Friday, December 25, 2015

12 Things You Must Know about Driving in Bulgaria

Prologue: On my recent vacation in Bulgaria, I rented a car with manual transmission. Despite having driven a stick shift many times in the past, I couldn't get the car into reverse gear. A driver stopped his car nearby, but he didn't speak English. What was I to do?

Tourists interested in discovering the real Bulgaria should be prepared to leave the bustling cities and venture into the countryside. While train and bus service are readily available, most visitors will prefer the independence of renting a car. Agencies have offices at many locations, including at the international airports in Sofia, Plovdiv, Burgas, and Varna.

Bulgaria is an easily-navigated country and there is much to see. Even so, there are a number of things westerners should know about driving in Bulgaria.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

To Entebbe and Back

Operation Thunderbolt: Flight 139 and the Raid on Entebbe by noted historian Saul David keeps readers glued to the page in a definitive account of the IDF operation.

Mention the name Entebbe and the first thing that comes to mind is the IDF's raid on Entebbe Airport in Uganda. Following the hijacking of an Air France plane with 248 passengers aboard, the IDF staged a daring counter-terrorist rescue mission, rescuing the hostages. Lt. Col. Yonatan Netanyahu, brother of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, was killed in the operation. The rescue took place on July 4, 1976.

Operation Thunderbolt, as it was called at the time, was an incredible military achievement which demonstrated both Israel's refusal to negotiate with terrorists and its far-reaching concern for its citizens. The operation was also named, retroactively, Operation Yonatan, in memory of its fallen commander.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Where is the Lady from Tel Aviv?

There is an old adage that says you shouldn't judge a book by its cover. In the case of The Lady from Tel Aviv by Raba'i Al-Madhoun, the title is a bit misleading. The lady from Tel Aviv plays a very minor role in this story, yet even so, understanding her role is pivotal to understanding the book.

The novel tells the story of Waleed Dahman, a Palestinian novelist returning to Gaza for the first time in thirty-eight years; and Dana Ahova, an Israeli actress seeking the comforts of home after the disappearance of her Ukrainian boyfriend. The two meet by chance on a Tel Aviv-bound flight and have a short, but eye-opening conversation. And then, the lady disappears from the narrative.

Before Waleed can enter the Gaza Strip, he is delayed in harsh sunlight at an Israeli checkpoint closed to Palestinians following a suicide bombing attack. This wait at the crossing extends over a number of chapters but it is symbolic of the waiting that plays a significant role in the lives of ordinary Gazan residents.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

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. While my wife reads a family drama set against the Congo's fight for independence from Belgium, I read fiction as well as non-fiction, having selected recently published titles that will not only give me pleasure but which I will also review for my blog.

I was the first in our household to purchase a tablet, not for its Internet connectivity or for the ability to play games and watch videos on a handheld screen, but purely for the joy of reading digital books. While I appreciate the look and feel of flipping through the physical pages of a paperback, I also find pleasure in selecting a title to read, clicking a button, and having that book delivered seamlessly and instantly to my tablet.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

How to Make Latkes

The holiday of Hanukkah is just around the corner (it starts on the evening of December 6th) and Jews all over the world are eager to dig into healthy portions of latkes - traditional potato pancakes.

Just in time the Maccabeats, Yeshiva University's student vocal group, have arrived with the ultimate Latke Recipe.

The song is a parody of last summer's "Shut Up and Dance" by rock band Walk the Moon.

Enjoy and Happy Hanukkah!

Monday, November 16, 2015

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?”

Friday, November 6, 2015

Announcement: I Sign a Book Deal

I am excited to announce that my novel The Burgas Affair will be published in Bulgarian by Ciela, the leading Bulgarian publishing house.

The publication of the book in Bulgarian will be its world premiere. Hopefully publication of the book's original English version will soon follow.

I look forward to working with the team at Ciela and to my role in making this book a success.

I wish to thank all those who helped me during the research and writing of the novel – your assistance is truly appreciated.

I express my sincere gratitude to Jessica Schmeidler of Golden Wheat Literary, who shares my literary vision for the future. This deal is the first of many.

THE BURGAS AFFAIR. A Bulgarian policeman is teamed up with an Israeli woman from the Mossad as they work a case involving international terrorists and local criminals in both Bulgaria and Israel, while confronting the traumas of their pasts.

See also:

Announcement: I Sign with Golden Wheat Literary

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Why I Could Never Write Fantasy

The green-winged ogre landed on my window sill, on the top floor of Druddigon Castle in the underground land known among the peasants simply as Moligan. I fought off the dragon's harsh bad breath to rise from my bed, drew my trusty dagger from its pouch, and went to face the ogre before it could capture the golden chalice that I had kept under my pillow through six hours of restless sleep.

Not exactly the most appealing prose, right? Well, that's because I just can't write fantasy. Or speculative fiction or science fiction for that matter. In my writing I am incapable of placing characters in strange, far-off worlds, where the culture and religion and history is so much different than our own.

Or can I?

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

10 Amazing Things You Didn't Know About Bulgaria

Bulgaria? Why visit Bulgaria? Bulgaria is a beautiful country, with majestic mountains, sandy beaches, picturesque villages, good food, and hospitable people. And, it's incredibly affordable.

If you don't know anything about Bulgaria, here are ten reasons you should visit.

1. Roses - Bulgarian roses are not only stunningly beautiful, but a major export item as well. The petals reportedly produce as much as 85% of the world's rose oil, an essential ingredient in the production of perfumes. Gathering the roses is very labor intensive. Visit the country in May and June to see the colorful harvest.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Let there be no water shortage in Israel

Israeli children are taught at a very young age that every drop of water counts. Kindergarten teachers instruct their toddlers to carefully brush their teeth and take showers using as little water as possible.

