I try to write reviews for the books I read. As an author, I know how important reviews are. I don’t usually post them on this blog. I only do that for special books, and the book I just finished reading is special. It’s also very brave, as not everyone would want to reveal such details. I found it fascinating and disturbing. I identified with it and totally disagreed with it. How can I have such disconnected thoughts, and how do I connect them? My review is below.

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This book is one I would not normally have read. The true story of a woman who goes though many traumas in her life, moves from America to Israel and back and forth, and through it all never loses faith in Jesus? That last part would have put me off. Not my thing. No.

But I read it. I read it because I know the author. I met her when we were both technical writers. I knew her as someone incredibly gifted in verbal communication. I didn’t read her technical documents, but I knew she’d won prizes for them. And I plucked up the courage to email her at a time when I was only starting to realise the advantages of electronic communication. There was also a face-to-face conversation. She was extremely kind and understanding. And that’s when she shocked me by telling me about her faith in Jesus. Where had that come from? I couldn’t make it out.

dvoraelishevaNow that I’ve read her memoir, I understand. I don’t agree, but I understand. I suppose that was my main reason for wanting to read it.

Yet, there’s so much more in this book, including plenty I can agree with and even empathise with. There are the difficulties over her name, accepting the associations a particular form of the name brings up. There are the games that the mind plays, or rather that we play with our minds: “I had cordoned off my memories, my feelings, my emotions, and sometimes even my actions.”

But then I read, “If I had space to tell you the stories behind these accomplishments, you’d see that these, too, were all divinely orchestrated from above.” And my reaction was: no, I wouldn’t. As with the stories you did have space to tell, I’d see that things turned out surprisingly well. But God can’t be proved. In my mind, you might be right and you might not. For me, it doesn’t matter which.

I also had a more disturbing reaction to this book, not so much in what was written as in what was not written. Because space clearly was not the only reason to hold things back. I’m sure, as in most memoirs, facts were hidden in order to protect other people. And I felt there was another reason. The author describes a trip to China. For her, a very important part of the trip involved telling people about Jesus. Her message was that belief in the Buddha is bad and they should instead believe in Jesus. I understand her reasoning. Someone who has such a strong belief also believes that she can help others by encouraging them to share her belief.

I find that worrying. Firstly, who’s to say that one belief is better than another? And secondly, while no mention of missionary activity in Israel was made, if it happened on a short trip to China where language barriers made it difficult, surely it must happen in Israel, where there are no such barriers and the sojourn is permanent.

And so, I have a big problem awarding stars to this book. On what level am I judging it? As far as the writing goes, it is excellent, in both vocabulary and content. I am overawed at the way the book jumps forwards and backwards in time, and yet all the pieces hold together so well. I’m also disturbed by the content. For me, it doesn’t provide proof of what can’t be proved; it hints of something almost sinister. But I will go with my first impression and the fact that I read the second half in one day.

Can you name a single book that everyone likes? I very much doubt it. Readers have widely differing tastes. You only have to read the reviews of any book to see that.

thewomenfriendsselinawithbirdsSo why am I telling you that The Women Friends: Selina isn’t for everyone? Because it’s probably more controversial than some. It’s also very different from my first novel: Neither Here Nor There. It follows the fictional story of a woman struggling to survive in a strange environment in traumatic times. She gets involved in things some readers might not want to read about.

However, while little is known of the two models in Klimt’s painting: The Women Friends, the story remains true to what is known of the women who inspired the great artist, as well as to the turbulent times in which it is set.

One reader, in the first review of the book, describes the book brilliantly, although there are parts that I didn’t see in the same way. We all read different things into the same books.

Up to now, I haven’t made much of the fact that The Women Friends: Selina is a finalist in the Goethe Awards, because my name didn’t appear on the list. I’m happy to say that has now been rectified, and Emma and I are delighted that the book has reached this stage.

In this post, I will endeavour to put all the information about The Women Friends: Selina in one place. If I forget anything, or more details become available, I will add them.

The Women Friends: Selina will be released this Thursday, 1st December. That’s tomorrow.

It’s the first in a series of novellas about the women in Gustav Klimt’s paintings.

It’s a finalist in the Goethe Awards (although they still haven’t added my name).

You can buy it on Amazon.

You’re invited to our launch party at 3pm (UTC). (Just go there and click on Going.)

Lots of information about the background to The Women Friends: Selina can be found in these articles.

A reading from the start of the novella.

The English Informer posted my article here and here.

The one and only Seumas Gallacher, author of several crime thrillers, posted my article.

According to Vanessa Couchman, I’m an unintentional history person.

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Plus… a bit of fun with The Women Friends.

And this lovely picture from Crooked Cat:

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My recent trip to the Vs was exciting and fascinating.

Vienna

I’d never been to Austria before and probably wouldn’t ever have gone if I hadn’t written about this city in The Women Friends. But I left my qualms at home for four days and prepared to enjoy myself while conducting my research.

Four days weren’t nearly enough, but we managed to do quite a lot.

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We ate traditional foods. Well, we had to eat something, so why not? And we ate in the famous Café Central.

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We went walking in the mountains near Vienna, along with my nephew who lives there.

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We saw lots of paintings by Klimt, because that was one of the reasons for going there. The one that excited me the most was Death and Life, because it’s featured in The Women Friends.

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Vienna Jewish Museum: Herzl’s Bike

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We saw the Jewish Museum and the Hundertwasser Museum, the Town Hall, Schönbrunn Palace with its fabulous gardens and palm house.

