The ProsenPeople

What We Talk About When We Talk About Book Dedications

Tuesday, June 04, 2013 | Permalink
David Samuel Levinson's stories have appeared in Prairie Schooner, West Branch, and the Brooklyn Review, among others. He lives in New York City. Antonia Lively Breaks the Silence is his first novel. He will be blogging here all week for Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning.

I knew I was going to dedicate my first novel, Antonia Lively Breaks The Silence, to my maternal grandparents long before I ever set out to write it. Or let me rephrase that: until I was tasked with dedicating the novel, I had no idea just how clear it had been that I would dedicate it to them. During the years it took me to write the novel, I never thought about the dedication, nor did I think much about my dearly departed grandparents, though in retrospect they were always with me, whispering their story into my ear.

No, the novel isn’t about them, not literally anyway, but it does touch upon certain themes—displacement, trauma, assimilation, ambition—about which I would never have plumbed had I not known the intimate details of their struggles. Marianne and Stephan—Mimi and Steve to their friends—were both born in Vienna, where they met and married. Both full-blooded Jews, their Jewishness never played a significant role in their upbringing. They were Jewish, just not religious, and rarely attended schul.

Long before their conversion to Catholicism in 1930, long before they fled Austria in 1936, it seemed they had already begun the slow, arduous process of shedding themselves of their Jewish identities to live a Jewish-less life in America. They arrived on Ellis Island in 1938, after having spent time in Istanbul, then Geneva. They bought a house in Manhasset, NY, and there raised my mother and my aunt as good Catholic girls, never once alluding to the war, or to what they left behind in Europe.

Like my grandparents, who loved Vienna and missed it every day, many of the characters in Antonia Lively Breaks The Silence yearn both physically and emotionally for a place to which they cannot return. How then, my novel asks, do we make a home elsewhere? How then do we find happiness in a strange place when we have been stripped, or have stripped ourselves, of our identities, that which made us who we were?

I wrote the novel to answer this question, among many others, for myself. When you read it, I hope you will find an answer or two for yourself.

Learn more about David Samuel Levinson here.

Making the Invisible Visible: The Bildungsroman and the Jewish Woman

Monday, June 03, 2013 | Permalink
Janice Weizman was born in Toronto, and moved to Israel at the age of nineteen. She is a graduate of the Creative Writing program at Bar-Ilan University, where she initiated and serves as managing editor of The Ilanot Review, an online literary journal. Janice’s fiction has appeared in various literary journals including Lilith, Jewish Fiction, and Scribblers on the Roof. Her first novel, The Wayward Moonwas recently awarded the Gold Medal in the Independent Publisher Book Awards and first place in the Midwest Book Awards, both in the category of Historical Fiction. Visit her website: http://janiceweizman.com/. She will be blogging here all week for Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning.

A young man leaves his home and sets out on a journey. He is impressionable, sensitive, and inexperienced in the ways of the world. Because he is young, everything is new, surprising, a revelation. He is awkward, but also hopeful. He knows little, but he is eager to learn. He is betrayed by those he trusts, and happily surprised by people he thought were his enemies. So it goes as he journeys in and out of chance meetings, mishaps, and adventures. And ultimately, after feeling the full weight of his experiences in his soul, he comes to understand a truth about himself, about the world, and his place in it.

The literary term for this sort of novel is the bildungsroman. In English, we might call it a novel of self-discovery and it is a classic genre in both Western and world literature. Our literary canon is full of such tales of self-realization. Tom Jones and David Copperfield are examples of the genre as are Catcher in the Rye, On the Road, and A Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man. Though works involving a heroine are few, Jane Eyre comes to mind as a rare exception. But generally, women, and particularly Jewish women, are absent from the genre.

This is not at all surprising. Traditionally, Jewish women were not the protagonists of stories about self-discovery. Rather, they were usually married off and on their way to motherhood while still teenagers. The trajectory of a Jewish woman’s life was set out for her from the day she was born, and it did not involve venturing into the world to seek one’s fortune.

But what would have happened if a woman was forced by circumstance to undertake such a journey? What if she had to make her way in the world alone? What would be her fears? Her concerns? Her particular vulnerabilities? How would she survive? What would she learn about the world? What would she learn about herself?

