Email me at

Friday, May 25, 2012

Israela: An Interview with the Author

A Discussion with Batya Casper, 
author of "Israela"

The conflicts the characters in the book encounter are clearly ones that you are extremely knowledgeable and familiar with but was there anything surprising you learned about Israel's history or yourself while writing Israela?

Yes. I’d originally conceived of this project as a work of non-fiction. I wanted to trace the history of modern Israel for myself so I could more clearly see how Israel had arrived at her present situation. However, as I wrote, fictional characters and imaginary situations kept popping into my mind - as it were, of their own volition. I realized that for me to paint a broad canvas, it was best to depict the details, everyday, authentic actions and emotions of what I now like to refer to as virtually correct fictional characters.

My second surprise was Israela herself. I wrote the entire book with another title in mind, knowing that it was not the title I really wanted. The morning after I had completed the book, when I was really finished with it, I woke with the word “Israela” in my head, and I knew she was the title. More, the moment I chose “Israela” as my title, I felt a compulsion to write. Israela wrote herself into her own sections, providing the sense of time, antiquity – and the sense of some other element – that I had wanted all along.

What would a typical writing day look like for you? Do you prefer to write during a certain time of day? Do you write in long-hand or via your computer? Where do you generally write?

I am a compulsive writer. Either I have nothing to say, in which case I can stand on my head and worship all the gods at once, but nothing will come to me.

Or, I have something I want to say, in which case I am like the proverbial dog with a bone. I write for long stretches - up to nine to ten hours at a time. I prefer to sit at my computer, at my desk, in solitude. Early mornings are my best time to start writing.

It was refreshing to read a novel with such strong female leads. Did you always envision the story through the eyes of Orit, Ratiba and Elisheva or did one take on a larger role than you originally planned as the story unraveled?

Yes. I started out with a single character – Elisheva. She soon split off into herself and Orit – two very different characters. Before long, Ruti/Ratiba emerged. I worked the hardest on her because I knew her the least. To my great surprise, she is now recognized at Israela’s main character.

What books would you recommend others to read?

Reading is such a personal undertaking, as personal as the clothes we wear, or the homes we live in. My taste is quite traditional, I think.

 I love Khaled Hosseini’s A Thousand Splendid Suns; Gabriel Garcia’s One Hundred Years of Solitude; A.B. Yehoshua – both his Mr. Mani and his A Journey To The End of The Millenium. I adored Nicole Krauss’ The History of Love. I love all of Barbara Kingsolver’s books, especially The Poisonwood Bible; Flauber’s Madame Bovary (of course,) Dostoevsky’s the Last of the Just, which I read as a young girl and which has stayed with me ever since. I have been most influenced by the great Russian writers, and by the Bible. I consider the Book of Kings, with the stories of Kind Saul and David to be among the finest literature ever written.

The Israeli/Palestinian conflict is a very complicated issue and it can be difficult as an outsider to follow the issues through the media. What is your hope that readers take away from "Israela"?

I hope they gain a sense of Israel’s humanity, of life in Israel as a constant balancing act between its complex social structure, its complicated, contradictory histories and cultures, and the rigors and joys of everyday existence. More than anything, I want my readers to come away with a sense of the temerity, the incredible earnestness with which people there – all peace-loving people there – struggle with issues; face their problems, make their decisions and face the consequences of those decisions, conscious at every moment that each decision made will affect their lives, their well-being, and those of their neighbors. I want my readers to know that life in Israel is way more - more beautiful, more joyous and more tragic than the ever present Arab/Israeli conflict depicted by the media.

About the Author
     Batya Casper, Ph.D, is a director and teacher of theater, trained to manipulate conflict for dramatic effect. "What a glib endeavor compared to the blood and tears of real life," she says. Casper has lived in Israel intermittently since early childhood. She has watched friends and family struggle, question, sacrifice their children.
     She has lived in numerous countries, including England, Scotland, South Africa, Israel and the United States, and brings a worldly perspective to her writings. Batya is a director and actress. She also teaches theater. She directed several plays in Israel, including Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard and Athol Fugard’s Playground, both mentioned in her new book. She earned a BA in English literature, and has a Masters and a Ph.D. in theater Arts from UCLA.
     Batya moved to Israel in 1956 – just eight years after the State of Israel was formed. She has lived there intermittently since early childhood. Batya taught Hebrew literature and biblical studies at an adult education center in St. Louis and she taught Hebrew to adults in Boston. She also worked as an Assistant to the Cultural Attache of Israel in Boston, as the coordinator of educational programs for exchange students between U.S. and Israel.

Happy Reading!

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Israela Book Discussion and Giveaway!


by Batya Casper

"Israela" by Batya Casper, (Tate Publishing & Enterprises, LLC, 2011), is a story of love, secrets, betrayal, loss, survival, and hope. The story unravels through the eyes of three women, each with their own viewpoint and vision for the future. Centered around the conflicts of the Irsaeli and Arab people, this book helps us to understand the struggle and cost of peace. What would the land we inhabit say to us if she had a voice? Can we soften our own hearts enough to listen?

"In my heart, I call to their mothers, 'Take your sons to your houses, Bind them to your chairs; gag them, blindfold them if necessary until they grow calm. Then teach them, for they have forgotten, about peace, about the blessed life, about a future- a present- without pain.' Beneath their prayers, in their morning cups of coffee, beneath their love making and their child rearing, and in their sorrows, especially in their sorrow when burying their dead, I hear the simmering of heating souls; I smell the charge of armies, of lives exploding uselessly into smithereens. I sit mourning over a disaster still to come."

