Ear­li­er this week, Jan­ice Weiz­man wrote about the bil­dungsro­man and the Jew­ish woman. She will be blog­ging here all week for Jew­ish Book Coun­cil and MyJew­ish­Learn­ing.

All fic­tion writ­ers have a streak of audac­i­ty. To make up some­thing and then ask read­ers to sus­pend their dis­be­lief and give them­selves over to your vision is, well, a lit­tle out­ra­geous. Among the most auda­cious are the writ­ers of his­tor­i­cal fic­tion. How can any­one pre­sume to know what it was like to live and work and raise a fam­i­ly in a time oth­er than their own? How can one com­pre­hend the hopes, the lim­i­ta­tions, and the chal­lenges of peo­ple who lived their lives in his­tor­i­cal peri­ods with rad­i­cal­ly dif­fer­ent cir­cum­stances and assumptions? 

Log­ic says that it’s impos­si­ble. Yet the imag­i­na­tion insists that it’s not. It insists that, with a lit­tle bit of help, it can tran­scend space and time and under­stand some­thing beyond the here and now. 

Allow me to offer an exam­ple. Let’s say you want to write a scene in which a char­ac­ter goes to a bath­house. You could do worse than to make your way to Acco, a city in the North of Israel. When you get there, you may want to linger for a few min­utes on the board­walk, enjoy­ing the vista of the bright blue sea, but don’t stop there. Con­tin­ue along the board­walk, and head for the old city. You’ll know it by the shops and ven­dors at the entrance, sell­ing nargillas, Armen­ian pot­tery, olive wood carv­ings, humous, and fresh pome­gran­ate juice. Look for the signs on the walls point­ing the way to the Ham­mam – the pub­lic bath­house. When you get there, you’ll have to take the tour. Maybe you’re the type that doesn’t like tours, but do it any­way. That way you’ll get to see the inside. You’ll be shown the var­i­ous pools, now dry and emp­ty, and hear the sto­ries about the gen­er­a­tions of bal­an­im – bath­house atten­dants who would scrub you down with sponges and brush­es and fill you in on the lat­est gos­sip. And then there will be a moment when the group moves on, but don’t fol­low them. Remain behind and linger a lit­tle longer. 

Instead of the emp­ty stone pools, think of steam ris­ing from the hot water. Instead of the scent of moldy walls, imag­ine wafts of rose­wa­ter and jas­mine oil. And now, in the dim light and the silence, try to hear the voic­es. Hear the groans of the women being scrubbed with rough sponges by stern-faced atten­dants, the trills of laugh­ter from a group lis­ten­ing to the town match­mak­er tell a racy joke, the soft whis­per­ing of two girls in the cor­ner, point­ing to a third and whis­per­ing, Look at that stom­ach. If she isn’t preg­nant, then I’m a Rabbi.” 

If you can see all this, then you’ll feel it in your bones — how the very dra­ma of life played out along­side the tiled bathing pools. And as you emerge into the alley that leads back to the mar­ket you’ll know, from some mys­te­ri­ous place in your head that you nev­er knew exist­ed, exact­ly how to write the scene in the bathhouse.

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 is the author of the award-win­ning his­tor­i­cal nov­el, The Way­ward Moon (Yotzeret, 2012), which will be reis­sued with Toby Press next month. Her writ­ing has appeared in Ha’aretz, The Jerusalem Report, LilithWorld Lit­er­a­ture Today, and oth­er places. She served for 10 years as a Fic­tion edi­tor for The Ilan­ot Review, and now curates the book review web­site, Read­ing Jew­ish Fic­tion. Her sec­ond nov­el, Our Lit­tle His­to­ries, was recent­ly pub­lished with Toby Press.