In The Wayward Moon, I’ve put my heroine in precisely this situation. Rahel Bat Yair is a 17-year-old Jewish girl living in the Babylonian town of Sura in the 9th century Middle East. The story opens on the eve of her engagement, and Rahel, entirely content in her own world, has no desire to travel anywhere. Unlike the typical male hero of a bildungsroman, she has no use for experience or adventure. When circumstance forces her to take to the road, like Homer’s Odysseus, she wants nothing more than to go home, but unlike him, she has no home to return to.

Typically, at the end of a bildungsroman, the hero has achieved a modicum of self-knowledge, and whether he returns home or begins anew, he is able to utilize his experiences in forging his life as an adult. Would Rahel Bat Yair be able to utilize her experiences? Would there be a way for her to draw on her hard-won knowledge to enable her to contribute to her community? Or would she choose to conceal what she has seen and done?

Considering how little has come down to us about women’s lives in Jewish society of her time, we can easily speculate about the answer.

Check back on Wednesday for Janice Weizman's next post for the Visiting Scribe.

New Jewish Book Council Reviews

Friday, May 31, 2013 | Permalink
This week's new Jewish Book Council reviews:



Find more of the latest reviews here.
 

Introducing Inspector Avraham Avraham

Friday, May 31, 2013 | Permalink
Today on the Visiting Scribe, D. A. Mishani continues with his series "The Mystery of the Hebrew Detective," where he has been investigating why it's so difficult to write a detective in Israel. His first detective novel, The Missing File, was published in the U.S. by HarperCollins. The second novel in the series, A Possibility of Violence, will be published in the U.S. in 2014. He has been blogging here all week for Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning.

I can honestly say I was concerned by this "Mystery of the Hebrew Detective," mainly before and after writing the first installment in my literary detective series, The Missing File.

As I come from a family of Mizrahi origins, and since I admire the literary tradition of the realistic police-procedural, I chose not to back down. My protagonist, Inspector Avraham Avraham, is a peripheral character, from Mizrahi origins, like police officers in Israel usually are, and certainly like they are in Israeli culture.

He works in Holon, my home town, which is an urban, lower-middle-class, suburb of Tel Aviv. He didn't grow up in a kibbutz, he doesn't work for the Mossad, and the cases he's investigating don't have any national importance. He doesn't chase old hiding Nazi criminals and not even Muslim terrorists. In The Missing File, he's just looking for a sixteen-year-old boy, as unimportant as him, who went missing.

Still, I tried to address the problem of writing a detective in Israel in some ways.

For example, my inspector, in this first novel, is not very bright and not always successful. My plan is that he'll get better and better as the series continues, until he's as good as Sherlock Holmes. My hope is that his slow progression will make it easier to accept him as a realistic literary hero.

I also gave him a female boss, from Ashkenazi origins, toward whom he has complex feelings of admiration and fear. With this set-up, I tried to reflect the ethnic and social tensions which affect the possibility of him becoming a true Israeli hero.

Have I succeeded? Will Inspector Avraham become "a mythological character in Hebrew literature" as one of the novel's critics wrote?

I still don't know.

I do know that the response to his character and to the novel in foreign countries and languages to which it was translated, were sometimes even stronger than they were in Israel. It seemed to me that it was sometimes easier for foreign readers to accept him as true Israeli protagonist than it was for readers here.

But I can tell you one thing about Inspector Avraham Avraham—he never gives up.

And neither do I.

We're both determined to put an end to this "Mystery of the Hebrew Detective"—solve it, once and for all.

Learn more about D. A. Mishani here.

When 50 Happens to Good People: Part Two

Thursday, May 30, 2013 | Permalink
Actress, author, and activist Annabelle Gurwitch is the author of two booksYou Say Tomato, I Say Shut Up and Fired!—and the e-book single Autumn Leaves (available from Zola Books), a chapter from her comedic memoir for Blue Rider imprint at Penguin, to be published in Spring 2014. She has been blogging here all week for Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning.

Read Part One of "When 50 Happens to Good People" here
 

Ok, so I hadn’t done time in prison, I’d just spent one day there.

