Wednesday, July 26, 2023

Review of 'The Shortest Road' by David L. Robbins

The battles of Israel's War of Independence are raging in the opening pages of The Shortest Road by David L. Robbins (Wicked Son, May 2023). The novel is the sequel to Isaac’s Beacon and continues the story of the complex, flawed protagonists of that previous book.

Readers captivated by the struggles of American journalist Vince; Austrian refugee Rivkah and her machine gun-toting sister, Gabbi; and Malik, the mysterious, camel-riding Bedouin who befriends them; will have no problem jumping into the narrative, but others will be confused by who they are and what they're fighting for.

The author holds back no punches in his descriptions of Israel's bloodiest war and the politics of the young country's leaders. Menachem Begin is portrayed as a brave Irgun fighter and idealist standing aboard the weapons-bearing Altalena cargo ship before it is sunk by IDF shelling. Eye-patched Moshe Dayan is shown leading reckless commando raids into Palestinian towns while Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion sits tight in his Tel Aviv office orchestrating the war efforts.

Especially hard for Israeli readers will be the extensive depictions of the eviction of Palestinians as Israel extends its territories eastward from Tel Aviv. Highlighted are the rounding up of the residents of Lydda, their forced march to Ramallah, the looting of their homes, and the murder of some of the innocent refugees. It is clear that the author has based his fiction on extensive historical research so readers would be hard-pressed to doubt its authenticity.

It is difficult to read The Shortest Road as a standalone novel, or to feel an emotional connection to its protagonists. The narrative falls short of providing their backgrounds and sentiments, so strongly delivered in the first book. Still, the author's language is rich and the descriptions are vivid and evocative, making it hard to stop reading.

New York Times best-selling author David L. Robbins is the author of 16 novels and four professionally produced plays. Many of his books are historical, depicting the battles and conflicts of World War Two. In 2018, Robbins was named one of two most influential literary artists in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Originally posted on The Times of Israel.


Related article:

Review of ‘Isaac’s Beacon’ by David L. Robbins

Tuesday, July 18, 2023

What Readers Are Saying About "Forgiveness"

Readers of two of my recent stories, especially my story "Forgiveness," have posted their feedback on social media and in messages to me, and I'd like to share their words. I hope you have a chance to read the story!


Published in June 2023, The Writing Disorder                          

"It is a poignant, so moving short piece of fiction and realism mixed in one entity. I know the tales about our Jews and the courageous acts of the representatives of the Christian Orthodox Church and the society in its entirety. There have been movies dedicated to this part of the Bulgarian history and at school we learnt about exactly what is described in the letters."

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"Very interesting and thought provoking."

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"The story brought tears to my eyes."

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"It's quite moving and makes me think of where my wife's family (from Dupnitsa and Kyustendil) or those of Jewish Bulgarian friends (one Jewish family from Dupnitsa particularly comes to mind) may have been in these moments."

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"This is great, Ellis, very well written. Thanks for sharing, I learned a bunch too!"

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"Great story! I really enjoyed how effortlessly it takes you back in time."

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"Powerful story!!  I knew nothing of Bulgaria and its past history. A lot of research went into this one for sure!!!  Well done."

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"Thank you for sharing the complicated history of Bulgaria during the Holocaust."

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"Good story. Is it fictional? I couldn’t tell. It’s not precise that all 48,000 Jews survived. Boris didn’t care about the Bulgarian Jews, who were abroad from September 1, 1939 on. They were all given to the Nazis and the BG government only asked for their names, so they could take over the property left."

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"It's a deeply touching, if also harrowing, story! Especially since it's, after all, based on true events. Good work! The story has both a documentary feel and a very personal one, and you've managed to portray a very multi-faceted tragedy, as part of an even more multi-faceted history."

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I hope you have a chance to read "Forgiveness", a fictional account of real historic events.

