Nora Golds book, Fields of Exile, is the first nov­el about anti-Israelism on cam­pus. It was picked by The For­ward as one of The 5 Jew­ish Books To Read in 2014,″ and has received enthu­si­as­tic advance praise from Phyl­lis Chesler, Thane Rosen­baum, Irwin Cotler, Steve Stern, Nava Semel, Naim Kat­tan, Alice Shalvi, and Ann Birstein. She will be blog­ging here all week for Jew­ish Book Coun­cil and MyJew­ish­Learn­ing.

There’s a Jew­ish sto­ry you may know that includes the refrain: You nev­er know.” In one sec­tion of it, a young Jew­ish man liv­ing in czarist Rus­sia falls off his horse, breaks his leg, and tells his father, What bad luck I have.” His father mere­ly replies, You nev­er know.” The next day the czar’s men arrive in this family’s vil­lage to round up young men to serve in the czar’s army but, because of this young man’s bro­ken leg, they don’t take him. What good luck!” he hap­pi­ly tells his father. But his father mere­ly replies, You nev­er know.” And so on.

I thought of this sto­ry recent­ly in con­nec­tion with the process I went through to find a title for my new book, which is the first nov­el about anti – Israelism on cam­pus, and came out last week in the USA. When my pub­lish­er, Dun­durn Press, first offered to pub­lish this nov­el, I already had a title for it: Exile. I loved this title and was very com­mit­ted to it. I’d been call­ing my nov­el Exile for years, ever since I’d start­ed writ­ing it, and just as one talks to one’s baby using a spe­cif­ic name even while it’s still in utero, I was cer­tain that Exile was my novel’s true name.

A lit­tle while lat­er, though, Dun­durn informed me that I’d have to change this title because they’d just pub­lished anoth­er book called Exile. I was dis­tressed, and sure that I’d nev­er find anoth­er title so per­fect. Exile cap­tured the essence of my nov­el: its pro­tag­o­nist is a young woman liv­ing in Toron­to and expe­ri­enc­ing her­self as being in exile” because she longs to be back in Jerusalem.

Hav­ing no choice, though, I began to con­sid­er alter­na­tive titles. After dis­card­ing numer­ous unsat­is­fac­to­ry options, I start­ed read­ing Hebrew and Yid­dish poet­ry on the theme of exile (both in the orig­i­nal and in trans­la­tion), as well as essays about this kind of poet­ry. I even­tu­al­ly came across a book chap­ter from 1998, Mod­ernism and Exile: A View from the Mar­gins” by Michael Gluz­man, which con­tained Gluzman’s own trans­la­tion of a then almost unknown Hebrew poem, writ­ten by Leah Gold­berg at around age ten, called Exile.” Here’s how it begins:

How dif­fi­cult the word how many mem­o­ries
of hatred and slav­ery
and because of it we have shed so many tears
and yet, I’ll rejoice in the fields of exile…

As soon as I read the words fields of exile, I knew I had my title. I had a phys­i­cal reac­tion to these words: some­thing elec­tric ran through my body.

The poem continues:

which are filled with oats and flax
the hot day and the cool evening
and the dead silence of night

the pale spring and the melt­ing snow
the sea­son which is nei­ther sum­mer nor autumn
when, in the gar­den, by some mir­a­cle
the green turns to gold.

I did not know at that time why I was so affect­ed by the words and yet, I’ll rejoice in the fields of exile. In the sub­se­quent weeks, though, it became clear­er. Accord­ing to Gluz­man, Gold­berg was rare among her con­tem­po­raries for refus­ing to con­form to the sim­plis­tic nega­tion of exile that was a cen­tral com­po­nent of clas­sic Zion­ist ide­ol­o­gy. As Gluz­man points out, although Goldberg’s poem Exile” begins with a clas­sic Zion­ist rejec­tion of exile, it moves on to assert that even in exile there is beau­ty, and that this beau­ty can engen­der happiness.

The hon­esty of this poem and the stance that it rep­re­sents res­onat­ed, and con­tin­ues to res­onate, pro­found­ly with me. When I made aliya in the 1970s, will­ing, even eager, to adopt the nega­tion of exile” ide­ol­o­gy sur­round­ing me, one thing I could nev­er quite negate — and the only thing I nev­er stopped miss­ing about the place I came from — was Canada’s nat­ur­al land­scape: its beau­ti­ful forests, rivers and lakes, which felt to me like home. Ever since then, wher­ev­er I’ve lived, the com­plex­i­ty of the con­cepts of home” and exile” has pre­oc­cu­pied me, and this com­plex­i­ty is cen­tral to my nov­el, Fields of Exile.

So what ini­tial­ly seemed like a piece of bad luck with my book’s title turned out to be just the oppo­site. Thanks to Leah Gold­berg (and Michael Gluz­man), I’ve end­ed up with a much more beau­ti­ful and evoca­tive title — and a rich­er and more mean­ing­ful one — than I had before. As that wise old sto­ry says, You nev­er know…

Nora Gold is also the author of the acclaimed Mar­row and Oth­er Sto­ries, the cre­ator and edi­tor of the pres­ti­gious online lit­er­ary jour­nal Jew­ish Fic​tion​.net, a blog­ger for The Jew­ish Thinker” at Haaretz, the Writer-in-Res­i­dence and an Asso­ciate Schol­ar at CSWE/​OISE/​University of Toron­to, the orga­niz­er of the Won­der­ful Women Writ­ers Series, and a com­mu­ni­ty activist. Gold can be con­tact­ed through her web­site here.

Relat­ed Content:

Dr. Nora Gold is the prize-win­ning author of five books and the founder and edi­tor of the pres­ti­gious lit­er­ary jour­nal Jew­ish Fic​tion​.net. Her books have won both The Cana­di­an Jew­ish Lit­er­ary Award and The Vine Cana­di­an Jew­ish Book Award, and her writ­ing has been praised by Alice Munro, Cyn­thia Ozick, and Dara Horn.