Interview with Yosef Gotlieb

What constitutes the foreground of Rise? What story does it tell?
Rise is the story of Lilah Kedem, an internally-known photoessayist who returns to Israel after three decades of living in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She has come home to reconcile with her estranged husband, Naftali, and their adult son, Ido, both of whom have made their homes in Israel.

Shortly after her return, Lilah is distressed to see the country in doldrums, characterized by hardship and disaffection. She also encounters a series of incidents involving Jewish and Arab violence that touch her and her family directly. She finds herself drawn toward a group of people determined to counter the extremism and the attendant malaise in the society. She also decides to launch her own search for the Jewish extremists who are wreaking havoc on the society and which the authorities, for reasons that are unclear, seem unable or unwilling to apprehend. Lilah's pursuit of the extremists intersects with the hunt undertaken by a security operative, Eli Zedek, to find and stop them.
So this is Lilah's story?
Yes,to a certain extent. It is also the story of the society as a whole. There are motifs – lost innocence, being true to one's self, redemption – that are common to both Lilah and Israeli society as seen against what they have experienced over the past thirty years.
Thirty years?
Actually, a bit more. Lilah fled Israel shortly after she and Naftali were married following the death of her brother, an officer in the Israel Defense Forces, during a counter-terror operation along the Gaza Strip in 1979. Lilah's despondency over her brother's death was insufferable and she felt herself unable to continue living in the land where he had fallen.
The book suggests that you believe in a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict. How would this affect Israeli society?
Yes, I do believe in two states based on a great deal of cooperation between them. And this cooperation should expand to include the entire region.

I believe in civic interchanges between the two peoples, not just a formal political resolution . By this I mean good neighborliness and cooperation based on common interests in the economic and cultural spheres.
As someone who was born in Costa Rica, raised in the United Statesand has made his home in Israel, how many languages do you speak? How has the variety of spoken and written languages influenced your writing?
My parents were born in Poland and brought to Costa Rica as children by their parents in the 1930s, when it was clear that there was not future for Jews in Europe. They were raised in Yiddish-speaking families and in a community where Spanish was increasingly spoken but Yiddish remained a vernacular. I was born in that community but my nuclear family moved to Chicago when I was an infant. At home, my parents were linguistically rooted in Spanish and Yiddish and I, and later my brother who was born in the US, brought English into our family. I learned English primarily by learning to read and consuming written matter voraciously from an early age.

Growing up there was always a sense of struggle in verbal communication and I increasingly relied on written communication for self-expression. Eventually, though, my verbal skills improved and I have been a teacher and lecturer for many years. I began writing at a very young age and it is through that medium that I find greatest satisfaction in self-expression.

I had a speech community but no mother tongue. I do have what I call a father tongue, Hebrew, which is central to my historical identity. As one translator of my work recently noted, though I was educated in the US the English language of my writing has an Israeli lilt to it. Also, since my personal life has been influenced by Yiddish, Spanish, American and Israeli cultures, this is reflected in my writing, in which I often use non-English colloquialisms. Today, I speak mainly Hebrew in my family and social life, I teach and write in English, and I often use Spanish. Sometimes, I find myself using all three languages in one conversation.
When did you find time to write? Also, can you offer insight into your next novel, Dance of the Uroboros? What is it about?
Finding time to write is a necessity for me. I block off a dedicated period during which whatever I am working on becomes the focus of my productive energies. For example, anticipating the end of the academic year during the summer of 2012, I planned to begin writing the first full draft of Dance of the Uroboros on July 1st and to conclude it by the end of September, when the major Jewish autumn holidays end and we begin gearing up for the next school year. I kept to that schedule, including time to review the draft and “study” what I had come up with, that is, to see where the characters, plot and writing needed to be improved and the work rendered more cohesive. I then decided that I would let the draft percolate through mid-December, allowing me to consider several issues that I have to resolve in the story while at the same time enabling me to put my academic commitments on track for the new year.

Adhering to more or less the scheduling framework, I resumed work on the second draft of Uroboros in mid-July 2013 and plan to complete the work sometime in early 2014.

Dance of the Uroboros is the story of a man, Eitan, who faces a life-threatening illness that challenges both his body and my mind. The only intervention that can save him is a liver transplant, which seems a dubious prospect given his deteriorating condition. The book recounts a journey of self-exploration and change. It is a story about self-reckoning and trying to come to peace with the past in order to continue into the future. It is also a love story and the importance of love as a means and end to a life well lived.
Published 2013-09-01.
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Books by This Author

Rise, A Novel of Contemporary Israel
Price: $7.99 USD. Words: 116,930. Language: English. Published: August 17, 2011. Categories: Fiction » Thriller & suspense » General
Lilah Kedem, an expat long resident in Boston, returns to her native Israel in an attempt to heal a family rift. She encounters a society different from the one she remembered and now plagued by extremism and disillusionment. When the attacks imperil those dear to her, Lilah joins the hunt for the perpetrators and becomes part of a citizens movement, Jews and Arabs, striving for a new Israel.