By the time these children become adults, water conservation has become an ingrained principle. Television commercials emphasize the ongoing need to be water conscious. Every time there is a drop in the water level of the Kinneret, the biblical Sea of Galilee which has been the source of most of the country's fresh water, the national mood responds accordingly.

Although prudent use of water is still of vital importance, Israel no longer has a water shortage. In fact, according to Let There Be Water (Thomas Dunne Books, September 2015) by Seth M. Siegel, Israel not only has enough water for its growing population but the solutions the country developed can serve as an example for drought inflicted countries.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Literary Agents, Beware!

In the months after completing my second novel—a process that included writing, editing, rewriting, and even more editing—I queried more than 150 literary agents. I received outright rejections from 80 of them; most of the rest completely ignored me. A handful of agents asked to see an example of my work, but that's all. My quest to get representation actually had a happy ending as you can see here, but for most aspiring writers, queries and the manuscripts they represent end up in an agency slush pile.

What would happen if a writer, one who believes he has completed the best novel ever written, started stalking the literary agent who rejected him? And what would happen to that agent if her agency becomes target of a nasty email campaign, and then things take a turn for the worse when her best friend and leading client end up murdered? When the agent fears that she could be the next victim, she unwittingly discovers that the publishing business can be murder.

This is what happens to Jo Donovan, the protagonist of A Dangerous Fiction (Viking, July 2013) by Barbara Rogan. Donovan, the owner and principal agent of a boutique New York literary agency, learns that someone has hijacked the company's email account. All of Donovan's clients are told the very exciting news that their books have been accepted by publishers for publication, when this is far from the truth. Another even more damaging prank is yet to follow.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

When in Belgium, Drink the Beer

There is much that makes a visit to Belgium an incredible experience. In addition to the role Brussels plays hosting the headquarters of the European Union, the city attracts tourists from all over the world. The picturesque medieval old towns in the countryside and the Flemish Renaissance architecture also deserve attention. But more than anything else, visitors to the country enjoy Belgian cuisine, including world-famous chocolate, waffles, and Belgian fries. And, of course, the beer.

It's nearly impossible to give an exact figure as to how many varieties of beer are produced in Belgium but it would be safe to say that there are nearly 1,000 brewed by some 180 breweries. Beer in the region dates back to the 12th century and was developed over the centuries at Trappist monasteries and in private breweries. Today Trappist beers are very popular in Belgium. Also popular are Abbey beers, originally defined as monastic-style beers but which are today produced by non-Trappist monasteries or branded with a vague connection to monasteries.

Monday, September 28, 2015

7 Reasons Why I Read Haruki Murakami

For my birthday, my children bought me the book Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Japanese author Haruki Murakami. This was exactly the present I wanted! I am a passionate Murakami fan and I was eager to read the new novel, which would afterwards find a place of honor on my bookshelf with all the other Murakami titles I own.

The new book, which sold a million copies in Japan in its first week after being released, may not be everyone's cup of tea, but it added to my appreciation of Murakami's writing. The book is quite different from 1Q84, Murakami's strangely-titled previous novel, in that it is a more simplistic, more human story, and at 297 pages in hardcover, it is one-third 1Q84's opus length.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Following the Footsteps of Orpheus

A sign declaring the birthplace of Orpheus greets visitors to the village of Gela, high in Bulgaria's southern Rhodopes Mountains. According to legend, Orpheus - the mythical Greek musician, poet, and prophet - descended into the underworld in an attempt to save his wife, Eurydice, from the Greek god, Hades. More on that in a minute.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Seven good years of Keret

I have a confession to make. I am a regular reviewer of modern Israeli literature with a specialization in reading recently translated Hebrew books. Yet, my reviews have failed to cover the writing of one of the genre’s leading voices. Luckily, I had an opportunity to receive a copy of The Seven Good Years (Granta Books, July 2015) and get a proper introduction to Etgar Keret.

I recently read Tel Aviv Noir, a short story tour of the seedier neighborhoods of Tel Aviv. That collection was co-edited by Keret and novelist Assaf Gavron. One of my favorite stories was Keret’s contribution, “Allergies”, which told of a couple who adopt a dog and end up doing increasingly strange things to take care of the pet.

The story seemed so personal that I assumed at the time it may have come from the author’s personal experiences. Or maybe not. In any case, the essays collected in The Seven Good Years represent a memoir of Keret’s last seven years as he travels around the world speaking about his books; as he deals with losing a father and raising a son; and as he surprises us over and over again with his sly wit.

The essays included in this quickly-read collection are succinct anecdotes that cannot fail to entertain. If I have any advice about how to read the book it would be not to read it all at once. Each separate story should be savored for many moments; each provides a life-affirming look at family life, Israelisms, and what it means to be an author visiting book fair after book fair in far off lands.

The book is divided into seven sections by year, each including a few interconnected, but totally independent essays. It is difficult to pick favorites, as they are all extremely enjoyable; all leave a smile on your face and a desire for more.

I will mention two of them but only in brief, as the essays themselves are only a few pages long. In “Call and Response” the author battles a persistent telemarketer who will follow you to the grave to sell you an upgrade for your television satellite package. In “Pastrami”, the author must find a suitable way to explain an air raid siren to his seven-year-old son during the recent war in Gaza. As the boy nervously gets out of their car, he lies between his parents on the ground making a virtual ‘Pastrami Sandwich’, which becomes a game that can be played even when there are no sirens.

Now that I know what Etgar Keret has been doing during the past seven years, I have no further excuses. I must end my Keret deficiency by reading his five bestselling story collections as soon as possible, and certainly before he publishes another seven years of memoirs.