My book club won copies of this beautiful book from Book Movement and we would like to pass four copies along to one lucky winner for their next book club selection. If you have been thinking of forming a book club but haven't yet made that leap, enter to win and have a set of four books for your invited members to get you started. Check out my previous posts on Starting a Book Club and how to Take Your Book Club from Fair to Fabulous for more tips.

Enter to win four copies of "Israela"
Simply leave a comment on this post with a link back to your blog or website or email so that I have your contact information if selected. The deadline to enter is June 15, 2011.

Stay tuned for the next post at The Key to the Gate featuring a Q & A with Batya Casper, author of "Israela."
Enrich your reading by sharing your thoughts on books with others by starting a book club.

   No book club meeting is complete without refreshments. If you feed them, they will come.

Happy Reading!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Birdsong: A Novel of Love and War

I just finished reading Birdsong: A Novel of Love and War by Sebastian Faulks (Vintage International, 1993) and what a terrific read! I came across this book at my local library's book sale about a year ago and it looked intriguing so I picked it up. After researching the book online, I discovered that it has been extremely popular in the U.K. since it was released and has been adapted for radio, stage, and recently television as a two-part film for PBS's Masterpiece Anthology series. It is also part of a trilogy (The Girl at the Lion d'Or and Charlotte Gray) consisting of similar characters. It is the perfect British saga to tide Downton Abbey fans over until its third-season return in the U.S. next year.

From the Publisher
Published to international critical and popular acclaim, this intensely romantic yet stunningly realistic novel spans three generations and the unimaginable gulf between the First World War and the present. As the young Englishman Stephen Wraysford passes through a tempestuous love affair with Isabelle Azaire in France and enters the dark, surreal world beneath the trenches of No Man's Land, Sebastian Faulks creates a world of fiction that is as tragic as A Farewell to Arms and as sensuous as The English Patient. Crafted from the ruins of war and the indestructibility of love, Birdsong is a novel that will be read and marveled at for years to come.

" I feel guilty that I have survived when all the others are gone." 

- Stephen Wraysford 

Birdsong elegantly expresses man's eternal struggle to find meaning even in the darkest of days. It reminds us of the sacrifices of our war veterans and those of our allies, and how we can never fully understand or process the emotional, physical, and mental depths they have traversed. Yet surprisingly through all the ugliness and despair, the need for love remains.

If you have already read this novel, leave me a comment and let me know your thoughts.
Happy Reading!

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Book Giveaway Winner

Congratulations to Kristin T. for winning a copy of 
"They Came Like Swallows" by William Maxwell!

Stay Tuned for Upcoming Giveaways and much more from
The Key to the Gate.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Finding One's Way Through Reading

For the last few years, I have tried to incorporate more inspirational reading into my roundup of books. It can be difficult to find contentment in our excess driven culture where we are inundated with images of air-brushed perfection designed to deceive us into thinking that reality could ever be so impeccably polished.

The world of technology has advanced so rapidly in the last decade that we are now "tuned in" to receive advertising and messages at all times. Sometimes you just need to remove yourself from the constant chatter to be reminded that happiness doesn't always arrive in a jubilant roar, it can also come in the quietest of whispers.

I wanted to share with you three books that I have found inspiring and encouraging, and always keep close at hand:

The Artist's Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity by Julia Cameron
This book is a wonderful resource to remind you that a creative life is a fulfilled life. Cameron takes the reader on an artistic journey to tap into one's creative self that. Through scheduled time that is dedicated solely to one's art, this book encourages you to express your creativity and to set small goals in order to reach your ultimate dream. One of the more difficult assignments in the book is to spend a week in "Reading Deprivation"- no newspapers, books, magazines, or other printed materials- to learn how to listen to your own inner voice. You must learn to nurture your talents to find the confidence you need to achieve your goals. This books shows us that through our own creative endeavors, we possess the tools needed to obtain personal success.

The Heart of Buddha's Teaching by Thich Nhat Hanh
Thich Nhat Hanh is an acclaimed Buddhist monk, poet, and peacemaker who shares with us the teachings of Buddha in such simplicity and beauty that one immediately feels that peace is possible for each and everyone one of us. Accepting that we cannot change our past any more than we can predict our future, we find the serenity needed to enjoy simple pleasures in the present. This book is a perfect primer for learning to  question our own actions and how our behaviors reflect the struggle within. When we criticize others, what is  it about ourselves that we are feeling unhappy about that leads us to pass judgement? Through the Buddha's lessons, Thich Nhat Hanh helps us to acknowledge our thoughts before we speak or take action so that we can instantly change our way of thinking to a positive approach and benefit from a positive response.

Simple Abundance: A Daybook of Comfort and Joy by Sarah Ban Breathnach
If you only share one book with the women in your life, this very well may be the one to pass along. The information in this book is cataloged as daily journal entries for an entire year but if you are like me, you will likely devour this book in a week. There is much more to this book than you may gather from some reviews. It is much more than a "how-to" on organizing your linen closet or establishing a kitchen pantry. The passages are full of reminders on celebrating each day and realizing that your success can't be defined by material objects. Creating a simple life isn't entirely about participating in the green movement. It's about making our days less stressful, appreciating what we have as opposed to constantly coveting more, and embracing each new day with a grateful heart.




Blog Widget by LinkWithin