Ask For a Convertible

Pantheon Books  2008

 
This series of intricately linked short stories speaks to the place of American Jews and Israeli expatriates in our society. A young girl moves with her Israeli mother and American Jewish father from Tel Aviv to Ann Arbor, Michigan and struggles to fit in while simultaneously remaining true to the self she left behind. As she matures, we follow her back to Israel and then back again to Michigan, a sort of Wandering Jew with roots in two places but unsure of how rooted she really is anywhere at all. The depth of the American Jewish connection to Israel is examined. Minor characters are treated to full chapters of their own, providing us with enriching back-story and adding texture to the main narrative. With the addition of a simple plot line or two, this interesting story collection could have been developed into a full-length novel. It is to be hoped that we will hear more from this promising author who has the potential to bring slightly offbeat characters to life and who understands something about family dynamics and (at least one small slice of) the American Jewish experience.

Interview

by Michal Hoschander Malen

MM: One of the major themes of your story collection is Israel. Tell me a bit about your personal relationship with Israel. 
DB: My background is pretty similar to Osnat’s (the main character in the book) in that I was born in Israel and moved here when I was ten. We’ve always had a close connection to Israel. I was in school in Israel from first to fourth grades and I was taught that Israel was a place to go back to. I went back as a Returning Minor in my 20’s but I was never able to make the adjustment.


MM: You have several other themes that flow throughout your narrative, including family and a sense of belonging. One of the minor yet consistent themes is that of running. How much of a metaphor is that for any underlying motifs of running toward something or running away? Or do you just like to run? 
DB: I do love to run. I’m not good at it at all. But if it’s functioning as a metaphor, it’s not something I was actually aware of.


MM: We understand, of course, that your protagonist, Osnat, is a fictional character. You’ve already told us she shares much of your background. How much does she reflect your feelings?
DB: I would have to say that while some biographical elements are similar, I would have to give a typical writer’s answer that all of the characters reflect my feelings in some way through their positions. All the characters are caught between conflicting feelings or situations or cultures.


MM: Have any of those conflicts been resolved?
DB: For some of the characters, they have. Harriet and Noam have found a way to resolve their contradictions and Osnat is well on her way.


MM: What are you working on now and is there, perhaps, a novel in your future?
DB: I’m hoping there’s a novel in my future but it’s still very nebulous. I’m interested in the notion of people disappearing, some of them because they can’t help it if they have Alzheimer’s or something like that and others by consciously choosing to disappear. I’m intrigued by some of the stories we heard after September 11th, although we don’t know if they are true, about people who upped and left their lives and there was no way of finding out what actually happened to them.


MM: What books have you read that you feel influenced you as a writer? 
DB: Lorrie Moore’s collection of short stories Birds of America has had a profound influence. She has a wonderful sense of humor but, at the same time, there is so much moving human experience in the stories. I hope I can write half as well as she does.


MM: Is there any possibility that Osnat, the character, or Danit, the author, might try living in Israel again? 
DB: It’s hard to imagine closing the door on living in Israel but for me, personally, I’m married to a man who isn’t Jewish so I think doing that has pretty much taken it off the table. But if I hadn’t married him, I’d still be struggling with the question. As for Osnat, I hope that this whole notion that home is where the people you love are, will be enough to allow her to live in the U.S. in the moment instead of always wondering if she should be living somewhere else. 


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