The essays in The Seven Good Years were translated from the Hebrew by Sondra Silverston; Miriam Shlesinger; Jessica Cohen; and Anthony Berris.

Etgar Keret was born in Tel Aviv in 1967. His short story collections have been translated into 35 languages and he has been published in the New York Times, the Guardian, the New Yorker, Le Monde and other periodicals. Keret has written a number of screenplays; “Jellyfish”, his first film as director alongside his wife Shira Geffen, won the Caméra d’Or prize for best first feature at Cannes in 2007.

Buy The Seven Good Years and read it now!

Originally published at The Times of Israel.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

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.

Commissioned by the Ottoman ruler Suleiman the Magnificent and designed by Mimar Hayruddin, the original bridge was built over a nine-year period and completed in 1566. With its hump-backed shape, the bridge is considered one of the finest examples of Islamic architecture of the time.

Crossing the stepped pedestrian bridge is the most memorable part of one's visit to Mostar. The views up and down the river are simply spectacular. On the far side, there is a cobblestone street leading through the old town's touristy souvenir bazaar. There are plenty of restaurants offering tasty meals, some of them situated on the river shore below the bridge.

Everything looks so neat, so new, and that's because it is. Almost 90% of Mostar was destroyed during the 1991-1995 war, including all 36 of the city's mosques. During those years, the river divided the city between its Christian and Muslim districts, with snipers shooting back and forth. Today, the city has been rebuilt, although there are still buildings pockmarked by shells fired.

Crossing the bridge again, the young man is still waiting to dive in exchange for his fee. Mostar is reportedly the warmest city in all of Europe, but the river far below is very cold. But, many do jump from the bridge. The highlight of the year is the annual diving competition held at the end of July. The first recorded instance of someone diving from the bridge is from 1664.

Even if you don't happen to visit Mostar in July, you can still pay a member of the city's diving club to plunge into the cold river for your viewing pleasure. But, would you jump off the bridge for money?

Previously posted at The Huffington Post.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

You Can't Write a Novel While Driving, but...

Of course you can't write a novel while driving a car! You will get into an accident, endanger the lives of your passengers and the other drivers. But, you can write a novel while taking a walk. And I just proved this is possible.

Yesterday afternoon I went out on my regular exercise walk, which is anything but regular these days due to a severe lack of time. In one pocket I had an old MP4 listening device dating back many years. I was eager to listen to my collection of America, Paul Simon, and Elton John. Perfect music to accompany my walking and a clear sign that I am not as young as I pretend to be.

In my other pocket was my smartphone, a phone I would only use in case of an emergency. But I was confident that I could handle the walk. Come on, guys. I do this exercise walk quite a bit and it would be better defined as a power walk. I walk quickly.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

The Book of Stoned

Readers will have no sympathy for protagonist Matthew Stone, who spends much of this novel whining and aching to be a mass murderer.

I have this habit of starting to read a book without looking at its back cover. Or in the case of an e-book quickly downloaded, I dive into the first chapter without bothering to check its description on Amazon. This habit may have been a mistake in the case of The Book of Stone by Jonathan Papernick (Fig Tree Books, May 2015).

The marketing text says this: “The Book of Stone examines the evolution of the terrorist mentality and the complexities of religious extremism, as well as how easily a vulnerable mind can be exploited for dark purposes.”

What that description doesn’t tell you is that the religious extremism is Jewish extremism and the blood-thirsty terrorists involved make Meir Kahane’s followers in the Jewish Defense League seem like kindergarten teachers.

The problem with this book, however, is not its examination of terrorist mentalities but the main character of the story. Matthew Stone, son of a famous, although disgraced judge; and grandson of a Meyer Lansky-like gangster; is probably the least likeable protagonist you’ll ever meet. The younger Stone has spent his life “chasing after disastrous sexual entanglements, clutching the sinking lifeboat of hopeless relationships and cheap marijuana highs” so much that The Book of Stoned is a more appropriate title. When not smoking weed, or drinking booze, or self-mutilating himself, or nearly strangling his girlfriend, or threatening to kill his mother, Matthew treats us to a whiny obsession-filled monologue that becomes more disturbing with each repetition.

One reviewer said that the book follows “a nice Jewish boy’s slow slide into madness,” but there is nothing nice at all about Matthew Stone. At one point we do feel some sort of a connection to him. This is during a flashback to the time he spent in Israel, recovering from a mental breakdown. We actually root for the young man when he falls in love with an Israeli Arab woman, but the minute he stands her up and readily submits himself to his father’s belt whipping, we again realize that Matthew Stone has never been a “nice Jewish boy.”

The author utilizes a jumpstarted word game to make us better understand the guy. “Change a couple letters in Stone, he thought, you had alone; change another, you had atone; split that word, you had at one.” But despite Matthew’s return to the Jewish fold in time to say Kaddish for his father and join High Holiday services with their “mysterious rhythms and eternal cadences”, no atonement is possible for his numerous sins.

Matthew is about to commit suicide when we first meet him; he later becomes an accessory to the murder of a friend; and by the end of the book he volunteers to commit mass murder. As readers we cannot sympathize with his struggles. We wish we could part company with Matthew Stone much sooner than the book’s conclusion. A surprise twist at the very end may be the only reason to force one’s way through the lengthy narrative.

Jonathan Papernick was born and raised in Toronto, Canada. He lived in Israel during the mid 1990s, working as a journalist in the aftermath of the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. His first collection of short stories The Ascent of Eli Israel was published by Arcade Publishing in 2002 and received a full-page review in the New York Times. His second collection of short stories There is No Other was published in 2010. Papernick is currently Senior Writer-in-Residence at Emerson College in Boston.

