time in the world. All that it would take to get him to dive into the waters of the Neretva River 24 meters below was 25 euros, but the tourists walking across the bridge didn't want to donate money to see his feat.

The bridge in Mostar, one of the most recognizable landmarks in all of Bosnia and Herzegovina, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and this despite the fact that it's actually a reconstruction of a 16th century Ottoman bridge. The original Stari Most, as it is called, was destroyed in 1993 during the Bosnian War.

Read the rest of this article on The Huffington Post.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Searching for Identity Elsewhere

In his novel, Elsewhere, Israeli-Austrian writer Doron Rabinovici raises questions of identity and belonging, Europe and Israel.

Ethan Rosen, an Israeli-born lecturer at the Vienna Institute for Social Research, returns to Israel to attend the funeral of a long-time family friend, but declines an offer to write the friend's obituary. But when an obituary appears, written by Rudi Klausinger, a colleague up for the same professorship position at a prestigious Viennese university, Rosen is quick to compose an article disputing statements Klausinger included in the piece.

Except, the arguments to which Rosen objects are actually quotes from an article he had himself previously published. In essence, he engaged in a dispute with his own writing. And then a cassette arrives, stories and instructions from the dead friend relayed from beyond the grave. Rosen is called back to Israel once again when his father, an Auschwitz survivor, becomes ill, in desperate need for a kidney transplant. Klausinger shows up as well, in search for his biological father.

Friday, October 10, 2014

The First Time I Drank Rakia

My wife and I arrived in Sofia in early 2009 at the start of a two-year job relocation. We had never before lived in Europe, had never previously lived in a big city. We looked forward to the possibilities of travel and new experiences and were quite excited as we began our Bulgarian adventure.

A heavy snowfall greeted my wife when she flew into Sofia, and we realized our adventures would have to wait. We settled into a daily routine of working, shopping, laundry, cooking, and living ordinary lives in a strange and unfamiliar country. Still, we were eager to venture out from our apartment and begin our explorations.

Just around the corner from where we lived I discovered a very small chef's restaurant, called The Golden Apple. On my way home at the end of one of our first work weeks, I stopped in and made dinner reservations. It was Friday night and it would be good to go out.

The waiter brought menus to our table, and we asked for the English version. Realizing that we were newcomers to the country, the waiter asked, "Have you ever tried rakia?"

Read the rest of this article on Eat Stay Love Bulgaria.

Monday, October 6, 2014

The Radicalism That Threatens Israel

In The War on Women in Israel, Dr. Elana Maryles Sztokman asks why Israel's government has constantly sided with an extreme version of Judaism.

An outsider reading this extensively researched review of the way women are treated in the modern Jewish State might think that the author was describing Alabama of the 1950s. With women segregated to the back of certain public bus lines; prevented from singing in the Knesset and banned from some official ceremonies; and forbidden to pray according to their beliefs at Judaism's holiest site; it would seem that Israeli society is suffering from a severe case of gender discrimination.

"The cold, hard reality facing woman in Israel today is that while Israel has made certain strides for women's rights, it has not achieved the mission for which it was created. It is not equal for all, regardless of gender," Sztokman says. But what is more alarming, in her opinion, is that "there is a growing faction of Israelis who are threatening not only equal rights for women, but also their fundamental freedoms and their presence in society."

What follows is a report from the battlefield, detailing the war against women in the Israeli army, on the buses, in the courts, and on the streets of the country. The combatants on one side of the conflict are, initially, religious feminists. Their enemy is not just the ultra-Orthodox extremists who abuse them verbally and physically; the problem, the author states, is much greater.  Sztokman's book sets out to tell how these feminists, and their allies, are "protecting the world from the spread of religious extremism."

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Stunning Natural Beauty of Montenegro

We really didn't know what to expect when we crossed the border into Montenegro, but we would soon learn that this small, southeastern European country is home to some of the most stunning natural beauty that we have ever seen.

The name of the country in Montenegrin, the local language, is Crna Gora, which means Black Mountain. This is because of the dark, nearly black pine trees that once covered the mountains. Today those slopes are covered with dense green forests overlooking wild mountain rivers and beautiful, clear lakes.

Driving south from the Bosnian border, we headed into Durmitor National Park, a mountainous range popular with skiers and snowboarders in the winter, and hikers and bikers during the rest of the year. In the distance we could see Sedlo Mountain (height 2,180 meters / 7,152 feet), which looks like a horse's saddle.

Read the rest of this article on The Huffington Post.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Israel is a mistake (not)

Eight years after suggesting that Israel was an "honest" mistake, Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen's follow-up book shows that his love for Israel prevails.

Israel "is an honest mistake, a well-intentioned mistake, a mistake for which no one is culpable," Cohen wrote in a July, 2006, column. "The idea of creating a nation of European Jews in an area of Arab Muslims (and some Christians) has produced a century of warfare and terrorism of the sort we are seeing now."

Stating that there was no point in condemning the fetid anti-Semites of Hamas and Hezbollah, Cohen suggested that Israel "pull back to defensible -- but hardly impervious -- borders. That includes getting out of most of the West Bank -- and waiting (and hoping) that history will get distracted and move on to something else."

Referring to that article repeatedly in his new book, Israel: Is It Good for the Jews? (Simon & Schuster, September 2014), Cohen explains that "the word 'mistake' was itself a mistake." The mistake, he simplifies, was the "belief that somehow the Arab Middle East would politely make way for European Jews."