But fear not. This is not another ungrateful rant about the drudgery of the commercial journey. I heard a writer once call book tour fatigue a â€œfirst-worldâ€ problem â€“- on the order of too many choices in the grocery store. Believe me, I am profoundly grateful for the opportunity to meet readers, which is the best part of a book tour. Actually, itâ€™s pretty much the only good part.
The problem is that I am always a very reluctant traveler. I head for the airport fighting the gravitational pull of my own home. On the eve of any trip â€“- a day in New York, a week in Jerusalem, it makes no difference — I am already longing for the consolation of my return. My husbandâ€™s unthinking daily kindness breaks my heart. I get melancholy moving laundry from the washer to the dryer.
It is unfashionable to dislike traveling. So many people I know love to travel, live to travel, that it seems like a weakness or even a moral failing not to embrace the adventure of distant places. Does this mean that I lack curiosity? Or maybe Iâ€™m just a wimp. My daughter has already lived on three continents and she is only 23 years old.
People assure me that my aversion to travel is due to with working trips, which inevitably lead from airport to hotel to bookstore or synagogue or lecture hall, then back to hotel and airport again. Minneapolis, Cleveland, and many parts of New Jersey are all a corporate blur.
But the truth is, vacations make me anxious on their own terms. I get overwhelmed with choices: where to look, what not to miss. The essential experience or unbeaten track? A conversation with natives or another museum? The museum is easier and you get to check it off the universal travel to-do list. Which leads people to utter sentences such as, â€œWe did London.â€
My favorite travel experiences have been utterly random; the wine tasting I attended with a couple of medical students (complete strangers) in Tel Aviv a few years ago; the conversation â€“ in French â€“ with a man from Naples as we sat at a family-style restaurant in Florence; the Israeli restaurateur in Costa Rica, who served us the best meal we ate all week.
You donâ€™t plan stuff like that; it just happens. I just need to scrape up the hope to believe that experiences like that are possible wherever I go — including stops along a book tour.
This is one of those questions that most writers are inevitably asked. For me, the answer is different every time.
The Last Days of Dogtown was inspired by a locally-produced pamphlet I found in a bookstore. The Red Tent grew out of many sources including Virginia Woolfâ€™s essay, “A Room of Oneâ€™s Own,” and my exposure to the tradition of midrash.
Day After Night was hatched over eight years ago, in 2000, when my daughter was a high school sophomore spending a semester in Israel on the Eisendrath International Exchange (EIE), a program of the Reform Movement. My husband and I went to visit Emilia on the parentsâ€™ trip â€“- our first trip to Israel.
We spent a good part of the week accompanying the students on their field trips (tiyulim) around the country. These were part of a semester-long comprehensive Jewish history course, which had included an architectural dig and a trip to Poland. By the time we arrived, the curriculum was up to the founding of the state of Israel, which meant bus rides to Haifa and Tel Aviv, to Latrun and to Atlit.
There, in the prison camp that has been turned into a living history museum, EIE director Baruch Kraus gave a spellbinding tour and history, which included the breathtaking and completely unfamiliar story of the October 9 break-out/rescue by the Palmach of all the prisoners to safety.
I remember thinking, â€œNow thereâ€™s a novel.â€
I was fortunate enough to visit Atlit two more times after that to talk with the wonderful staff that runs the place and is committed to preserving the history of Aliyah Bet, the post- war immigration that brought nearly 1,000,000 Jews to the land of Israel. Only a tiny fraction of that million passed through Atlit, but it stands as a vivid reminder of the courage, luck, and perseverance of all those who survived the Holocaust and then made Israel their home. Atlit will always be a place that echoes with stories told and untold.
My new novel, Day after Night, is based on the true story of the October 1945 rescue of more than 200 prisoners from the Atlit internment camp, a prison for â€œillegalâ€ immigrants run by the British military near the Mediterranean coast south of Haifa. The story is told through the eyes of four young women at the camp who survived the Holocaust with profoundly different stories: Shayndel, a Polish Zionist; Leonie, a Parisian beauty; Tedi, a hidden Dutch Jew; and Sorah, a concentration camp survivor. Haunted by the past, the four of them find salvation in the bonds of friendship and shared experience even as they confront the challenge of recreating themselves in a strange new country.
I love the cover. I canâ€™t say that about all the books that bear my name, but I think this one is perfect.
The photograph was found by the persistent, patient, and talented art director Rex Bonomelli at Scribner. Because there are four main protagonists in the book, the search focused on an image of four girls. Some lovely shots were proffered, but because the four main characters â€“ Tedi, Leonie, Zorah, and Shayndel â€“ are described so fully in the novel, the pictures all seemed wrong for one reason or another: clothes, hair color, setting. Many emails were exchanged; many pictures were rejected.
This image arrived via email under the subject line â€œI think this is it.â€ Everyone agreed.
The photo comes from the archive of Herbert and Leni Sonnenfeld, who were well known in Israel as photographers of Jewish settlers in Palestine in the mid-1940s. Indeed, the Sonnenfelds are said to have helped shape the image -â€“ and self-image -â€“ of the state.
The picture was not taken in Palestine at all; it comes from Germany in 1935 and the Ruednitz youth aliyah (Aliyat Hanoar) camp. This pre-immigration training center allowed young people to test their ability to live collectively and try out the demanding agricultural work of kibbutz life in the land of Israel.
Herbert Sonnenfeld (1906-1972) was a Berlin-born photojournalist who, with his wife, Leni (1907-2004) chronicled Jewish life in Germany until they fled the Nazis in 1939. At that point, they tried to immigrate to Palestine, then under British Mandatory rule, but were denied entry. Instead, they settled in the United States and traveled widely, photographing Jewish communities in Iran, Morocco, Spain, and ultimately Israel.
The image on the book cover haunts me. They look so joyful in their dance, in their shorts. There is no record, however, of their names. Did some of these kids make it to Israel? Did any of them?