Originally published on The Times of Israel.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Are Writers Certifiably Crazy?

This article is satirical and is not intended to offend anyone in the mental health community - my apologies if my humor is misunderstood.

The symptoms are getting worse. I wake up at night, my mind racing at a frantic pace, the ideas flooding me with a tidal wave of creativity. Afraid that I will forget something, I race downstairs to jot some notes so that I will remember everything in the morning. When I come to the breakfast table, I find my laptop surrounded by a sea of sticky Post-Its.

My sleepless nights might be considered a bad thing, but for me - a writer and author - they are very, very good. I write a lot in the dark hours, if you accept that coming up with ideas is a vital part of the writing process. Between these bursts of creativity, I manage to get in some actual sleep as well. As tired as I may be the next day, physically, mentally I am alert and hyper-awake.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Not a Single Clue Is Missing

"The Missing"
This is a review of a BBC television series so good, so expertly plotted, so professionally edited, and performed by such talented actors and actresses - that it is literally impossible to review.

By writing this review I run the risk of revealing a clue that would make the show just a fracture less enjoyable. If I write something here that proves to be evidence to what will happen, you will hold me responsible for kidnapping the excitement in your viewing experience.

"The Missing".

Monday, August 10, 2015

It's Getting Hot in Egypt

Alexandrian Summer – Yitzhak Gormezano Goren's 1978 novel now translated for the first time – is a nostalgic look at the life of secular bourgeois Jews in Egypt's second largest city.

It's the summer of 1951. Farouk rules as "King of Egypt and Sudan". Only in October will the Parliament cancel the treaty allowing the British to control the Suez Canal. In a year's time Gamal Abdel Nasser will overthrow the monarchy and lead Egypt into Arab nationalism. But meanwhile in cosmopolitan Alexandria, Egyptian Jews continue to enjoy a very sedate, dignified, European style of living. As they go to the track to watch the horses, or play cards and gossip, there is a growing awareness that something is about to happen.

The Alexandria described in the novel Alexandrian Summer (New Vessel Press, April  2015) is very sensuous. "Surrounded by water. Water, water, water. In the north, her full breasts dip in the water of the Mediterranean. In the south, the waves of Lake Mariout cool her behind with arousing caresses. In the east, her fingers flutter through the Nile as it runs its brown water with limp sleepiness."

As the first person narrator says in the opening pages, "The story of the Alexandrian summer does not present itself easily. It is wrapped in layers of nostalgia, of oblivion, of generalizations." The narrator speaks from his new home in Israel, having left "the Alexandria of the days of King Farouk" when he was ten years old, just as the author did.

Although it seems at times that Alexandria is the protagonist of the novel, it is actually the "story about the Hamdi-Alis, a family from Cairo that came to spend a summer of joy on the shores of Alex[andria]." This family, with its Arab last name, "embodies the joie de vivre, the unending Mediterranean energy." Arriving as guests in the home of ten-year-old Robby, they are the main characters we follow, as Robby's own tale does not capture our interest as fully.

The sensuality of the story is reserved for the city, with the exception of the pubescent experimentation of Robby and his friend, Victorico Hamdi-Ali. This entails a little too much homoerotic humping, in my opinion. Robby's sister is in a relationship with Victorico's brother David, a Jewish jockey competing with Muslim riders at the city's horseracing track. David's father stresses that winning races is a mission, not a game, but David is willing to give it all up to be with Miss Anabella, as her father affectionately calls her.

Robby's family talks about two older sons who are already living in the new State of Israel and there is a growing recognition that one day the entire community will have to emigrate. After all, the locals are shouting "Death to the Jews" at every opportunity. The family realizes that the bourgeois lifestyle they lead, with two servants in every home, "coquettish flirtation at the fashion hubs of Europe," and "French, sometimes English" as the lingua franca, will soon end. In the meantime, though, they can enjoy one last Alexandrian summer.

The action in the novel takes place on Rue Delta, a very real street as described in the book's introduction written by André Aciman, who was also a resident of Alexandria before making aliyah. We learn fascinating information about the city and its Jewish community from Aciman's words, which leave a long-lasting impression of a rich culture that no longer exists.

As the book's narrator says, "One day electric lamps would be installed on Rue Delta, and then the lamplighter would disappear from the landscape, fading along with our forgotten childhood, which grows distant with every passing day."

Yitzhak Gormezano Goren was born in Alexandria in 1941 and immigrated to Israel as a child. He is a playwright and novelist, and cofounder of the Bimat Kedem Theater, which he directed for 30 years. Gormezano Goren is a winner of the Ramat Gan Prize for Literature and received the Israeli Prime Minister's Prize for Literature in 2001.

Alexandrian Summer was translated by Yardenne Greenspan and published by arrangement with The Institute for the Translation of Hebrew Literature.

Buy Alexandrian Summer and read it now!

Originally published on The Times of Israel.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Vanished in Gaza

Vanished, by Palestinian-British author Ahmed Masoud, takes readers into the besieged Gaza Strip where Mustafa Ouda has mysteriously disappeared.

Omar Ouda lives in London but his heart is in the Gaza Strip. That is where is house is, that is where family members still live. But his home is under fire, in danger due to the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, and Omar must return.

But there is more that ties Omar to Gaza. His father, Mustafa Ouda, has been missing since Omar was a boy. One day Mustafa walked out of the family home, apparently after a heated argument with his wife, and the next day he was gone, vanished. Omar sets off to find his father, or at least to learn what happened to him, and that is the main theme of this short, but powerful novel.

