Tel Aviv Stories: Life, Love, and Death in Israel's Unholy City (Midnight Oil Publishing), a collection of six stories and one novella by me, was released on February 1st 2011 and debuts at the 25th Jerusalem International Book Fair.
At the end of the writing, editing, considering and worrying that makes a book, I have to think that every writer is left with a question: why did I write this? In my own book's case, the question is sharper. Tel Aviv Stories, after all, is a collection of short fiction published at a time, we're told, when the short story is dead and buried. The book's title not being a lie, it's a work of fiction about life in Israel's first city, but it breaks a cardinal rule of Israeli writing and doesn't devote itself to topics of bombs, resistance, and brothers of war. It isn't about the subtleties of suburbia, it's not about happiness, and it's not about the Holocaust.
With all these caveats, Tel Aviv Stories would make even the sturdiest publisher balk (and many did). So with little hope of ascending the peaks of bestsellerdom, where the question of "why" has answers in abundance, I'm left with my book and my question.
I spent a long time in the weird, wonderful "White City" (which, despite its name, has yet to reveal a single patch of white), asking, "Why am I here?" I walked the same paved paths that the characters in my book walk, and felt like one of them, as if I'd been written into the city and no longer had a way of existing outside of it.
I began to ask (like any character who becomes aware of the plot) why the city, the setting itself, is there. Looking around, it didn't make sense. What could a crumbling, half-Bauhaus bazaar of liberality be doing sitting there on its namesake dune, in a desert of extremes?
To understand it you have to know how unlikely this platypus of a city is. The streets smell like southern Europe, where car exhaust is mixed with cigarette smoke. The look is of the Balkans or Odessa, cluttered, crumpled, indecent. But when the flies buzz away from a coming sandstorm, Arabia is in the air, and Tel Aviv is nothing but the "Near" East, the "Middle" East, or the Levant, however you choose to call it.
So I could only investigate. I didn't have available the obviousness of America's modernity, which is precisely what it is at the moment it's observed. Nor was there the display-case of Europe to exhibit life in elegant, etched form. There was, and is, only the nameless stream of daily living, and the few figures that stood against it to define it.
Feeling written into the city myself, these strange figures meant something to me. The streets themselves meant something. The stories in the book of Tel Aviv were an attempt to shade these figures a little, to show them in their natural habitat, to give expression to the silhouette.
As for the question of publishing, and book markets, and the hysteria of "the death of the book," I feel I couldn't have asked for a better time, almost in history, to publish. We're witnessing the beginning of the re-birth of books. Digital formats are making books cheaper for readers. But just as importantly, the new digital way has the power to create audiences where before we looked only to find them. It promises a flourish of opportunity and creativity that hasn't been seen in centuries.
For now I'll stick to Tel Aviv Stories and return later to the book renaissance. I've given some answer to my original question, but I'm also waiting to hear from readers about what these stories mean to them. While my most basic hope is that the reader enjoys the reading, I also have a deeper, if more willful, desire that they see a little of what I saw and understand, maybe better than me, why I saw it in that way.
Tel Aviv Stories is published by Midnight Oil Publishing.
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