Monday, March 18, 2013

Israeli Authors in the Spotlight

Israeli authors have a large following in Israel, where they publish books in their native language of Hebrew. After all, Jews are referred to as “People of the Book”, although the book in that context is the Torah, and not necessarily works of fiction. Only a handful of Israeli authors have had international success with English editions of their writing, yet more and more books are being published these days in English, reaching a much larger audience.

In this recurring column, I will cover the latest news, awards, and reviews of recent releases by Israeli authors published in the English language. Many of the books mentioned will have been translated from Hebrew, however, there will be works originally published in English as well.

The Best Place on Earth
Ayelet Tsabari is an Israeli writer living in Toronto. The Best Place on Earth, her debut collection of short stories, is "peopled with characters at the crossroads of nationalities, religions and communities: expatriates, travelers, immigrants and locals." As the author says, the book "is a collection of short stories set against a backdrop of war, conflict, and the army service that explore aspects of the Israeli experience while dealing with themes of home, family, displacement, love and loss." For example, the story “Casualties” features a brusque, sexy young female soldier who forges medical leave forms to make ends meet. The story is a work of fiction, but the circumstances are well known to many Israelis. The book will be published in March and is currently available for pre-order on

Enfold Me: A Novel of Post-Israel
Steven Greenberg is a professional writer, a full-time cook, cleaner, chauffeur, and a work-at-home Dad for three amazing young children. Born in Texas, he immigrated to Israel in 1990 and later served for 12 years in the IDF as a Reserves Combat Medic. Enfold Me is his self-published provocative and dark journey into a chillingly-realistic post-Israel Middle East. Israel has been attacked both by forces of nature (an earthquake), and by Iran. Protagonist Daniel Blum must transverse Hamas-controlled "liberated" Palestine and make his way through Egyptian-ruled, quake ravaged Tel Aviv, as he searches to uncover a secret that could alter the region's balance of power. As the author described the book in an interview last year, "It’s not a book that provides a strong sense of redemption – but it IS a well-written, professionally-edited page-turner with well—defined characters and a well-woven plot. It’s a tough read from an emotional perspective, especially for anyone with a connection to Israel – but it’s a powerful read."

The People of Forever Are Not Afraid
Shani Boianjiu is the most acclaimed new Israeli author today, especially due to the fact that she is only 25 years old. The People of Forever Are Not Afraid is her debut novel, telling the story of three young women coming of age, experiencing “the absurdities of life and love on the precipice of violence.” The novel has received a lot of praise, with editorial reviews stating that the author is "a distinct new voice in literature" and that her novel is an "impressive debut." The book is described as being a "dark, riveting window into the mind-state of Israel's younger generation." Some critics have said the work is more a collection of stories than a novel, and labeled it a bit disorienting and confusing.

Blooms of Darkness
Aharon Appelfeld, 81, has been shortlisted as a finalist for the Man Booker International Prize for 2013. Appelfeld writes fiction in Hebrew, and most of his work focuses on Jewish life in Europe before, during and after World War II. In 2012, Appelfeld won the Independent foreign fiction prize for Blooms of Darkness, a novel loosely based on his childhood. This novel is a "haunting tale of love, loss, and the resilience of the human spirit," and recounts the story of a Jewish child hidden in a brothel during the Holocaust.

Originally published on The New Yorker Times.

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