In his last posts, Bob Gold­farb, a reg­u­lar review­er for Jew­ish Book World, wrote about the pan­el Ash­es and Ink: Con­tem­po­rary Holo­caust Writ­ing” and about Amos Oz and Simon Sebag Mon­te­fiore in con­ver­sa­tion. He is blog­ging here all week about the Inter­na­tion­al Writ­ers’ Fes­ti­val at Mishkenot Sha’ananim in Jerusalem.

Israeli author Zeruya Shalev made an emblem­at­ic obser­va­tion when she spoke at the bien­ni­al Writ­ers’ Fes­ti­val at Mishkenot Sha’ananim in Jerusalem. It’s risky to meet the writer behind a book you love,” she remarked. It’s like meet­ing the par­ents.” But, of course that’s exact­ly what the Fes­ti­val is all about: encoun­ters with peo­ple you feel you know through their off­spring, and the com­bi­na­tion of recog­ni­tion and sur­prise that entails.

Shalev took part in one of a series of ses­sions enti­tled Writ­ing Here, Writ­ing There,” mod­er­at­ed con­ver­sa­tions between two authors from dif­fer­ent coun­tries. She was paired with the Amer­i­can writer Siri Hustvedt, with whom Shalev shares the feel­ing that a fic­tion­al world is a kind of dream­scape. In Hustvedt’s words, writ­ing is a form of con­scious dream­ing.” For Shalev too it mix­es the sub­con­scious with life, a fusion of fan­tasies, fears, expe­ri­ence, and imagination.

Think­ing about the inter­play between life and imag­i­na­tion, Hustvedt, whose nov­el The Sor­rows of an Amer­i­can deals with the Sep­tem­ber 11 attacks, described how she drew on a fam­i­ly mem­o­ry in writ­ing about the after­math of trau­ma. Her father was a sol­dier in the Pacif­ic in the Sec­ond World War, and when she was young her father had flash­backs about a ter­ri­ble inci­dent when a Japan­ese POW was killed. His speech­less­ness in the face of those mem­o­ries led her to use more sen­so­ry imagery in her fiction.

Some­how it’s not sur­pris­ing that both authors have an inter­est in psy­cho­analy­sis. Although she start­ing writ­ing when she was very young, Zeruya Shalev want­ed to be a psy­chother­a­pist. But when she tried it in the Israeli Army as a kind of social work­er she was overem­pa­thet­ic: as she lis­tened to her patients, she said, I would start to cry, and they had to com­fort me.” So, she wry­ly con­clud­ed, it was safer to work with imag­i­nary char­ac­ters. Hustvedt also want­ed to become a psy­cho­an­a­lyst after she earned her Ph.D., a goal that was unre­al­ized, though she has taught writ­ing to psy­chi­atric patients as a kind of therapy.

Siri Hustvedt observed that read­ers love char­ac­ters the way they love peo­ple in real life, and weep at the death of a beloved char­ac­ter as if they actu­al­ly knew them. Lit­er­ary the­o­ry is a dif­fer­ent ball­game,” but the way peo­ple actu­al­ly read, she said, is to engage deeply with char­ac­ters. For her own part, she con­tin­ued, Don Quixote and Anna Karen­i­na are as dear to me as many peo­ple in my life.”

At the same time, Hustvedt cau­tioned, what one should fear most in life is being shut off from what is present in the exter­nal world. There is great poten­tial for being wound­ed, and great poten­tial for joy. Only the unpro­tect­ed self can feel the beau­ty of joy.”

Bob Gold­farb is pres­i­dent of the Cen­ter for Jew­ish Cul­ture and Cre­ativ­i­ty in Jerusalem and Los Ange­les. He also blogs for the Los Ange­les Jew­ish Jour­nal.