Vanished (Rimal Publications, Cyprus, June 2015) is set against the political unrest in Palestine, from one Intifada to the next. The timeline includes the initial optimism after the signing of the Oslo Accords and the despair resulting from the Palestinian Authority's actions against opposition groups. In the midst of all this violence is the story of a young boy searching for his father. The journey Omar takes is fictional, but what he experiences is very real, and very troublesome.

In order to survive, some of the residents are coerced to work for the enemy. As he grows into adulthood, Omar collaborates with the Israeli army and later he serves with the Palestinian Authority. In both cases, he feels that he has betrayed his people.

The picture the book paints is one-sided, showing only the suffering of the Palestinians living in Gaza, but that's the whole point. The only Israelis readers encounter in this novel are soldiers carrying guns; only one of them is given a name and a speaking role. For many Gazans, armed soldiers are the only type of Israelis they will ever see.

It's hard to imagine how the characters in this book, like the residents of Gaza themselves, manage to lead normal lives in a very abnormal, besieged society. The author wisely stays away from political arguments, letting readers judge for themselves who is right and who is wrong. Unfortunately, as Omar discovers at the conclusion of his quest, there can be betrayal and deceit even among those closest to you.

Ahmed Masoud is a writer and director who grew up in the Gaza Strip and moved to the United Kingdom in 2002. He completed his postgraduate studies in English Literature and has an MA and a PhD research. He is the founder of Al Zaytouna, a UK-based Palestinian dance theatre troupe. He has written a play about the Syrian crisis and a number of other works, including a BBC Radio 4 play. Vanished is his first novel.

Buy Vanished and read it now!

Originally published at The Times of Israel.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

This is Israel, in 60 Seconds

Have you been to Israel? Take a minute, just one minute, to get a quick view of what Israel is all about!

Israel - a modern country based on ancient history. Home to three of the world's major religions - this is the land where King David ruled, where Jesus preached, where the Crusaders waged their battles. Israel has sandy Mediterranean beaches, a ski resort on Mt. Hermon, and stunning deserts.

As the creators of this video state: "From parties to prayers, beaches to bicycles, visitors to Israel can look forward to an unforgettable experience… and great food.

Of course if you visit Israel, you'll see much, much more!

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The Sidewalk of Coexistence

A short stretch of highway links the Arab town of Abu Gosh with a recently constructed tunnel and intersection on Highway 1, the main artery between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. On the brick sidewalk alongside the road, residents of the varied communities take leisurely walks, family strolls, and exercise runs. Usually smiles are the only thing exchanged, but all realize that this particular piece of Judean Hills landscape encourages peaceful coexistence between neighbors.

Neve Ilan was founded as a moshav shitufi - a cross between a kibbutz and a moshav - by a mixed group of American, other western new immigrants, and native born Israelis. Prime Minister Golda Meir was at the ceremony marking the establishment of the new settlement, which was founded on the remains of a French kibbutz abandoned in the years following Israel's establishment.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

The Physics of Randomness

By chance I learned about this bestselling Bulgarian novel. The Physics of Sorrow was written by Georgi Gospodinov and just translated into English by the very talented Angela Rodel (she also translated 18% Gray by Zachary Karabashliev). The novel, in its rather unconventional format, is the story of a character inhabiting the mind of his own grandfather in real time. Shared memories. Take this sentence as an example: "A part of me shifted into someone else's body, someone else's story". And this one: "My grandfather in me cannot decide.”

It's hard to say what The Physics of Sorrow (Open Letter, English translation, April 14, 2015) is about. It's about everything and it's about nothing. And there is absolutely no connection between its random parts. Yet, the talented author does the impossible. He connects random subjects and interweaves them into a compelling, logical connectivity that captivates the reader. Or turns the reader away. This book will not appeal to everyone.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Bulgaria exports water to Israel

Breaking news – you heard it here first! Bulgaria, an eastern European country blessed with plentiful rainfall, has begun to export water to Israel.

Bulgaria and Israel have many similarities. For example, Israelis dance the hora, and Bulgarians dance the horo. Israel’s prime minister has a funny nickname – Bibi. Bulgaria’s prime minister has a funny name – Boyko. Bulgaria has many ski resorts; Israel has the Hermon.

But there is one major difference between the two countries, and that difference is water. Even though Bulgaria is situated by only one sea – the Black Sea – and Israel has the Mediterranean, Dead, and Red seas, Bulgaria has more water. Bulgaria gets rain all through the year, while in Israel, rain is a seasonal thing. Bulgaria has many rivers. Israel has only a few and the lower Jordan River doesn’t have much water in it.

In short, why didn’t anyone think of exporting Bulgarian water to Israel before today?

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

The John Irving Theory of Everything

John Irving is one of my favorite authors of all time. I first read The 158-Pound Marriage when I was in high school and aspiring to weigh at least 150 pounds. Then I read Setting Free the Bears and noticed the regular appearance of bears in Irving’s works. Then I learned of Irving’s connection to the University of Iowa – I am from Sioux City!

Along came Garp. Garp, both of the book and the movie that followed. But before I had a chance to breathe, I fell in love with a hotel named New Hampshire, a cider house, and a circus. And let’s not forget Owen Meany!

Happiness floats!

Yet, despite my love of these amazing books, as an aspiring author the thing I most admired about John Irving was his statement that he wrote the ending first, and then he created the plot for his novel, a story that would reach that concluding line.

Monday, July 6, 2015

10 Most Important Things You Need to Know About Working With Twitter

You'll notice that in the title of this article I wrote "working with Twitter". I do mean "work". If you only plan to use Twitter recreationally, as a pastime, or as a way of shouting out your love of Justin Bieber, read no further. This article is intended for individuals (such as authors, artists, musicians, politicians, etc.) and businesses (big and small) who want to "sell" their products via the Twitter social platform. "Sell" is the wrong word, as I will soon explain.

