It is always a pleasure to interview an author who is making a literary debut with the publication of that first book. It is even more special when that author is someone you remember as a youth rambling the streets of your own town. Recently I had that experience when I conducted this interview with Moriel Rothman-Zecher.
Here's the review of his novel that I wrote for the Cox Ohio newspapers:
"It astonishes me when writers who are young, let's say in their twenties, write compelling novels that reveal a genuine maturity. It seems to be a matter of life experience. Some writers have already experienced quite a lot before reaching the age of thirty.
Having experience at a tender age is one thing, being able to translate experiences into impressively written stories is another. Writing about it can be much harder than living it. Moriel Rothman-Zecher has certainly been living it. The author's fiction debut "Sadness is a White Bird" was profoundly influenced by things that he has done and felt.
The author has deep roots in the Yellow Springs community. Rothmans have lived in the village for generations. Rothman-Zecher spent his youth in Yellow Springs. Then his family moved to Israel and that is the location where his novel "Sadness is a White Bird" is set. The Rothmans are Jewish and this mythical return to what many Jews consider to be the "Promised Land" of Israel is an experience that has borne a particular resonance since the British left Palestine 70 years ago.
Jonathan is the narrator of "Sadness is a White Bird." He had been living in America then returned with his family to Israel. Jonathan speaks fluent Arabic. He is preparing to become a member of the Israeli Army. Rothman-Zecher speaks fluent Arabic, too. After we get beyond these baseline similarities between the author and his protagonist we are launched into the world of this writer's imagination.
The book is written in the form of a letter that Jonathan is writing to his Palestinian Arab friend Laith. Laith and his twin sister Nimreen were Jonathan's best friends. We discern Jonathan's deep affections for the twins and the conflicts that their unusual friendship have created. Jonathan is excited about joining the military. His enthusiasm doesn't sit well with his Arab friends.
As we get deeper into the story we receive a history lesson that takes us back to some of the defining moments that hardened relations between Palestinians and Israelis 70 years ago as the British departed and the Israelis swiftly took possession of the land and sent the previous occupants into an exile which endures.
The friends do some hitch-hiking. Israeli settlers offer them a ride. Jonathan speaks to them in Hebrew and there is a presumption that Jonathan's Arab companions are also Jewish. When the driver of the car realizes that he has a couple of Palestinians riding in his car he becomes so frightened he freaks out and throws them out of the car in the middle of nowhere.
We can feel that man's fear. Eventually Jonathan becomes a soldier. As we witness his military career we are able to observe the polarization and the hatred that some of his fellow soldiers are feeling. "Sadness is a White Bird" is gorgeously written. The author has a lyrical gift that hints at his other writing endeavors. He's also a poet and his novel is drenched in poetic emotions.
What a pleasure to encounter a young writer with so much potential!
The Book Nook on WYSO is presented by the Greene County Public Library with additional support from Washington-Centerville Public Library, Clark County Public Library, Dayton Metro Library, and Wright Memorial Public Library.