It’s weird, isn’t it – how sometimes, events ‘out there’ coincide with and match stuff you’re doing in real life?
I’m writing my second novel at the moment. I don’t want to say too much about it at this stage but here’s a general outline.
The book is set in Scotland and Israel and the main character is a half-Jewish Scot whose mother was a holocaust survivor. Her soldier son has been killed in the war in Afghanistan.
The underlying themes are those of cultural heritage, homeland and the displacement caused by politics and war. And these are overlain by the more personal themes of dislocation caused by betrayal, bereavement, and the ageing process. The parallels between enforced Scottish migration, the Jewish diaspora and the plight of the Palestinians are all touched on – as are the parallels and contrasts between Scotland’s and Israel’s national status – but ultimately it’s a story about homecoming, recovery and the sustaining power of love.
Part of my inspiration came from the fact that I’m a Scot and had a Jewish great-grandmother. I have Jewish Israeli friends who daily risk their personal safety by taking a pro-Palestinian stance and I’ve been to Israel twice.
So there I am writing away and two published novels are brought to my attention.
First – the Man Booker winner for 2010 – The Finkler Question by Howard Jacobson. Main storylines in this book – what it means to be Jewish, bereavement and thwarted hopes. It’s a story of friendship and loss, exclusion and belonging, and of growing older. I haven’t read it yet but it’s on my list.
The second novel – I was attracted to it after reading several reviews in which it was highly praised – and I’ve just finished reading it. It’s called ‘To the End of the Land’ and it’s by David Grossman. It’s an anti-war novel. It’s set in Israel and is a story of family love, bereavement, and the reality and surreality of life in Israel. The main characters are Israeli Jews who are ambivalent about their nation’s status. It’s a wonderful book and I’ll be posting a review of it very soon.
Now, it’s gratifying to find that I’m inspired by the same themes that inspired two such revered authors but I also feel rather daunted.
However, I’m choosing to interpret this synchronicity as auspicious rather than ominous. I’m going to finish my book and can only hope it will be at least a zillionth as good as the two mentioned above.
Footnote: I had dinner at the Haifa home of the first Arab Israeli academic to get a post at an Israeli university and the question of land and nationhood was being discussed. The host mentioned this quote from Tolstoy – who said that the only land a man needs is a hole, six feet by two feet – his burial plot.
I was reminded of Chekov’s retort to Tolstoy – namely that a man needs the whole globe, all of nature, where he can display his free spirit.
The Scottish writer Neil Gunn said life’s about us getting along, understanding one another and the earth. He said that when we do that we get peace of mind and with luck a little delight.
I’m with Chekov and Gunn – always was – and now Jacobson and Goodman are at my shoulder too. Exalted company indeed.
Here’s to synchronicity…