Thursday, July 6, 2023

Review of 'Inside Information' by Eshkol Nevo

In "Death Road", the opening story of Inside Information by Eshkol Nevo, translated by Sondra Silverston (Other Press, June 2023), 39-year-old Omri is on a post-divorce trek in Bolivia when he meets honeymooners Ronen and Mor. That night, Mor knocks on his door and Omri senses that something is wrong in her marriage. Shortly afterwards, Ronen is killed in a freak bicycle accident. After returning to Israel, Omri makes a shiva call, even though he barely knew the deceased.

At the shiva, Mor shows no signs of wanting to talk to Omri, but then she slips him a note, asking him to meet her in a nearby park. Having escaped Ronen's suspicious brothers, Mor tells Omri what caused her husband to fall into the abyss on Death Road. As she relates the story, Omri feels he is beginning to slip into the abyss with her. Is that what really happened and will he also pay the price for Ronen's death?

In "Family History", senior attending physician Dr. Asher Caro, supervising the residents in the hospital's Internal Medicine department, notices the distinctiveness of Liat Ben Abu. Caro, 'soft-boned and ham-fisted, still bowed by [his wife's]'s death,' develops a desire for Liat, not sexual in nature but rather a strong urge to care for her as he did for his wife when she was ill. When Liat falls for the charm of a fellow doctor, responsible for a string of brokenhearted women, Caro can't help but reach out, anonymously, in an attempt to protect Liat from the same fate.

With tears in her eyes from the inevitable break-up, Liat shows up at Caro's apartment, saying 'What would I do without you?' He offers her tea but she asks for alcohol. Dizzy, she  lies down for a few minutes. When he leans forward to cover her, just like he tucked in his children when they were small, his hand inadvertently falls into the opening of her shirt. And then his troubles begin.

In the concluding story, "A Man Walks into an Orchard", we meet Chelli, who takes an exercise walk every Saturday morning with her husband Ofer in the orchards near their home. On one such walk, Ofer informs his wife that he is dying to pee. He hands Chelli his phone and disappears among the trees. A minute goes by. Another minute. Another minute.

As the police investigate, family secrets are revealed. Chelli's affair, which was known only to her son. The blog of 100-word, somewhat disturbing stories that Ofer faithfully updated. There is no trace as to Ofer's whereabouts, but even when all leads dry up, Chelli refuses to give up hope. She misses 'something that's hard to put into words, maybe...connection?' She also misses certainty. She wants to know 'something for certain.' What happened to her husband?

The three separate stories of Inside Information are independent of each other, novella-like in their length, with only a word or two connecting their narratives. Still, there is much to tie them together. In all three we meet unreliable, flawed narrators revealing their tales of love, intimacy, longing, and desire. Weaving them together is Nevo's masterful ability to capture our attention with compelling narratives, unexpected twists, and unconventional love stories. The book, an absolute pleasure to read, leaves us wondering what will happen next in the lives of the relatable characters with whom we've become intimate on its pages.

Eshkol Nevo is one of Israel’s most critically and commercially acclaimed writers. His novels have all been bestsellers in Israel and published widely in translation. Homesick was awarded the Reimond Vallier Prize in France (2008) and shortlisted for the Sapir Prize in Israel (2005). World Cup Wishes (2007) won the Golden Book Prize in Israel and was awarded the Adei-wizo Prize in Italy. Three Floors Up (Other Press, 2017) was adapted for film by the acclaimed Italian director Nanni Moretti; and The Last Interview (Other Press, 2020) was a finalist for the National Jewish Book Award. Nevo is the grandson of Israeli Prime Minister Levi Eshkol, for whom he was named.

Sondra Silverston has translated the work of Israeli fiction writers including Etgar Keret, Ayelet Gondar-Goshen, and Zeruya Shalev. Her translation of Amos Oz's Between Friends won the National Jewish Book Award for fiction in 2013. A native New Yorker, she has lived in Israel since 1970.

Originally published on The Times of Israel.

Related article:

Review of ‘The Last Interview’ by Eshkol Nevo