I’d just covered what was believed to be the first Bat Mitzvah in an American women’s prison for The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles. It was the only time I’d been in a temple where the person sitting next to me was tattooed with the words "Suicidal Freak." There’s a saying, “there are no atheists in foxholes,” but it should amended to, “and in penitentiaries.” If I am ever incarcerated you can bet I’ll be signing up for every form of religious education available as they serve snacks and the non-denominational chapel at Chino is air-conditioned. (In fact, there is a relatively new organization, Atheists in Foxholes, that does great work in the field, not sure about the quality of their snacks, though.) I figured if that rabbi could handle prisoners, he could do just fine with my son whose teenage years were starting to feel like a hostage situation.

Our son, Ezra, took to calling the rabbi a nickname, Rabbi Nudgey. He had so little experience with Judaism that he didn’t know that many rabbis hover in the vicinity of nudgey—that's their job, to nudge you away from delicious shellfish and towards God. It would be like I’d started calling my proctologist Dr. Thorough. Ok, I lied, I don’t have a proctologist, but I’m old enough that I should have one. That’s just another thing on my To-Do-Now-That-I’m-Aging List that I keep misplacing and re-write every week all over again. Really, my son should have called him, Rabbi to be Expected.

Here’s one thing I hadn’t expected to have to think through—where we would hold our event. Our home, with its temperamental seventy-year-old plumbing, is not ideal, and the rabbi’s congregation meets in a doublewide trailer on the grounds of the Chino Women’s Correctional Facility, so that wouldn’t seem to be the best choice. Ultimately, we snapped up a generous and unexpected offer of the large, airy meeting room at the Episcopal elementary school our son had attended. It was their first and I believe to this day only Bar Mitzvah.

Being an atheist had never stopped me from enjoying the ritual, community singing, gay friendly, and general “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” sentiment of the school’s Episcopal chapel services, plus, the school had amazing camping trips. A camping trip that includes margaritas? Really, what’s not to like? My son and I had also spent many hours volunteering in the soup kitchen feeding the local homeless population there, so to have the ceremony in the same space seemed ideal.

The administration apparently didn’t hold it against us that Ezra held the distinction of being the only kid to ever refuse participation in the annual kindergarten Christmas pageant. It wasn’t because he objected to the message. My son didn’t want to wear his costume. He was assigned to be an angel and he wanted to be a shepherd. If you saw my round-faced, golden-locked cherubim at that age, you would have cast him as an angel. People used to stop us on the street and say, “Your kid would have gotten a lot of work in Michelangelo’s time.” He looked like he’d floated down from the roof of the Sistine chapel. Normally, I wouldn’t have indulged this kind of behavior, but before I had a chance to intervene, his teacher had negotiated a deal with him. As long as he agreed not to recruit other students to boycott along with him and faithfully (as it were) attend rehearsals, he could recuse himself from the performance. That he kept his end of the bargain exhibited a certain maturity that I had to admire. Even during the play, when I leaned over and whispered, “Don’t you miss singing with your friends?” he remained firm and stated, “I’m singing along in my head.” I had to give it to him.

The Bar Mitzvah went off with just a few minor glitches. The only accommodation the rabbi had requested was that any crucifixes be removed or covered during the ceremony, something the church officials were kind enough to agree to. It wasn’t until the service was underway that my husband and I noticed our goof. We’d inadvertently placed him and our son in front of glass windows perfectly framing them between the two life size statues of Jesus in the courtyard garden. Thankfully, no one pointed it out to him and I thought it made a gorgeous ecumenical triptych.

After the ceremony, as I prepared to say a few words, my son leaned over to me and issued a stern warning, “One wrong word and you could ruin my life forever.” I’ve been around long enough to know how to share the spotlight, so I said very little, instead giving the stage to my much-funnier-than-me husband. Plus, we had a surprise up our sleeves. Jeff’s dad was too ill to travel, so we’d arranged for Jeff’s post-college roommate, the brilliant actor Harry Lennix, star of the upcoming NBC series The Blacklist, to stand in and deliver Bob’s prepared remarks. The Internet has been filled with stories speculating that Harry might be the next James Bond, and I hope it happens; I can’t think of a better candidate than Harry. He’s tall, handsome, charismatic and, selfishly, I could always hold it over my kid’s head that we got James Bond to speak at his Bar Mitzvah.

