Thursday, September 18, 2008

Interview: Eva Etzioni-Halevy

I got the opportunity to interview author Eva Etzioni-Halevy after reading her latest book, The Triumph of Deborah. You can read my review of the book here but know that I thoroughly enjoyed it! She has also written two other books - The Song of Hannah and The Garden of Ruth.

After reading the interview below, be sure to check out her website and all of her books.

About the author - Eva Etzioni-Halevy (from her website):
I was born in Vienna, Austria, but was fortunate to escape as a small child with my parents in 1939. We spent the war years in Italy, partly in an Italian concentration camp, and after the Germans conquered the northern part of Italy, in hiding.

Having survived the holocaust in this manner, we reached what was then Palestine after the war. I grew up in a religious boarding school, after which I studied Sociology at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, and later at Tel-Aviv University, where I was awarded my Ph.D.

I lived most of my life in Israel, but spent two lengthy stretches of time in other countries, one in the U.S. and one in Australia. Eventually, some fifteen years ago, I decided to return to Israel to seek my roots there.

I wrote many books and articles in political Sociology, both in English and in Hebrew. Following a lengthy academic career in various universities, I was appointed Professor of Sociology at Bar-Ilan University, where I am now Professor emeritus.

As part of searching for my roots, I returned to the religious orientation I had previously abandoned. It is this roots-seeking process that also led me to the discovery of the rich world of the Bible, and to the intention of bringing it to life for contemporary readers through the writing of biblical novels.

I have three grown up children: two sons and a daughter. I live with my husband in Tel-Aviv.

Michele: Why did you choose to write the story of Deborah?

Eva: The story is about the adored leader, judge and prophetess Deborah, arguably the most eminent woman in the Old Testament of the Bible. She was sort of a president or prime minister, chief justice and chief rabbi, all wrapped in one. This in itself, of course, is enough of a reason to write about her.

In addition, I found leader Deborah, and warrior Barak and their personal tale, as described in the Bible, particularly intriguing. The scripture tells us that when Deborah sent Barak to go out to war against the Canaanites, he did something rather unusual: he demanded that she accompany him to the battlefield. Three thousand years ago--a woman in the battlefield?

Very strange. I asked myself: why did he want her there?

Moreover, the scripture further recounts that she ended up going with him to his hometown as well. Yet she was a married woman, and there is nothing to indicate that husband Lapidoth accompanied her.

Long before deciding to write my novel THE TRIUMPH OF DEBORAH, as I read the story, I began asking myself: what did her husband have to say to that excursion?

What would ANY husband say if his wife suddenly went off to distant parts with another man, leaving him to do the babysitting? It makes good sense that this created marital problems between them. Would they be able to overcome those problems?

Further, I asked myself, what transpired between Deborah and Barak when they were together with no husband in sight?

These were the aspects of Deborah and Barak and their story that I found most compelling, and they prompted me to write the novel, in which I used my imagination to answer these questions.

Why did you choose to have Asherah and Nogah both be daughters of the king?

The Scripture also says: "Barak bring in your captives." This, too, started the wheels of my mind turning. At that time there were many wars and many captives, yet the Bible does not mention them. So I said to myself that there must have been something very special about Barak's captives, and in my novel I made them princesses.

Also, through them I wanted to show the meeting of cultures and religions, and that right was not purely on one side or the other.

How much of the story is based on the information in the Bible or historical documents and how much is pure fiction?

It is a story for light entertainment, written first and foremost for reading pleasure, and not merely for people who have an affinity of one type or another to the Bible.

Still, the novel is totally faithful to the Bible. Nothing that is in the biblical text has been changed. At the same time, the biblical account is brief and leaves many gaps. My novel fills them, and in this way fleshes out the story.

In addition, I did much research, and being so fortunate as to live in the country (Israel) where the plot of the story took place, I visited those locations twice and derived much inspiration from them, especially from Mount Tabor and the king's castle in Hazor, which is now in ruins, but still most inspiring!

How does The Triumph of Deborah compare to your two other books, The Song of Hannah and The Garden of Ruth?

All three are stories with twisting plots and suspense, "page turners" as they have often been referred to. All three are about strong biblical women, who lived in a male dominated society, where women were downtrodden: they had few legal rights and their position in the family was deplorable. Yet they managed to shape their lives in their own way.

What is special about THE TRIUMPH OF DEBORAH is, that, based both on the account in the Bible and on my novel, the heroine Deborah may serve as a splendid role model for women of all times and also for modern women.

Despite the difficult conditions under which she lived, she succeeded in "breaking the glass ceiling" and attaining an outstanding position as an exalted leader, who was highly revered by both men and women.

Much has changed since then, but the circumstances for women are still difficult, although in a different way. Legally, the situation of women has improved out of all recognition since then. Also, women have more options and possibilities open to them today, than they had then.

At the same time, today's women face great difficulties in their lives, which are not negligible. One of them is that of combining partnership with a man and motherhood with a career.

If Deborah could assert herself then, there is no reason why modern women should not be able to do it now.

The lesson that women today can learn from Deborah is: I can do it. No matter how difficult and limiting the circumstances, I can overcome them.

That does not mean that all women must become political leaders, or judges. Rather, the message in the Bible and in my novel, which is based on it, is that the limiting circumstances did not deter her from asserting herself and doing what SHE wanted to do.

So that present day women seeking to build lives of their own, may derive inspiration from her in whatever THEY want to do, in whatever field they choose to do so.

What are you currently working on?

I am currently working on a novel about Tamar, the daughter of King David, she who was the victim of incestuous rape by her brother. But the novel is still far from completion, so there is no point in talking much about it.

Let's hope I will have the opportunity to tell you about it when it comes out.

Many blessings,



Julie P. said...

Great interview. I read the book a few weeks ago and really found it interesting!

Ruth said...

This is a great interview. Tamar is one of my favorite figures in the Bible, and I'd love to see what Eva could do with her story.

Eva Etzioni-Halevy said...

Thank you, Julie and Ruth, for your comments.

In my new novel I want to show how Tamar was traumatized by the incestuous rape and how she eventually overcame her trauma and built a new life for herself.

It's such a dramatic story in the Bible that one would need to be especially talented to spoil it.

Many blessings,