The following is my Twitter Philosophy. I have over 36,000 Followers, 95% of them real human beings. My followers come from all over the world (although I don't think I have any followers in Antarctica). My followers are lovers of poker, good books, Bulgaria, Israel, marketing, Jewish holidays, television, travel, grandchildren, more good books, and, for the most part, fellow authors, or aspiring authors, just like me.

Read and then follow my example. It's free advice. You can implement my philosophy in five minutes a day, or three hours a day. It doesn't matter. But please, use Twitter properly!

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The Roller Coaster Ride at Absolute Poker

When Scott Tom, a student at the University of Montana in the late 1990s, first saw an online poker game he said, "This poker website. It's awesome. I mean, the software really sucks and the graphics are horrible… Even though it's crap, there are like fifty people playing. And they're taking a rake from every table, all night long. They're minting money."

Straight Flush by Ben Mezrich relates the "true" story of how Scott Tom and five of his fraternity brothers turned their weekly poker game into an improved version of that rudimental online poker room. Their Absolute Poker room became, at its height, an online empire bringing in revenues of nearly a million dollars a day.

But before the team could stage an IPO to cash in on their good fortune, their empire came crashing down. The Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 made Absolute Poker take a gamble by leaving its doors open to American players. A cheating scandal in 2007 revealed that someone behind the scenes at the poker room was taking advantage of a super user's ability to see opponents' hole cards. And finally, the U.S. Department of Justice seized control of Absolute Poker's website domain on the infamous Black Friday.

All of that was far ahead in the future in the opening chapters of Straight Flush, which was written by the bestselling author of The Accidental Billionaires (Mezrich's 2009 book which was adapted by Columbia Pictures for the film "The Social Network") and Bringing Down the House (which was adapted into the movie "21").

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Sofia's Stunning Gold-Domed Cathedral, at Sunrise

I did not come to Sofia to sightsee. Having lived and worked in the capital of Bulgaria for two years, my vacation was planned as an opportunity to see friends, old and new; to relive my Bulgarian experience; to travel to places not previously visited; and as an opportunity to get inspiration for my future writing, both fiction and non-fiction.

Whenever family or friends visited us in Bulgaria, we always took them to the center of the city to see Alexander Nevsky Cathedral – the stunning gold-domed cathedral that serves as the capital's landmark attraction. The domes are spectacular; the dark interior with icons and paintings of the saints serves candle-lighting pilgrims, as is typical of Eastern Orthodox churches.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Interfaith Group Awarded Prize for Peace

Award ceremony, Jerusalem, June 22, 2015

The Interfaith Encounter Association (IEA), an organization dedicated to promoting peace in the Middle East through interfaith dialogue and cross-cultural study, was this week awarded the IIE Victor J. Goldberg Prize for Peace.

The award, which includes a $10,000 prize, was presented in Jerusalem by Victor J. Goldberg, a retired IBM executive who is a longtime Trustee of the New York-based Institute of International Education (IIE) and who established and endowed the prize in 2005.

Representing the IEA were Yehuda Stolov and Salah Aladdin.  Dr. Stolov, IEA’s executive director, founded the Interfaith Encounter Association in 2001 in the belief that no political arrangement can be sustained over time without peaceful relations on the grassroots level.

Salah Aladdin serves in a consulting capacity as the assistant director of the Interfaith Encounter Association, where he began working as an accountant. He was the founder and facilitator of IEA’s second group, the Jerusalem Youth Interfaith Encounter. Aladdin currently works at the Ministry of Finance in Jerusalem and is a leader of Al-Razi, a non-profit society which assists outstanding students to continue their academic education.

In its mission statement, IEA states: “We believe that, rather than being a cause of the problem, religion can and should be a source of the solution for conflicts that exist in the region and beyond.”

Read the rest of this story on The Times of Israel.

 this to help promote coexistence and dialogue.

Related story:

I Celebrate Ramadan! on My Own. In My Backyard.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

I Celebrate Ramadan! on My Own. In My Backyard.

Let me start out by stating that I am not a Muslim. I was born and circumcised after eight days on the planet; I read the Haftarah at my Bar Mitzvah; I was married under a chuppah in Israel - my home and homeland; and I completed the circle by seeing my own son become a Jewish man.

That said, I have always shown an openness to other religions. I have eagerly explored the Catholic cathedrals of Spain; I have visited the Vatican; and here in Israel, I am fascinated, but do not understand the Bahais. Last December, my wife and I spent a weekend in the Druze town Daliat al-Carmel, where the best part of the visit was eating the local hummus, the tasty tehina.

So you see - a lot of my appreciation of other religions is my thirst and hunger to taste their special foods, and to learn about their history, culture, and even their traditions! Do Muslim men circumcise their sons while saying some sort of blessing? Is the hunt for Easter eggs a religious, traditional or cultural happening for kids? Who exactly are the Bahais?

My wife and I recently attended a get-together of Jerusalem Jews and Palestinian Muslims from the neighboring villages. Thank you David Brinn for inviting me to what is a regular interfaith gathering that meets a bit irregularly. Both my wife and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Read the rest of this article on The Huffington Post.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

I Am Interviewed in Bulgarian

Okay, my Bulgarian is not that good. But on my recent trip to Sofia, I was interviewed in English and the interview was just translated into Bulgarian.

Also, a while back I was interviewed by email for another site, and that published online just this week.

In front of the Ivan Vazov National Theater in Sofia, May 2015. Photo credit: Jodie Shuman

So, my thanks are to Aleksandrina Georgieva – International Desk reporter at Sega Newspaper - for informing Angel Petrov - Editor in Chief of Novinite that I was coming to Bulgaria.

