Ear­li­er this week, Jan­ice Weiz­man wrote about writ­ing his­tor­i­cal fic­tion and the bil­dungsro­man and the Jew­ish woman. She has been blog­ging here all week for Jew­ish Book Coun­cil and MyJew­ish­Learn­ing.

Many artists are under­ground’,” a writ­ing instruc­tor of mine once remarked, but no one is more under­ground than writ­ers.” To that I would add that no one is more under­ground than writ­ers who don’t write in the lan­guage of the place they live. It amounts to a sort of dou­ble life. On the out­side, you func­tion in the same lan­guage as every­one around you. But then you have this oth­er world, where you think and cre­ate in the tongue of a stranger. Your boss, the next-door neigh­bors, the moth­er of your child’s best friend and Moshe from the mako­let might be aware that you are work­ing on a nov­el, but you know, from the very first word you write, that they will prob­a­bly nev­er read it. 

While I was writ­ing The Way­ward Moon, a nov­el which takes place in the 9th cen­tu­ry Mid­dle East, the sit­u­a­tion was even more con­fus­ing. I was con­stant­ly alert to the fact that rather than Hebrew or Eng­lish, my char­ac­ters would have spo­ken some­thing that sounds like Ha lach­ma anya di achalu avta­nia, and diz­abin abah bitrei zuzei. If, like me, these phras­es from the Hag­gadah are all the Ara­ma­ic you know, then you under­stand the dif­fi­cul­ty. As I wrote the nov­el, I real­ized very ear­ly on that I could nev­er real­ly know how Rahel Bat Yair, the story’s hero­ine, real­ly spoke. All I could do was try to imag­ine her voice,” not only the sound of it, but the music” of it, its point of view, its inher­ent assump­tions and ways of see­ing the world. It wasn’t a mat­ter of get­ting it right” or wrong,” because due to the absence of Jew­ish women’s voic­es in the few doc­u­ments that have come down to us from that time, it was impos­si­ble to know exact­ly what idioms she would have used to express her­self. All I could do was read the lim­it­ed mate­r­i­al that is avail­able (e.g., let­ters from the Cairo Geniza, writ­ings by men of her time) and lis­ten to the tones, atti­tudes and modes of expres­sion as they play out in the folk tales, songs, films, and poet­ry of peo­ple who have lived their lives in the lands of Islam.

While this sort of lin­guis­tic alien­ation is chal­leng­ing for a writer, it can nonethe­less be con­ducive to writ­ing. The sense of being iso­lat­ed, of hav­ing to wres­tle alone with the voic­es in your head, enacts some­thing exis­ten­tial. Writ­ing becomes a sort of refuge, a place where you can sink into the words and phras­es and ful­ly inhab­it your state of aloneness.

Hav­ing said that, if any Israeli pub­lish­ers are read­ing this, Moshe from the mako­let is still waiting.

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 Moon, was 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://​jan​iceweiz​man​.com/.

Jan­ice Weizman’s first book, the award-win­ning his­tor­i­cal nov­el, The Way­ward Moon (Yotzeret, 2012), was recent­ly reis­sued with Toby Press. In addi­tion to dab­bling in essays and trans­la­tion, she curates the book review web­site, Read​ing​Jew​ish​Fic​tion​.com. Born and raised in Toron­to, Ontario, Jan­ice has lived in Israel for over 40 years. Our Lit­tle His­to­ries is her sec­ond novel.