I have commandeered Bookhound's drawing board for navigation purposes and so Israel the first stop on the long-haul to Australia, and in my eagerness to depart I had to read what was on my shelves, but I haven't been disappointed.
It's been interesting to make a start on some forward planning for my travels and hopefully I have a few Israeli authors in the pipeline.Also a big thankyou to all of you for some fabulous suggestions, I'm noting them all down.
So the first book on my journey, Edges, O Israel O Palestine by Leora Skolkin-Smith, published by Glad Day Books which would seem to be an enterprise backed by the late Grace Paley,
'our particular purpose is to bridge the gap between imaginative literature and political articles and criticism which have been fixed under the labels of "Fiction" and "Non-Fiction." But the split has diminished literature and its usefulness to society. With these constraints writers find themselves engaged in a form of self-censorship that has to do both with artistic and formal considerations and what can be said.'
Centre stage, fourteen year old Liana Bialik who along with her mother and sister Ivy and following the suicide of her father, is returning to Jerusalem in 1963, thus interrupting a life growing up in the US.
This is her mother's homeland and as Ivy descends the steps from the plane sporting her badge declaring loudly PUFF THE MAGIC DRAGON IS A DRUG ADDICT it's clear a clash of cultures is inevitable.
Except it wasn't as I anticipated, because in fact it's the Israeli culture that proves the more extrovert as their mother Ada quickly discards all inhibitions and throws herself back into the life she once knew. This is her homeland, physical, mental and spiritual, this is where her first family are and where she ultimately belongs and it takes her but a nano-second to roll down her stockings and start dancing. Ada's exuberance of course a complete surprise and cringe-makingly embarrassing to her adolescent daughters.
Liana has to find her own place in this troubled and divided land both as a daughter and a woman but also as a stranger, and set against a backdrop of rising military tensions and increasing danger this is never going to be simple.
Identity was never so hard-won as Liana's, but distracted by reclaiming her own persona, Ada unwittingly allows her daughter some space to do it. Space Liana may never have found in the US.
Infused with Israel-ness seems a ridiculous thing to say because how can I know? But somehow I felt I did understand Israel and as a country as much as a homeland. I could smell the land and feel the heat and the dust as well as the perils. However there is no mistaking the taste of the Jewish festivals celebrated in the household at One Metadulah Street as the family gather to mark the timeless and constant year-round observance of their faith.
Leora Skolkin-Smith was born in the US but spent her childhood travelling between New York and Israel and she has certainly soaked up a growing girl's view on these two contrasting edge to edge cultures, as well as those that border each other in the Middle East, her observation and detail breath life into this amazing little book. The writing is spontaneous and fresh and the dialogue crafted with such a natural feel that you hear it as you read.A commentator here tells me it will be a film and it should be a great one if true to the spirit of the book.
A small enough book to pass by next to all those might tomes shouting read me, but one to seek out and savour for sure.
It's been a vibrant and welcoming introduction as I set foot in Israel from my armchair.