I jumped up and down with happiness that day—so much so that I broke the heel of my Dolce and Gabbana shoe—but it was worth it, because I know that if my kid waits until he’s the age that I was to get married (36), I’ll be 71. I’ve got make the most of every celebratory event while I’m still ambulatory. In fact, many people have deemed my generation as helicopter parents; it’s often said that we’ve fetishized raising kids, but maybe we’re just trying to make the most of every moment because we suspect we might not be around to see our grandchildren. Our children are our grandchildren as well. I am hoping that the vitamin D supplements I’m mainlining are doing something positive for my long-term health, and, in the meantime, I’m going for the joy.

Read more about Annabelle Gurwitch here.

Can a Policeman be an Israeli Hero?

Thursday, May 30, 2013 | Permalink
Today on the Visiting Scribe, D. A. Mishani continues with his series "The Mystery of the Hebrew Detective," where he has been investigating why it's so difficult to write a detective in Israel. His first detective novel, The Missing File, was published by Harper. He will be blogging here all week for Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning.

I'll try to summarize the new problem of writing a detective in Hebrew in a simple way. The biography of the typical hero of Israeli canonical literature, from its beginnings, is more or less this: he's a man; he was born in Europe, or in later periods to a family of European origins; he has survived the Holocaust, or was born to a family of survivors. He grew up in a kibbutz, joined the army and served in one of the elitist units, was maybe even injured in 1967 or 1973, and sometime later on joined the Mossad.

Unfortunately, the protagonist of the realistic crime novel set in Israel cannot have this biography. The Israeli police force, from its early days until today, is composed mainly of Mizrahim (Israelis coming to Israel from Arab or Muslim countries) and those who grew up in the social and cultural peripheries of Israel.

Thus, the cultural image of the police force and the police investigator in Israel is always slightly dejected. For example, the most memorable image of the cop in Israeli culture is by no doubt that of "Policeman Azoulay," the protagonist of the popular comic film made by Efraim Kishon in 1971. Azoulay is from Moroccan origins, and he is a pathetic – although heart-breaking – character. He can certainly be the protagonist of a popular comedy, but can he be the serious hero of a detective novel, meaning a character that's supposed to be brighter, sharp, and more intelligent than others?

This is, in brief, the dilemma that an aspiring crime writer faces when trying to write an Israeli realistic police-procedural that also aims to be canonical literature: Should he break the rules of Realism and create a police investigator that might have the same biography of the typical Israeli protagonist and thus can be accepted as a potential hero of Israeli culture? Or should he stick to an ambition to be realistic and create a Mizrahi police officer working in the peripheries of Israeli society, and face the probability of being condemned to literary marginality?

Or in other words: Can Israeli culture accept a Mizrahi police officer as the protagonist of a serious realistic canonical detective series, meaning as one of its heroes, just as Holmes is a hero of British culture, as Inspector Maigret is a hero of French Literature and culture, and as Phillip Marlowe is an American hero?

Read the final installment of D. A. Mishani's "The Mystery of the Hebrew Detective" here.

A Tale of Two Cities: From London to New York

Wednesday, May 29, 2013 | Permalink
We prompted this year's Sami Rohr Prize awardees to write about "how they came to write their book." Over the past several weeks, we shared their responses:

Today, Francesca Segal, the winner of this year's Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature, discusses how she came to write her award-winning novel The Innocents (Voice).

With the twentieth century vivid in our collective memory, it is perhaps unsurprising that we in the European Jewish communities can be more cautious about drawing attention to ourselves. And so for a Jewish writer, to come from that climate to this one is an elixir. To breathe the air in New York is instantly to become braver, and once it is deep in your lungs, it inoculates for life against that old, old fear. To write honestly— to write social satire, even—does not arm our enemies against us, it merely says the obvious: that in our struggles and strengths we are human, just like everybody else. The UK’s Jewish cultural scene is burgeoning, too—our first ever JCC will open soon, and Jewish Book Week has become a hugely impressive landmark in literary London. But there’s still a lot of catching up to do. I am a British-American hybrid and until recently I believed that I was equally familiar with Jewish life on both sides of the Atlantic, but after the publication of my first novel, The Innocents, I began to understand that I had completely underestimated one extraordinary facet of Jewish-American life—that here there is a broad, deep support for and an appreciation of contemporary Jewish fiction. It is both humbling and inspiring, and the very existence of the Jewish Book Council is a testament to its impressive scale. Everywhere you look, there’s dialogue. There’s disagreement. There’s vibrancy. Like Judaism itself, Jewish literary life is a very broad tent. Texts; stories; debating our conflicting narratives; these are the ways in which the Jews have always asked our questions, how we’ve always argued, how we’ve solved our problems, but it is nonetheless an art that needs nurturing—and with the support of unique prizes like the Sami Rohr Prize it is nurtured in America, and it is nurtured openly. I do not take that for granted. 