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We even saw Karl Marx Hof, which, as the sign says, is Vienna’s largest residential building of the inter-war period. Wikipedia says it’s the “longest single residential building in the world.” It’s in The Women Friends.

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Prater Park: Wiener Riesenrad

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And the Prater with its big wheel, which is also in The Women Friends.

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Venice

img_2275This was my third visit to this unique city, defined, above all, by the fact that all travel is water-based. We saw ambulance boats, funeral boats, delivery boats and of course passenger boats, which we used when we weren’t walking our feet off, because the mainland of Venice is all about shopping – window shopping, in our case – and anyway, we love walking.

We visited the cemetery island – Cimitero di San Michele – Burano and Murano, famous for glass production and also very beautiful.

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Even the trip to the airport was accomplished by boat. At the airport, a surprise awaited me: an upgrade to business class. What a wonderful ending to a wonderful holiday!

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About The Women Friends

The Women Friends is a series of novellas based on Gustav Klimt’s masterpiece of the same name and written by Emma Rose Millar and Miriam Drori.

The Women Friends: Selina will be published by Crooked Cat on 1st December and is available now for pre-order.

The Women Friends: Janika will be published by Crooked Cat in 2017.

The winner of my competition to win a signed copy of my romance, Neither Here Nor There, is…

*DRUM ROLL*

Neither Here Nor There

Actually, I couldn’t decide. So I’m giving away two signed books to:

  • Angela Brown because she’s very far away from me in all respects, yet she comments regularly on my blog and shows much understanding for a lot of what I write.
  • Lisa Isaacs for completely the opposite reason. She’s close, physically and ideologically and, as she says, it’s time she read my book.

Congratulations, Angela and Lisa. I will contact both of you privately.

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Author of the Day

Angela Brown is a multi-talented author. She writes YA/Adult, Romance/Speculative/Gothic and more. But don’t listen to me; her website tells it much better.

Well, this is a bit embarrassing.

You see, today is a very special anniversary. Forty years ago, I arrived in Israel and, although I wasn’t quite sure at the time, I ended up staying. I also got married and raised three children.

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That part isn’t embarrassing at all. I’m very proud of it. The embarrassing part is this: I’m not there. Just for a few days, I’m away on another trip – one that’s also special. I’ll blog about it on my return.

Moving to Israel was definitely the right choice for me. I left a country where I never really fitted in – a fact that had been reinforced many times during my childhood. I came to a country where I felt accepted. And in the process, I learned to be proficient in another language.

It wasn’t all easy, but I crossed the bridge and remained on the other bank (except for short breaks).

I think such a momentous date deserves a competition. So I’m going to give away a signed copy of my romance, Neither Here Nor There. In the novel, set mostly in Jerusalem, the main character, who has just left the closed community in which she was brought up, meets a recent immigrant from England. Let me know, in the comments below, why you think you deserve to win it. You can be truthful or humorous. I’ll choose the commenter I think is the most deserving. The competition will end when I decide it’s time, so don’t dilly-dally! I’ll contact the winner privately and also announce the result on this blog.

Forty years! The Children of Israel wandered for forty years before arriving here (there). I came in five hours and was happy to stay put.

Samuel Pepys by John RileyAs Jonathan Sacks (who is himself quite famous) wrote in The Algemeiner, the famous English diarist, Samuel Pepys, paid his second visit to the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue in Creechurch Lane in the city of London on 14th October, 1663. This was only shortly after Jews had been allowed back into England after being exiled in 1290, and this synagogue was in a private house. Pepys’ first visit had been for a memorial service, which was, of course, somber.

This visit was very different. This is how Pepys described it in his diary:

… after dinner my wife and I, by Mr. Rawlinson’s conduct, to the Jewish Synagogue: where the men and boys in their vayles [i.e. tallitot], and the women behind a lattice out of sight; and some things stand up, which I believe is their Law, in a press [i.e. the Ark] to which all coming in do bow; and at the putting on their vayles do say something, to which others that hear him do cry Amen, and the party do kiss his vayle. Their service all in a singing way, and in Hebrew. And anon their Laws that they take out of the press are carried by several men, four or five several burthens in all, and they do relieve one another; and whether it is that every one desires to have the carrying of it, I cannot tell, thus they carried it round about the room while such a service is singing …  But, Lord! to see the disorder, laughing, sporting, and no attention, but confusion in all their service, more like brutes than people knowing the true God, would make a man forswear ever seeing them more and indeed I never did see so much, or could have imagined there had been any religion in the whole world so absurdly performed as this.

Oh dear, Pepys. Why did no one tell you? 14th October 1663 was the festival of Simchat Torah – the Rejoicing of the Law. It celebrates coming to an end of the annual cycle of readings from the Torah and starting a new cycle. It’s a time for rejoicing, for dancing and singing in the streets (in some places) and in the synagogue. This and the festival of Purim are the only two days in the year when people go wild in the synagogue.

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Where Judaism goes, misunderstandings are probably many. I remember, as a child, watching a rare TV documentary about Jews. The programme was about the differences between orthodox and reform Judaism. The documentarist (yes, it’s a real word) – as if to prove another difference in reform Judaism – pointed out that the children study the religion on Sunday and not Saturday. I burst out laughing when I heard that. The same is true in orthodox Judaism. How could children study on a day when writing is not allowed?

While misunderstandings are funny, they can have serious consequences. But I won’t dwell on that now, for next week is Simchat Torah – a time to rejoice.