Wednesday, September 6, 2017

AUTHOR INTERVIEW: 'Night in Jerusalem' Gaelle Lehrer Kennedy

Gaelle Lehrer Kennedy worked as an actress and writer in film and television in the United States and Israel. Night in Jerusalem is her debut novel, which she has adapted to film. She lives in Ojai California with her husband and daughter.

She writes, “I lived in Israel in the 1960s, a naive twenty-year-old, hoping to find myself and my place in the world. The possibility of war was remote to me. I imagined the tensions in the region would somehow be resolved peacefully. Then, the Six Day War erupted and I experienced it firsthand in Jerusalem.

I have drawn Night in Jerusalem from my experiences during that time. The historical events portrayed in the novel are accurate. The characters are based on people I knew in the city. Like me, they were struggling to make sense of their lives, responding to inherited challenges they could not escape that shaped their destiny in ways they and the entire Middle East could not have imagined.

I have always been intrigued by the miraculous. How and where the soul’s journey leads and how it reveals its destiny. How two people who are destined, even under the threat of war and extinction, can find one another.

Israel’s Six Day War is not a fiction; neither was the miracle of its victory. What better time to discover love through intrigue, passion, and the miraculous.

Writing this story was in part reliving my history in Israel, in part a mystical adventure. I am grateful that so many who have read Night In Jerusalem have experienced this as well.”



About the Book:

A bewitching love story that is also an extraordinary portrait of Jerusalem, its faith, spirituality,
identity, and kaleidoscope of clashing beliefs, Night in Jerusalem is a novel of mystery, beauty, historical insight, and sexual passion.
David Bennett is invited to Jerusalem in 1967 by his cousin who, to the alarm of his aristocratic British family, has embraced Judaism. He introduces David to his mentor, Reb Eli, a revered sage in the orthodox community. Despite his resistance to religious teaching, David becomes enthralled by the rabbi’s wisdom and compassionate presence. When David discloses a sexual problem, Reb Eli unwittingly sets off a chain of events that transforms his life and the life of the mysterious prostitute, Tamar, who, in a reprise of an ancient biblical story, leads both men to an astonishing realization. As passions rise, the Six Day War erupts, reshaping the lives of everyone caught up in it.


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As a book bloggin’ and book luvin’ Princess, I’m always curious to find out how authors got the ideas for their books.  How did you come up with the idea for your book?

I was working on a film in Israel that was being shot in Mea Sharim, the orthodox community’s neighborhood in Jerusalem. A young Hasidic woman kept running out onto her balcony to watch us. We spent most of the afternoon shooting there, and every ten minutes or so, she would reappear. I realized she was attracted to one of the handsome crew members. This was the seed that inspired me, years later, to write about a young woman’s desire for love, passion and freedom from her social and religious clan. So far as setting the love story during the Six Day War, Winston Churchill wrote that there is nothing as exhilarating as when someone shoots at you and misses. When the Six Day War erupted. I experienced it firsthand. I spent days in shelters with other women, listening to Arab news reports on the radio proclaiming victory while we contemplated how we would end it for ourselves. It turned out, of course, that the war went the other way. We were to live! Jerusalem was re-unified! Now, that was exhilarating. At the same time, the search for peace, the endless arguments about what it should look like, and the courageous, impossible loves that thrived despite all odds - the themes of Night In Jerusalem – are what inspired me.

Can you tell us what your book is about?

I have always been intrigued by the miraculous: how and where the soul’s journey leads and how it reveals its destiny; how two people who are destined, even under the threat of war and extinction, can find one another. Night In Jerusalem is a love story set during Israel’s Six Day War in which  passion, mystical encounters and the miraculous come together to change the lives of everyone caught up in it.

Can you tell us a little about the main characters of your book?

David Bennett: David is a young British aristocrat who longs to find his place in the world. He is invited to Jerusalem by his cousin who, to the alarm of their family, has embraced Judaism. Unlike his cousin, David has no interest in religion and feels little affiliation with his Jewish heritage. Shortly after he arrives, we learn why David is unable to sustain relationships with women

Reb Eli: Eli came from an orthodox family in Germany. His father, a prominent rabbi, arranged for him to be evacuated to England just before the Nazis slammed the door shut. He was taken in by David’s family and developed a deep friendship with David’s father, who was a young boy also. Learning after the war that his family had been lost in the holocaust, Eli found a new life in Israel where he became revered as a sage and spiritual leader of Jerusalem’s orthodox community.

Sarah: Sarah, one of Reb Eli’s daughters, lost her husband to an early death. She had no children and was judged to be barren, leaving her utterly bereft. Without a sense of purpose, her sadness grieves Eli who can find no way to give her comfort. She is devoted to her father and their religious tradition, which she observes faithfully and sincerely.

Anat: Fresh out of the army, Anat is a free-thinking Israeli beauty, confident in her sexuality and ready to embrace the world on her own terms. She is an archeologist, impatient with the shibboleths of Jewish tradition, insisting on a clear-eyed interpretation of the historical record based on the facts, not religious convention.

If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would that be?

You were right, when you were at Columbia, to be suspicious of writing that seemed to exist for its own sake, no matter how pretty or clever it was. You were right when you saw that writing works best when the reader can see clear into the souls of the characters - and the writer is out of the picture.  You were right to let the characters and their story say it all.  And you were right, too, when you insisted that your writing should open you, and the reader, to a shared wisdom.

What would you say is one of your interesting writing quirks?

I’m not good at syntax. It’s a long way from my strong suit. I don’t try and edit myself when I am writing. I let the story come forth. Sorting out the syntax is for later. I do plenty of re-writes.

Do you hear from your readers?  What do they say?

I do hear from my readers, and I am very grateful for their feedback. Night In Jerusalem works as an engaging love story, and also as a reprise of a Bible story. It has a spiritual meaning that people resonate with. They find themselves reading the book multiple times. Others see it as a page-turner. Both types of readers are interested to learn what happens next and I am often asked if I am writing a sequel.

What is the toughest criticism given to you as an author?

I am not a lyrical writer. I do not write breath-taking sentences. There is a simplicity to my style that some literary critics do not appreciate. My view is that “simple” can often take mastery to pull off –like Isaac Bashevis Singer, for example. So I hear what they are saying, and I ignore it, for the reasons I stated in response to your earlier question about what I would say to my younger writer self, if I could.

What has been the best accomplishment?

Night In Jerusalem is my first novel. Previously, I have written screenplays. They are, of course, totally visually-oriented, with limited opportunity to be discursive about the characters’ states of mind.  Everything has to show on the screen. I was drawn to writing a novel because the canvas can be so much larger –as big as you like -  and the story does not have to fit a budget! However, the relationship with the reader is more intimate and complete, and there’s a challenge to meet right there. Hearing from fellow writers that I had pulled it off is perhaps my best accomplishment as an author.

Do you Google yourself?

No. I’m not especially handy with computers. I use mine mainly for writing and email.

How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?

I am presently working on a novel about the middle class in America and what happened in the last recession when millions were thrown into life altering changes they are still trying to work out.

Do you have anything specific that you would like to say to your readers?

Keep on reading! I think it is the most important and fun invention of all time.

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