Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Intriguing Plotline That Is Chock-full of Significant Detail

There is a vivid, life-like element to Valley Of Thracians by Ellis Shuman. Perhaps it is because of the author's expertise on Bulgaria, or because of the timeline of history that is refreshingly accurate. Regardless of the reason, the end product has proved to be something quite special.

As the novel opens we meet Simon Matthews, a man on a mission. Simon's character evokes the reader's empathy as his heart-wrenching situation comes to light. He has traveled to Bulgaria to answer a question that had been plaguing him, what has happened to his grandson?

"It was a feeling he had -a gut feeling that was burning inside him and growing in intensity from day to day."

No body had ever been produced from his grandson's death. And as Simon begins his quest, digging into the truth behind the mysterious death, he uncovers something incredibly sinister.

"The bus speeds east through the dark and forbidding Bulgarian night. The rhythm of the tires on the asphalt pavement soothes my worries, and I close my eyes, eager to forget the strange happenings that have led me to this unexpected journey."

With the help of Sophia Ivanova, an expert in Thracian culture, he is able to traverse throughout Bulgaria on an amazing journey filled with the languid rhythms of culture, and subtle clues of muddled deception.

"Simon wiped away a tear that threatened to cascade down his face, something that surprised him each time he thought deeply about his beloved grandson even after all this time."

Shuman's writing style ensconces the reader in an intriguing plot-line that is chock-full of significant detail. His past experiences provide a compelling narrative. Valley Of Thracians is a riveting fiction debut that will enrich each reader to the savoir-faire of Bulgaria.

Originally published on Bookend Chronicles in August 2013.

Saturday, October 10, 2020

Israeli Embassy in Bulgaria Promotes "The Burgas Affair"

2020 marks 30 years of restored diplomatic relations between Israel and Bulgaria. On this occasion, the Embassy launched an "I read Israeli authors" campaign—in posts and tweets—in which it presented books published in Bulgarian over the last three decades.

“We have chosen to present the works of some of the most prominent and world-renowned authors from Israel,” the Embassy stated. Bulgarians had already met in person many of the authors, the Embassy noted, including A.B. Yehoshua, Amos Oz, David Grossman, Etgar Keret, and Meir Shalev.

In its series the Embassy highlighted The Burgas Affair. “It intertwines real facts from the investigation with fictional storylines to offer us a tense and intriguing thriller.”

Summing up the promotion, the Embassy said it hoped Bulgarian readers would “find their next read in the rich palette of genres, plots, and stories,” in the Israeli books published in Bulgarian.

Israel and Bulgaria established diplomatic relations in 1948, but Bulgaria cut diplomatic ties with Israel after the Six Day War. Diplomatic relations were restored in 1990.

The Burgas Affair was published in Bulgarian as БYPГАСКАТА АФЕРА by Ciela Books in 2016.

Israel in Bulgaria official Facebook page

Israel in Bulgaria official Twitter account

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

The Night I Chased a Pack of Wild Boars from My Garden

It was just before one in the morning when my daughter woke me up. She had heard noises outside and thought it was someone trying to break into our house. But then she heard grunts. Within seconds I was running to the back door, ready to confront the wild boars that were ravaging our garden.

I ran up our deck pathway barefoot, shouting, and suddenly I was surrounded. They were kicking up dirt, grunting, storming through plants and bushes. The boars were desperately searching for a way out of our fenced-in backyard.

I stood there, phone in hand, ready to take a once-in-a-lifetime photo of the wild animals racing around me, but my camera was mistakenly set to selfie mode.

In any case, it was too dark and I never really saw any of the boars clearly, only fast-moving shadows. 

My daughter, standing on our patio, called out a warning as more boars dashed out of the bushes behind me. Fearing they would attack her she went back inside. She said there were at least six of the animals, but she couldn't say for sure if they were big or small.

