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BLOG: Writers of the Lost Arc

"A crop of superb novels by younger writers keen to edge their fading elders from the spotlight"

I'm happy my novel was included in the Wall Street Journal's overview of the best novels of the year. It's a provocative article. Here's the link, but if you're not a WSJ subscriber, I cut and pasted it below.

http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702304367204579268303742637632

The Year in Fiction 2013
A crop of superb novels by younger writers keen to edge their fading elders from the spotlight.
by Sam Sacks

Nothing better encapsulates the state of fiction at the end of 2013 than the hoary motif of Father Time and Baby New Year. On one side are the old, the established, the reverenced; on the other, the young and fresh-faced, squalling for recognition and eager to nudge their elders from the spotlight. They will do it soon if the past 12 months were any indication.

No reading year is without disappointments, but it's noteworthy that in 2013 almost all of them came from A-list novelists whose books failed to warrant the attention they attracted.  Read More 
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"The Accidental Holy Man" review of "In the Courtyard of the Kabbalist" in Wall Street Journal

(I'd give the link but you need to be a WSJ subscriber).
Book Review: 'In the Courtyard of the Kabblist' by Ruchama King Feuerman
A Lower East Side clothier decamps for Israel and ends up dispensing kabbalistic advice to eager supplicants.

By BARTON SWAIM
Dec. 13, 2013 3:11 p.m. ET
'A month after his mother died, Isaac Markowitz, forty, plagued with eczema and living on the Lower East Side, sold his haberdashery at a decent profit and took an El Al flight to Israel." So begins Israeli writer Ruchama King Feuerman's second novel, "In the Courtyard of the Kabbalist." In the Holy Land, Isaac finds work as an assistant to a kabbalist rabbi, who (to oversimplify) uses esoteric and unconventional Talmudic readings to deal with a variety of human problems.

Ms. Feuerman vividly catalogs the supplicants who crowd the holy man's courtyard in Jerusalem: "homemakers, unemployed Israelis, yeshiva students, a concert pianist who hiccupped excessively and couldn't play anymore."  Read More 
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What does a Kabbalist eat for breakfast?

Once upon a time, a person could easily make reference to a rabbi, maybe a rav, and maybe even a rebbe, but a kabbalist?

In Jerusalem, a kabbalist is as common as a plumber. Everyone knows what you’re talking about. In the holy city, the lexicon of magic, amulets and incantations are as real as the corner drugstore. You have a cold? Go to a kabbalist. You have a problem in religion? Go to a kabbalist. You want to marry a man? Go to a kabbalist, he’ll help you.

For the past seven plus years I’ve been swimming in kabbalists, collecting true tales from whoever visited with these mystic figures and rebbes.  Read More 
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Kosher Soup for Ramadan & Other Tales of My Mother's Moroccan Childhood

The Bergen Record was coming to my house to do an interview for my new novel. You’d think after having spent years and years writing this book, I’d have imagined this moment, prepared for it, I’d have my patter down, my lines. Ten minutes before they came, I called my husband. “Quick,” I blurted, “tell me again why I wrote this novel.” My husband, a psychoanalyst, replied, “Tell them you wrote it to be closer to your mother.”

I rolled my eyes, laughed, and then I thought, hey, there’s a shtickel bit of truth here. In the Courtyard of the Kabbalist features a Muslim Arab man. My mother grew up in Casablanca, Morocco, which technically also makes her an Arab, even if she’s an Arabic Jew. Here’s the thing, though. Whenever friends meet my mother, they can’t believe we’re even remotely related. She can belly dance with the best of them and hunt down bargains and tchotchkes with a terrifying zeal. In her seventies she is still noticed, still the Casablancan glamour queen. In contrast,  Read More 
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Artistic Aspirations of Orthodox Women Writers -- Rama Burshtein, Fill the Void

I hear "Fill the Void" may be coming out in DVD. Marvelous film. Anyone interested in the artistic aspirations of Orthodox women, should check out this interview of Rama Burshtein with Beyond Cinema Magazine. She is a master. Rama speaks of how she became religious (“I fell in love with Gd”), how the film  Read More 
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How Far Will I Go to Get the Novel Cover I Want?

I ask my rabbi to be on the cover of my novel. I tell him I’m looking for a man in his mid forties or fifties, someone with a longish beard, in a black hat and coat. What I don’t tell him is, I also want a face suffused with Yiddishe angst, which is how I'd describe his face.

The rabbi is mellow enough to actually consider my request for a moment, then regretfully declines.

So I keep looking. The shul, the Kosher Konnection grocery store, the lines at Quick Check or Valley National Bank. There should be lots of faces like that where I live in Orthodox Passaic, but somehow it's not working. Maybe I'm getting too demanding. Now he should look vaguely mystical, and the next day I add on "slightly tortured," and “ironic.” And one last thing -- he should be at least five foot ten.  Read More 
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My Main Character Was Too Gorgeous

My agent strongly suggested I scrap one of the main three characters in the novel I'd been working one for years, "In the Courtyard of the Kabbalist." She just didn't feel connected to her story, her plight.

I resisted her. Who wouldn't? I'd invested years in this Jewish female character, a transplant to Israel. How could I let her go just like that?

Then one day I thought: Anna’s right. I hadn't captured Tamar with the same urgency and intimacy as I had captured my other characters -- Mustafa, a misshapen and gaunt janitor on the Temple Mount, and Isaac, an uptight assistant to a kabbalist. Somehow, I had failed her as a writer. She hadn't come to 3 D life, and probably never would. Why? It struck me then. Tamar was too beautiful. Pity has always been the portal through which I enter my characters. In the back of my prejudiced mind, I couldn't take her pain too seriously, because gorgeous women didn't suffer, not really.
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Writing Prompt: Transforming Family Saga into Story

Here is one of my favorite writing prompts. I love it because it always generates great stories even from people who wouldn't ordinarily put pen to paper, and because it messes with your mind, makes you ask, what's fiction, what's fact, what's history, what's story, what's fiction, what's fact. Maybe we should just call it faction. I've done this one many times in my writing workshops, with the young and the old and the very blocked. It's tried and true.  Read More 
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