But in my late twenties, New York offered me something else that I found equally seductive. It offered anonymity, a draw with which my native London simply couldn’t compete. I left behind a warm, loving, supportive, and often somewhat claustrophobic community. Jewish life in England offers a great deal, but I needed to breathe. I needed perspective. I needed to live in a city, for a while, in which I didn’t bump into someone who knew me, or a member of my family, every time I left the house to buy a pint of milk. And I needed space from north-west London in order to be able to write freely about north-west London. 

And so it is perhaps no surprise that The Innocents was written during a period in which I was living in America, though it is, to its core, a very English novel. Set in the Jewish suburbs of contemporary north-west London, it explores the pressures and the expectations of life within that community. Adam Newman is newly engaged to Rachel Gilbert, who has been his girlfriend for more than a decade. Their lives and their families are entirely intertwined. Adam works for Rachel’s father, and has been going to the soccer with him since he was a teenager. And everything is easy and safe and settled and stable until Rachel’s cousin, Ellie, moves back to London from New York. If Rachel represents the values and climate of north-west London, Ellie embodies its antithesis—she is independent, promiscuous, vulnerable, palpably lonely, and Adam finds her deeply unsettling. She challenges him—but he also begins to understand the allure of everything she represents. She offers him a way out of the strictures, the judgment, and the increasing suffocation of everything he’d never thought to question. 

It will not take the reader long to anticipate an impossible love triangle; beyond that, perhaps also to recognize that I have used the structure of Edith Wharton’s glorious, vicious, nostalgic novel The Age of Innocence as the foundation on which to build my own. It offered the perfect matrix on which to build a loving, honest, nuanced, and most importantly clear-eyed portrait of a world—a very specific world that I know inside-out, but which I was also certain would represent many others. With all its strengths, with all its foibles and weaknesses and rich, unexpected comedy, I believe the community in this novel could be almost any community, anywhere in the twenty-first century Diaspora. Anywhere there are Jewish parents trying to inculcate their children with Jewish values there will be Jewish sons struggling to live up to them; anywhere there is a Jewish life enfolded within a wider, secular city, there will be young people struggling to navigate a path between the security within, and the freedom without. Anywhere families build life-long friendships, there will be young adults who chafe against the restraints that that imposes, unable to define or redefine themselves before the knowing eyes of people who first met them in diapers. I wanted to write a novel that would resonate beyond the confines of the world that it depicts, and The Innocents was the result.

Francesca Segal was born in London in 1980. Brought up between the UK and America, she studied at St Hugh’s College, Oxford, before becoming a journalist and writer. Her work has appeared in Granta, Newsweek, theGuardian, the Financial Times, and Vogue UK and US, amongst many others. She has been a features writer atTatler, and for three years wrote the Debut Fiction column in the Observer.

Detective Fiction and the Zionist Cultural Revolution

Wednesday, May 29, 2013 | Permalink
Today on the Visiting Scribe, D. A. Mishani continues with his series "The Mystery of the Hebrew Detective," where he has been investigating why it's so difficult to write a detective in Israel. Read installment one here and installment two here. His first detective novel, The Missing File, was published by Harper. He will be blogging here all week for Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning.

Editor's Note: Below, D. A. Mishani continues where he left off yesterday: wondering about the evolution of popular literary genres in Israel and why powerful people didn't want "the detective" written at all. 

Here is, for example, an important piece of evidence I found during my investigation: a fierce article written on detective fiction in a Hebrew newspaper in Palestine in the 1930's, when the first translations of detective fiction to Hebrew were made (mainly to Sherlock Holmes stories) and the first original detective stories in Hebrew were written:

"Who is it that poisons the soul of our children with this so-called literature – arouses in them the most savage and hideous feelings? All over the Diaspora, songs are being sung for the children of the Land of Israel (Palestine) and their complete, healthy souls – and who is this that dares to damage them, to damage the pure and the innocent within them? And why isn't there any public punishment for them? Aren't we going to finally put an end to this filthy commerce, commerce in the souls of our children?"

