I’m not quite sure when I started writing. I remember trying to write a story of my own sometime around my tenth birthday and having a great deal of difficulty deciding on my characters’ names. Nothing remains of that attempt, but as I grew up I found myself being appointed as the chronicler of family events, and later I became just another of my family’s inveterate letter-writers. I’ve been told that my letters home from my first trip to Israel when I was sixteen, and later from my post-graduate years there which turned into the rest of my life were valued by my family.
All my life I’ve been a voracious reader, whether of newspapers or books, the latter including fiction and nonfiction, plays, essays, and the encyclopaedias that my parents bought for the home. But books were my rock and my salvation from my earliest childhood until today, and it is rare to find me without reading matter to hand. The advent of that blessed invention the Kindle, now in my iPad and iPhone relieves me of the need to carry a physical book with me at all times as I have a veritable library to hand in my iPhone.
I kept a diary or notebook from time to time, and the record of my experiences during the Six-Day War enabled me to reconstruct my feelings and what I went through at that time. Reading Virginia Woolf’s writings and getting absorbed in the various biographies of her as well as her autobiographical writings helped me to see the process by which she turned her own experiences and life-events into stunning literature.
In principle, three novels that I read at various times in the 1990s, I think, made me realize what I wanted to write about. The first was Vikram Seth’s ‘A Suitable Boy,’ about life and politics in modern India. The second was ‘Wild Swans; Three Daughters of China,’ by Jung Chang, about life and politics in China. The third was ‘House of the Spirits’ by Isabel Allende, about life and politics in Chile, though I couldn’t swear that I read them in that order.
However, it dawned on me that each novel was in fact an account of the experiences of each of those writers and their family as they lived through historic times. And it also dawned on me that my family and I have lived through historic times and experienced events that have had a far-reaching effect and continue to be of lasting significance. That is how I came to write my first novel, ‘The Balancing Game; A Child Between Two Worlds, A Society Approaching War,’ which is a fictionalized account of my childhood in post-war London and my experience of living in Jerusalem during the period leading up to Israel’s Six-Day War. Of course, I also referred to newspapers of the time and other material to make sure I got my facts right, but much of what I wrote was still engraved on my memory.
Then I wrote my second book, ‘Time Out of Joint, the Fate of a Family,’ in which I tried to reconstruct the life and times of my paternal grandparents in Germany in the interwar period and then during the Second World War. My focus was not so much on the events of the Holocaust, though that of course came into it, but rather an attempt to depict the everyday life of the Jewish bourgeoisie in Germany and the way in which this was undermined and eventually destroyed. In order to depict these characters I was fortunate to have extensive files of family correspondence and documents that my late father brought out of Germany with him, as well as what he had told me about his family. The main trigger for writing that book was, however, the plaque in their memory that my father had erected in Jerusalem, where it was brought home to me that although all five family members were born and lived in Hamburg, Germany, each one died in a different country, and in some cases even a different continent.
When you think about it, anyone who has lived through any part of the twentieth century has lived through momentous times, with two world wars, political upheavals galore, climate change and immense technological advances. Some may call it progress, and one must hope that the end-result of all this will be something positive, though political upheavals tend to cause at least as much suffering and privation as progress. Statistics show, however, that a far smaller proportion of the world’s population now lives in poverty than was the case fifty years ago.
After writing and publishing my first two books, I found that there were other subjects about which I felt compelled to write. The first of these (my third novel, also based loosely on personal experience) was about the perils and indignities of old-age and how these affect the various members of a family (‘Levi Koenig; A Contemporary King Lear,’); and the folly of English people who think that retirement in France will be paradise (‘Chasing Dreams and Flies; A Tragicomedy of Life in France’).
And now it’s time for novel number five, ‘All Quiet on the Midwestern Plains; A Tale of Deception, Betrayal, and Vindication,’ about the effects of life in the American Midwest on an Israeli academic and his family, bearing in mind the fact that in 1985, when the events in the novel take place, the headquarters of the American Nazi Party was in the Midwest. My family and I spent a year in Nebraska in similar circumstances, so I do have some personal knowledge of the subject. Here, too, I made use of contemporary newspaper articles as well as my own memory and correspondence, but of course the actual characters and events are fictional. The ebook is already up and available on Amazon, and I hope it won’t be too long before it’s joined by the paperback. Once that’s done, I’ll be deep into getting novel number six, ‘A Ruffled Calm,’ ready to go, so keep your eyes open for future developments.