The gate we had put up at the entrance to our garden/the garden next door was open. I assume it was not closed that night, but even if it was, the boars could have forced their way through it. At this stage it was good that it was open because it offered the boars an escape route. One of them ran instead for the fence and dug its way out as I watched.

I was upset with myself for playing with my phone, but there was nothing I could have done better. The beasts were frightened by my shouting, by my stomping noisily up the pathway, and by my presence. I certainly didn't want to throw stones and agitate them further.

One neighbor did throw stones at them for ten minutes. The boars did not run away but they didn't go into his backyard. Our next-door neighbors were not so lucky. They have invested a lot of money in their garden and the boars thoroughly destroyed their grass (and this was the second time they've done this).

The boars were possibly digging for bulbs (they did not eat any flowers) but it was more likely that they were searching for water. The extensive damage in the neighbor's grass was surprisingly in a straight line, probably where the irrigation tubing was laid.

Needless to say, our neighbors were heartbroken the next morning. Our grass is not in as good shape as theirs and as they say, the grass is greener on the other side, so that is what spared us. Until next time.

This was not my first encounter with the boars who have made the hills and forests around Moshav Neve Ilan their home. I have written about them twice before:

Boars are a protected species in Israel, but they constitute a serious problem. There are neighborhoods in Haifa where packs of boars roam the streets, even during the daytime hours. Municipal councils are not allowed to set out poison or attempt to kill them in any other way. Boars have no natural predator in Israel, and as neither Jews or Muslims eat boars or pigs, there are no incentives to hunt them for food.

The video does not show the boars in my garden, but rather boars elsewhere on Neve Ilan the same night. The video was filmed by a neighbor and shared on social media.

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Review of 'The Memory Monster' by Yishai Sarid

Holocaust studies have been mandatory in Israeli high schools since the 1980s and 11th graders are regularly taken on educational trips to the German extermination camps in Poland. According to a study of "Shoah Education in Israeli State Schools 2007-2009" presented by Bar Ilan University, "The journey to Poland is among the most important and effective aspects of Shoah education, highly valued by students, teachers and school principals."

But what about the long-term effects of these journeys on those who guide the students through the camps? Are they able to bear the emotional burden of walking under the iconic Arbeit macht frei sign at Auschwitz's gate time and time again? 

The subject of Holocaust education from the viewpoint of concentration camp tour guides is at the center of The Memory Monster by Yishai Sarid, translated by Yardenne Greenspan (Restless Books, September 2020). The short, but powerful novel raises the question of how far we let the horrors of the past infiltrate our present day lives.

The book's narrative is presented as a report by a nameless historian to the chairman of Yad Vashem, the official representative of Holocaust memory in Israel. The report details the historian's career, how he at first considered Holocaust studies a burden and thought himself immune to the emotional stress. The historian prepared his PhD dissertation on the process of Nazis' extermination techniques—a topic covering the details of mass murder, gas chambers, and crematoriums—while supporting himself and his family by guiding high school students in Poland.

Monday, September 14, 2020

Review of “The Tunnel” by A. B. Yehoshua

In the opening scene of The Tunnel by A. B. Yehoshua, translated by Stuart Schoffman (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, August 2020), Zvi Luria, a retired road engineer, is diagnosed with an atrophy in the frontal lobe of his brain. One of the first symptoms of Zvi’s incipient dementia is that first names are escaping him. And then he can’t remember the ignition code for his car. And when asked to pick up his grandchild from kindergarten, he takes home the wrong child.

Luria’s wife Dina, a pediatrician with health problems of her own, encourages Zvi to volunteer as an unpaid assistant on an engineering project “so that he could, on the advice of the neurologist, fight better, with the help of roads, interchanges, and tunnels, against the atrophy gnawing away at his brain.” Luria joins Asael Maimoni, the son of a former colleague, and the two of take on a project of planning a “secret road in the desert.”

The Israeli army has asked for a road in Ramon Crater, but it is unclear where this road will lead to. The one thing that is clear is that a “hill resembling a flattened cone” is in the way. The engineers could suggest bulldozing their way through the hill, but there is a problem. An archaeological ruin sits atop the hill and a family has taken up residence there.