The critic's emphasis on the word "commerce" here is not innocent. I think it refers to the stereotypes of "Old" and "New" Jew – the first, the supposedly uprooted diasporic Jew, being concerned with money making, whilst the second, the new Palestinian Jew, the Hebrew, is concerned with curing the nation, physically as well as spiritually. By that time, in the early 1920's, popular literature in general and detective fiction in particular were already wide-spread in Yiddish. In this sense, the translations of detective stories into Hebrew in Palestine were perceived as a threat to the purity of the Zionist Cultural Revolution.

It's interesting to see that the defenders of detective fiction in this debate, whilst rejecting the arguments against the genre, used the same national terminology in order to promote it. Their argumentation relied on the contribution of detective fiction to the national project. Their main argument for introducing detective fiction into Hebrew literature referred to the genre's possible contribution to the revival of modern Hebrew language. They noticed the popularity of detective fiction among Jewish readers in Yiddish and argued that in order to persuade Jewish youth to learn Hebrew, it was crucial to develop Hebrew detective fiction that would attract readers.

These arguments have marked the condition of detective fiction written or translated into Hebrew from that moment on, and maybe until this very day. This is the reason for the relatively few translations of foreign crime fiction, at least until recent years, and why I found myself, at the age of 11 or 12, in front of empty library shelves.

This is also the answer to the question I asked myself: How did I come to read The Hound of the Baskervilles at the age of 8 or 9? Detective fiction, even when it was translated, was classified as children's fiction. Thus, until recently, Arthur Conan Doyle's novels and short stories were published in Hebrew editions aimed at children – and most of the original detective fiction in Hebrew from the 1930's until the late 1980's was written for children or was considered children's literature.

In fact, it was only in the late 1980's that detective fiction really appeared in Hebrew adult fiction, namely in the form of two serial detective-novels written by two female authors, Batya Gur and Shulamit Lapid. Gur's A Saturday Morning Murder, introducing police inspector Michael Ohayon, was first published in 1988, and Lapid's Local Paper, introducing amateur sleuth Lizi Badihi, was first published in 1989. Both gained commercial success and some critical appreciation and both revealed the second problem of writing a detective novel in Israel – that is, the problem of the Mizrahi (or Sepharadi) protagonist.

Read the fourth installment of D. A. Mishani's "The Mystery of the Hebrew Detective" here.

The Mystery of the Hebrew Detective: The Investigation Begins

Tuesday, May 28, 2013 | Permalink

Yesterday, D. A. Mishani wondered why it's so difficult to write a detective in Hebrew. His first detective novel, The Missing File, was published by Harper. He will be blogging here all week for Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning.

So why is it so difficult to write a detective novel in Israel? Aren't we supposed to be a literary culture that appreciates a sharp character who knows how to solve a riddle? And didn't we produce one of the first recorded murder cases (that of Cain and Abel) and one of the first thrillers about an attempted murder prevented at the last moment (that of the Akeda)? As all detectives do, in order to solve the mystery I had to turn to history for some answers. And, in this case, it was the history of modern Hebrew literature.

I knew that modern Hebrew literature (i.e., literature in the modern and European sense, written not within liturgical or other religious contexts) began in the 18th century, in central and eastern Europe, mainly in what is today Germany, Poland, Ukraine and Russia. During the 19th century many of the newly-born modern European literary forms immigrated into Hebrew literary writing. And, although from its beginnings it understood and described itself as a national literature—like the German or the French—modern Hebrew literature has developed under unique circumstances, unfamiliar to most other national literatures.

First and foremost, it developed out of an unspoken language, meaning a language that was not used for daily purposes and communication. Jews in Central and Eastern Europe in the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century mainly used local languages and the different local versions of Yiddish, the language of European Jewish Diaspora. Hebrew was the sacred language of the Bible and some of the Talmudic texts, a language of Midrash (study) and of prayer, and therefore a language known to a limited social stratum.

Secondly, and partly because of this unique linguistic condition, modern Hebrew literature has developed in special economical circumstances. Hebrew readership, meaning the number of readers who could read Hebrew and were also interested in modern or "enlightened" Hebrew literature, consisted of just a few thousands of readers. 

Thirdly, the development of modern Hebrew literature can not be understood separately from the Jewish national project, meaning from the birth and evolution of Zionist thought and action.

