Wednesday, February 06, 2008

From Israel, with love

Acclaimed best-selling Israeli novelist, Zeruya Shalev, is looking forward to seeing her book in Malayalam. She was a guest at the 4th DC International Book Fair at Kochi

By Shevlin Sebastian

At 8.45 a.m., on January 29, 2004, Zeruya Shalev, 48, was walking on a sidewalk on Gaza Street in Jerusalem. She had just dropped her son Yaal, 8, to school. A bus, crowded with office-goers, was going past, when a suicide bomber, standing inside, detonated a bomb.

“I heard a huge sound, and then I rose high in the air and fell on the sidewalk,” says Zeruya. “My right leg was hurt badly. I realised it was a terror attack. I was in shock but I was not surprised.”

She was not surprised because there had been a spate of suicide bombings in Israel. Zeruya was in the middle of writing her novel, Late Family, and the first thought that came to her mind was: ‘I want to go home to continue writing.’” She tried to get up and but could not because of her damaged leg. Lying next to her was the burnt-out body of a middle aged woman. “It was hell,” she says. “There were glass fragments all over.”

In the end, 11 people died, 70 were wounded, and the Palestinian group, Fatah, claimed responsibility. As for Zeruya, after a major surgery on her leg, she spent the next six months in physiotherapy, before she could walk again.

At the 4th DC International Book Fair at Kochi, this best-selling Israeli novelist does not show much emotion on her face as she describes the incident. Instead, there is a far-away look in her eyes. “I wish for peace between Israel and Palestine,” she says. “I wish we can live together, two neighbours, two friendly states. Our area can be a paradise if there is no fundamentalism on both sides.”

Zeruya is a slim woman, dressed in a black top and trousers. She has a long face, framed by black hair, with alabaster skin, and red lips but even though she is not conventionally beautiful, she has a striking look and compelling eyes.

Moments earlier, when she arrives at the fair, accompanied by Ravi Deecee, the CEO of DC Books, she is taken aback when a group of girls and boys from the Cochin Refinery School, on a journalism project, ply her with questions. “Where are you from?” says S. Shravani, 16. “What is the name of your book?” says Irene Lillian Titus. “What is the book all about?” says Kokila Ananda Mani. But taken up by the enthusiasm shown by the girls, she tries to answer in halting English.

Zeruya has published four novels till now, out of which Love Life, Husband and Wife and Late Family have been bestsellers in several countries. Love Life is included in German magazine Der Spiegel`s list of ‘20 Best Novels in World Literature’ in the past 40 years while Husband and Wife is included in the French FNAC list of the ‘200 Best Books of the Decade.’ Zeruya has also won several international literary prizes.

Says Nilli Cohen, the director of the Institute for the Translation of Hebrew Literature: “Zeruya is a very important author for us and because of her best-sellers, we have been able to propagate Hebrew literature all over the world.” According to Cohen, Zeruya’s books have been translated into 27 languages and the latest will be in Malayalam.

Says Ravi Deecee: “Love Life will be published within a couple of months and we have high expectations that it will do well.”

So what are her books all about? “I write about love, marriage, and the relationship between children and parents,” she says. “I talk about the inner conflict within a person, and the conflict between man and woman. I write about the longing of the human soul for happiness and love.”

So what is her take on love in the 21st century? “When we are young, the only thing we are bothered about is to find the right person and we think everything will be all right when that happens,” she says. But when we grow up, she says, we understand that to find the right person is only the first stage in a relationship. Then you will have to deal with the problems of living together and confronting the other person. “It is very difficult,” she says.

Unlike the difficulties of maintaining a relationship, for Zeruya “writing is as easy as breathing for me.” But for many years, she could not find the time to write because of her job as a literary editor in Keter publishing house. “Editing is a pleasure, but it is time-consuming, and in the end, writing is the best pleasure for me,” she says. So, she now confines herself to reading the occasional manuscript while she concentrates on her writing.

Apart from writing, she is a keen reader and has read Arundhati Roy’s The God Of Small Things and Vikram Seth’s Suitable Boy. At the fair, as she walks around, drawing curious glances from onlookers, she sees a computer which displays the Malayalam script and exclaims, “Wow, it looks so beautiful. I am just waiting to see my book in Malayalam.”

(Permission to reproduce this article has to be obtained from The New Indian Express, Kochi)

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