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Sunday, 27 October 2013

A Nice Jewish Girl Behaving Badly!

The Wayward MoonTo be a woman in the ninth century Middle East was to be faceless, shapeless, voiceless  – and powerless.

But while some things don’t change, this piece will not examine the role of women in Arab society but look at a robe-ripping, page-turning yarn about a nice Jewish girl who is forced to behave as badly as can be so she may keep her integrity after losing her father, her home – and then her virginity.

The Wayward Moon by debut novelist, Janice Weizman tells a compelling picaresque tale of how Rahel Bat Yair is forced to flee Sura,  Babylonia after her father is murdered and she kills his assailant in an act of terrified, instinctive self-preservation.

Rahel spends much of her journey dressed as a man but her aim is to be like her friends – to have a good Jewish marriage and raise a family. She achieves her wish but only after taking an extraordinary journey which concludes near where I live in modern Israel.

Toronto-born Weizman emigrated to Israel aged 19 and has degrees from both  the Hebrew University and  Bar Ilan University. Since her book was published last year, it has won two literary awards and much praise. But other readers have asked my question. Why is The Wayward Moon so named?

She explained during a Canadian Friends of the Hebrew University blog interview: “ … The Wayward Moon refers to a Talmudic legend that is mentioned at the end of the book. It implies something that has strayed from its intended path, and it describes what happens to Rahel, the book's heroine … due to forces beyond her control, she takes to the road, where she makes the problematic discovery that life has far more to offer”.

There are several aspects of the book which I look forward to discussingJanice with the author. But some things are not open to debate: By dint of painstaking research, Weizman has not only unpicked and laid bare the gloriously intricate Golden Age of Islam for a lay audience, she has also made an outstanding entre into an exceedingly competitive genre of fiction. What’s more, she has helped to tighten a gap in the market between the misunderstood two-dimensional heroines of the Hebrew bible and idealised female Jewish figures of later eras.

But there’s another facet to Weizmann’s literary life which I stumbled across before I learned about her book. She is also the founder and managing editor of the online international literary journal, The Ilanot Review. It is surely a mark of its authority that I first encountered it via a respected non-Jewish writer based in Manchester, U.K. But that’s another story!

Janice Weizman is due to  talk about The Wayward Moon at an event hosted by the Karmiel branch of ESRA – the English Speaking Residents Association. Her theme is “Imagining the Impossible: Writing a Jewish Woman's ‘Odyssey’ Through the Ninth Century Middle East”. She will also outline how she conceived her story then read an excerpt and explain  the challenges involved in writing and publishing a book.

The event will feature both a remarkable coincidence for ESRA members and a homecoming for Weizman’s book which begins and ends in Buqei’a, northern Israel. This is the Arabic name for Peqi'in,  a Druze town near Maalot-Tarshiha, Upper Galilee, where only a handful of Jews now live and which by chance was the main location of an outing arranged by Karmiel ESRA last week.

* The Wayward Moon is published by Yotzeret Publishing @ US$14.95 (approx. NIS 53 / £10.00).

  • As a bonus, Janice says: "if people would like to buy the book before the event, I will send them a copy for 50 shekels per book, and mail it to them. From my experience, they will enjoy the talk even more if they attend after having read the book. I only have a limited number of copies right now, but more are on the way and will be available on the night of the event. The book is also available as an ebook".

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