Those unique conditions, within which modern Hebrew literature has evolved, had considerable effects on the evolution of popular literary genres in Hebrew, notably on the detective story. Hebrew literature—defining itself as cultural and ideological avant-garde, against the popular and not always Zionist literary writing in Yiddish language—has rejected any form of writing that wasn't national as unimportant and sometimes even destructive.

And the fate of the detective wasn't different. Very powerful people didn't want it written at all.

Read the third installment of D. A. Mishani's "The Mystery of the Hebrew Detective" here.

When 50 Happens to Good People: Part One

Tuesday, May 28, 2013 | Permalink
Actress, author, and activist Annabelle Gurwitch is the author of two booksYou Say Tomato, I Say Shut Up and Fired!—and the e-book single Autumn Leaves (available from Zola Books), a chapter from her comedic memoir for Blue Rider imprint at Penguin, to be published in Spring 2014. She will be blogging here all week for Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning.

I turned 50. It wasn’t supposed to happen to me. I do yoga. I moisturize. I still fit into the same jeans I’ve had for the last 15 years, though they do sit differently, but you can’t escape it, no matter how Vitamin D you’re taking (even though some studies say it doesn’t do anything of significance). As an actress, I always played roles sometimes even a decade younger than myself. This was before IMDB made it impossible to lie about your age. I’d told so many people so many different ages over the years I’d even convinced myself that my driver’s license might not even be accurate. There is precedence for this in my family. My father’s mother, Rebecca, shaved a few years off when she arrived in Alabama as a teenager around 1919 from Russia—I can only assume to make her self more attractive marriage material—but then she tried to have it corrected to collect her Social Security earlier many years later. We’re Southern, so a bit of Blanche Dubois tends to seep in from time to time.

In my 20s, I was an erstwhile punk. I was ahead of my time. No need for a New York Times Magazine cover to convince me of how germs are good for you. On a sunny September morning in 1981, I picked up a tattered black leather motorcycle jacket for 25 dollars from a guy under the Cube on Astor Place, put in on and didn’t take it off again for the next 3-7 years; it was the 80’s, so who can remember the exact number. I furnished my entire apartment with items I found in dumpsters. Ok, the entire place was only about 200 square feet. But still. Now, time has caught up with me. It’s not like this happened overnight, but as the days approached leading up to my 50th birthday, I was waking up at night, well, at 4am, the witching hour for all hormonally challenged women, thinking there’s been a mistake. The math is wrong! I’m just not ready for that number yet. That number is so huge; but when you start experiencing your youth like it was yesterday, never mind that 30 years have come in between me and the time when a jacket could symbolize a life choice, well, that’s a sure sign that the math is right, a big birthday is afoot. That was also the last time in my life when I thought there were good people and bad people. Now I know there’s just people and I’ve done things that anyone could easily label bad, just ask my son; he’s got an entire list of my transgressions.

At the same time as I was speeding toward 50, my son was reaching a milestone age as well. 13. Again, this had to be a mistake. My sonwho used to regularly spout adorable esoteric insights as children are want to do, like at age 7 when he announced, “When I was younger, Mom, I wasn’t sure life was going to be so great, but it’s so much better than I expected”was now becoming my biggest critic. He’s Ben Brantley to my Alec Baldwin. For instance, I was on The Oprah Winfrey show giving millions of viewers a tour of a landfill, thinking I was serving a greater good, and hoping to make my son proud, but no, even this was not to his liking. “Mom, you picked up a volleyball in that pit and you called it a soccer ball! Who would ever listen to anything you say now? You suck.” My cooking, my clothing, my comments, everything was just horrible now to him.

That was just one of reasons why I decided he just had to have a Bar Mitzvah. It would be a way of bringing us together.

There was also a practical consideration. Both my husband and I are atheists and secular Jews. We came to the conclusion that if he’s inherited even a smidgeon of my opinionated personality, he should at least have a working knowledge of what he might later want to rebel against. I’m not proud of it, but it is a passion of mine to argue against things I know very little about. Movies, books, and people I haven’t met are some of my favorite targets, but I aspire for my son to be a more informed critic. All things considered, I told myself, it was a good thing I’d done some time in the Women’s Correctional Facility in Chino.

To be continued…

Read Part Two of "When 50 Happens to Good People" here.

Read more about Annabelle Gurwitch here.