Angel - it was wonderful meeting you and the words that appeared online were exactly the words I spoke when we had coffee. Well, after all you did have a recording device. I hope your trip to Egypt went well!

My thanks to Vessy Dimitrova, who last August posted an article of mine, in Bulgarian on the (women's website), Vessy interviewed me by email and then conveniently went on maternity leave. She also got married and her name is now Vessy Bozhidarova. Vessy, my thanks to you and a double MAZAL TOV!.

And finally, I met Zlatina Georgieva, Editor in Chief at It was Zlatina who posted my interview with Vessy on

I am honored to have met so many friendly, personal, and helpful members of the Bulgarian media - all in just the past few weeks!

Here are the interviews (in Bulgarian):

Urban Tales
Елис Шуман: Когато съм в България, аз съм си вкъщи

Елис Шуман: Фокусирайте се върху хубавото

English version:
Ellis Shuman: I'm in Bulgaria, I'm Home!

Even if you don't know Bulgarian you can probably recognize my name in Cyrillic:
Елис Шуман

 this to your Bulgarian friends!!!

Saturday, June 20, 2015

The Writer. At Night. Outside. Writing.

Night Writing
See also:

The Writer as a Young Man

If you like what you see, please share!

Monday, June 15, 2015

Exploring Sofia, Bulgaria for Less than $25

Bulgaria is off the beaten path for most western travelers and that is a shame, as the country is beautiful and quite inexpensive. Black Sea beaches attract sunbathers in the summer months, and there is top notch skiing available at the mountain resorts of Bansko, Borovets and Pamporovo.

Many travelers never make it to Sofia, the capital and largest city of the country. Sofia is located at the foot of Mt. Vitosha, which gives residents the possibility to ski just minutes away from home. For visitors, sightseeing opportunities abound in the city center and most of the touring can be done by foot.

Sofia is developing quickly, with modern offices and apartment buildings, and large shopping malls offering everything under the sun. Even so, horse-drawn wagons still make their way along cobblestone streets, Russian-made Lada cars are seen frequently, and there are numerous open air markets, giving a strong sense of Old World traditions. The city boasts huge expanses of green parks, the spaceship-like NDK cultural center, many museums and galleries, and striking architecture.

I had the amazing opportunity to live in Sofia for two years and highly recommend the city to visitors. A short visit to Sofia is extremely worthwhile, and affordable.

Read the rest of this article on

Friday, June 12, 2015

Top 10 Remarkable Facts About Bulgaria

See also:

10 Places You Must Visit in Bulgaria

10 Amazing Things You Didn't Know About Bulgaria


Valley of Thracians - suspense set in modern day Bulgaria

Did you like the video? Share with your friends!

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Welcome Message

Thank you for visiting my blog! I would like to introduce myself:

I write a lot. I write book reviews, travel articles about Bulgaria, and I give tips to help aspiring writers. I write about churches in Israel, poker and sex, food, Goodreads, how to stay positive in life, Maori battle dances, and my literary career - including the fact that I just signed with a literary agent to sell my recently completed new novel.

I have always wanted to become a published author. I self-published Valley of Thracians in January 2013. After that, my goal was to establish a platform in order to increase my reputation as a writer. As part of this process, I began using Twitter. Twitter is my main platform. This decision was partially based on the fact that you are limited to 140 characters a tweet. My first novel was 103,000 words long. You do the math.

Speaking of Twitter, if you don't know how to use it, here are some tips.

I share everything. How to sell 910 copies of your book in one week. How to find time to write if you have a busy schedule. How to make the most of Goodreads (if you're an author)

I want to entertain. I write for all audiences: men and women, poker players, the young and the old, Bulgarian authors, lovers of Israel and lovers of good food.

I write for everyone! NO THAT IS NOT CORRECT. I write for myself. Valley of Thracians currently has over 170 reviews on Amazon. Thank you readers! I know the book is good!! But, I didn't write it for you. The story is set in modern day Bulgaria not only because I love Bulgaria, but because no novel written in the West has ever had beautiful Bulgaria as its setting. Possibly the book is unique in the world of literature. But most importantly, I wrote this specific book because it's exactly the kind of book I love to read.

I write my books so that I will be satisfied. I share my writing so that you will be satisfied with me.

All I want to do is share my writing. All I ask of you is to share in return.

I don't know anyone who has built a literary career in this fashion and that is precisely why I chose to do it this way - to be different from everyone else.

My slogan is:


Don't forget to LIKE my Author's Page - this is really appreciated!

A Challenge for Your Mind as Well as Your Body

Instead of exercising for my usual 60 minutes, I exercised today for only 10 minutes. I feel better physically and am less tired than if I had done the full hour.

To clarify: In one hour at my regular pace, I usually do 6 km. In 10 minutes today, I did 1.51 km.

If I had kept up this pace for 1 hour, I would have covered a distance of over 6 km.

In mathematical terms: 10 minutes X 1.51 on X > 60 minutes X 1.5 on Y

How did I do it?

Continue to read for the answer.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

The Bulgarian Sheep in My Backyard Moved!

How I Got Traffic from Goodreads to My Blog (This Blog)

I am not inventing the wheel here, but apparently I am. If you don't know what Goodreads is, this article is probably not for you.

After the opening there are no additional words. No words are needed. If you are an author, and you have a presence on Goodreads, and you have a blog, and you want to get people from Goodreads to your blog (or to eventually buy your book), this is the article for you.

I now go into Goodreads once a day. I friend anyone and everyone. I leave. That's it.