The squatters, it turns out, are “West Bank Palestinians whose identity became confused.” They have no home to return to, and no future awaits them. The solution for the engineering team? Dig a tunnel through the hill.

Monday, September 7, 2020

"At the Bank" - a short story in 101 words

Back in April, when we were only beginning to understand how far, and how fast the pandemic would spread, I discovered a website soliciting 101-word stories. I wondered if I was capable of writing a story that short that could in some way express what was happening all around us.

The result was "At the Bank". I submitted it to 101 Words in April and apparently they lost the submission. I only received a rejection note now, 5 months later, but I think the story is still valid today. Here is the story and what they said in the rejection letter. (It was quite unusual to get an on-the-spot critique, instead of an impersonal form letter!)

At the Bank

A masked man walked into a bank early Friday morning. He was not there to rob, or to take hostages. He had come to withdraw hard-earned savings. He had waited in line patiently, keeping his distance from those ahead. When the guard finally allowed him in, he hurried to the counter, his eyes slightly lowered in embarrassment. After he stated his request, the teller punched a few keys, looked at a screen, and opened a cash drawer. Bills were counted and handed over, the man bowed in wordless thanks, and left. The teller shook his head and adjusted his own mask.

The rejection letter:

Overall, the current environment makes a situation like a bank customer closing their account an out of the ordinary situation. However, the main issue that I have with this story is that this situation just seems like an ordinary task, even with the Covid-19 kicking around. These are situations that bank tellers deal with all the time. If there was something unique that a bank teller happened to be involved in, it would be a different story.

# # #

Photo by Morning Brew on Unsplash.

Thursday, August 27, 2020

Journey into Bulgarian History and a Thrilling Crime Story

For many readers in United States, Bulgaria is a strange and mysterious land. A small European country with around 7 million population, most of them speak Bulgarian, a major Slavic language after Russian and Ukrainian. Only recently attain its democracy 20 years ago, joined the European Union at 2007. For most American readers, Bulgaria would probably perceived as just an insignificant country in Europe.

Yet, Mr. Shuman, former Editor in Chief of Israel Insider and About.com’s Israel Culture Guide, told us how false our perception can be. In “Valley of Thracians”, we are guided into a wonderful journey into ancient Bulgarian history, a thrilling crime story and a memorable adventure.

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Review of 'Three' by D. A. Mishani

There are three women at the heart of Israeli crime writer D.A. Mishani’s new novel Three, translated by Jessica Cohen (Europa Editions, August 2020). Orna is a single mother raising a young son still traumatized by his parents’ divorce. Emilia is a live-in caregiver from Latvia who is trying to find herself after the elderly man she cared for died. And Ella is married, the mother of three, who is writing her university thesis. Three women with nothing in common, except for the same strange man who comes into their lives.

Orna meets Gil on a dating site for divorced singles. After online chats they meet up. Orna is surprised at how patient Gil is, at how he seems like he has all the time in the world to develop their connection. He doesn’t pressure her, and their phone conversations are so short that Orna wonders why they are talking on the phone at all. Still, they continue to talk and when they meet on a date it is Orna who suggests that they become intimate. Gil’s seeming reluctance to pursue their affair makes one curious as to why their relationship ends up the way it does.

Emilia needs to look for a job after 84-year-old Nachum dies. Nachum’s wife and children assure her that she can remain in her small room until she finds new work. A part-time position opens up, but Emilia would have to do it for cash, without permits. Nachum’s wife suggests that Emilia talk to her son Gil, a lawyer. Gil, she says, will make sure Emilia doesn’t get deported from Israel. Gil asks Emilia to clean his apartment and she agrees. In her free time, Emilia goes to church services, trying to find spiritual meaning to her life. She asks herself if she should go back to Latvia, but what she doesn’t ask herself is why she let herself fall under Gil’s spell.