Look at the pictures. They tell how I did it.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Why You Need to Stay Positive in Life

This is being written in real time.

I could just tell the story. But instead, I will tell the story by writing it down.

This is because, staying positive is what is guiding me in life. Staying positive is resulting in real positive things.

Staying positive brought me a literary agent.

Staying positive helped my daughter get a new job, my son-in-law get a new job. They just don't know that my being positive helped create the atmosphere that led them to getting good results.

Being positive also makes me a bit talkative. Sorry, Jodie, my loving wife, but this is what you taught me to do, over and over for some 37 years of marriage. I just wasn't listening. Now I am listening. And I am acting on your advice. And I am talking about it. And yes, I will shut up when you say to me to shut up.

So, I will shut up now. And show everybody the power of being positive. I cannot take credit for the following in any way. I just am positive. And I see results in life. In my family's life.

Thanks for reading this. Now I can go to sleep at last. But first, I share.

Monday, June 1, 2015

When an Israeli Author Leaps into the Unknown

Last week I signed a contract with an American-based literary agent. My new book, a suspense novel set in both Israel and Bulgaria, is on submission.

I describe myself as an American-born, Israeli author who writes about Bulgaria. My first novel, the self-published Valley of Thracians, was set entirely in Bulgaria. In The Burgas Affair, the action takes place in two countries I love - Israel and Bulgaria.

You probably have guessed why I write about, and love Israel. I was born in Sioux City, Iowa, and made aliyah with my family at the age of fifteen. I finished high school in Jerusalem, served for three years in the Israel Defense Forces, was a founding member of Kibbutz Yahel in the Arava Valley. I married Jodie, who had moved to Israel from Ithaca, New York, and together we began raising a family. We eventually moved to Moshav Neve Ilan, outside Jerusalem, where we continue to live today.

But why Bulgaria?

The Writer as a Young Man - Looking for My Laptop Circa 1980

Enough social media! Time to get back to writing!!

See also:

The Writer. At Night. Outside. Writing.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Announcement: I Sign with Golden Wheat Literary

I am proud to announce that Jessica Schmeidler of Golden Wheat Literary (Twitter: @GoldenWheatLit) will represent me and my books as I strive to achieve the next level in my literary career. Jessica, previously the Acquisitions Editor at Anaiah Press and currently a freelance editor and ghostwriter, originally launched the agency to help connect Christian writers with the vast market of both Christian and secular publishers; however, she has expanded into representing legal thrillers and suspense novels of both adult and young adult readerships.

I am encouraged by Jessica's insider knowledge of the publishing industry, her enthusiasm for new authors, and her true desire to be part of an author's career development from the very first book and beyond. The fact that Golden Wheat Literary is a small, boutique agency is, for me, a big plus, as it ensures that Jessica will be a true partner to my writing and marketing efforts.

Jessica and I will look for an appropriate home for my new novel, THE BURGAS AFFAIR, in which a Bulgarian policeman is teamed up with an Israeli woman from the Mossad as they work a case involving international terrorists and local criminals in both Bulgaria and Israel, while confronting the traumas of their pasts. The novel is currently on submission.

We are very excited about this book, and we hope to share it with the world of readers very soon. Wish us luck!

10 Reasons Why I "Dig" Dig

If you haven’t seen "Dig", the American mystery/action-thriller television series that premiered on USA Network in March, I highly recommend it. I have watched 9 out of the 10 episodes, and the only reason that I haven't watched the last one is that I'm so tired that I must to go to sleep now.

This show has special meaning for me, because most of the action takes place in Jerusalem, the city that is right next door to where I live. The series is very, very Israeli. It was written by Gideon Raff, the Israeli film and television director, screenwriter and writer best known for the award-winning 2010 Israeli television drama series "Prisoners of War" (which he created, wrote and directed) and its acclaimed adaptation, "Homeland" (for which he won two Primetime Emmy Awards).

I have to admit - it took me a few episodes to really get into this show, and there are some parts that slow it down, but the good elements make it very, very watchable. Need I say more? Yes, I will. I present you with 10 reasons why I absolutely adore this show.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Sofia's Stunning Gold-Domed Cathedral, at Sunrise

I did not come to Sofia to sightsee. Having lived and worked in the capital of Bulgaria for two years, my vacation was planned as an opportunity to see friends, old and new; to relive my Bulgarian experience; to travel to places not previously visited; and as an opportunity to get inspiration for my future writing, both fiction and non-fiction.

Whenever family or friends visited us in Bulgaria, we always took them to the center of the city to see Alexander Nevsky Cathedral - the stunning gold-domed cathedral that serves as the capital's landmark attraction. The domes are spectacular; the dark interior with icons and paintings of the saints serves candle-lighting pilgrims, as is typical of Eastern Orthodox churches.

Read the rest of this on The Huffington Post.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Are Writers Certifiably Crazy?

The symptoms are getting worse. I wake up at night, my mind racing at a frantic pace, the ideas flooding me with a tidal wave of creativity. Afraid that I will forget something, I race downstairs to jot some notes so that I will remember everything in the morning. When I come to the breakfast table, I find my laptop surrounded by a sea of sticky Post-Its.

My sleepless nights might be considered a bad thing, but for me - a writer and author - they are very, very good. I write a lot in the dark hours, if you accept that coming up with ideas is a vital part of the writing process. Between these bursts of creativity, I manage to get in some actual sleep as well. As tired as I may be the next day, physically, mentally I am alert and hyper-awake.

Here is what is happening to me: Besides getting inspiration while writing in my sleep, I also find myself daydreaming, but that's normal. As other authors will be certain to confirm, daydreaming is part of a writer's job description.

Read the rest of this article on The Huffington Post.