This is a guest post by Janice Weizman.
Rahel, a 17 year old Jewess living in 9th century Iraq must flee her home. Disguised as a boy, and equipped with nothing but her wits, she sets out on a journey. As she makes her way through the Middle East at the height of the Islamic Empire, she discovers not only the multi-faceted society she inhabits, but also herself – her abilities, her strengths, and something about the way her own society shapes and limits her. This is the premise of my novel, The Wayward Moon.
I’ve been asked (and have asked myself!): How did I, a former Torontonian with Ashkenazi roots come to write this novel? Well, to begin with, I’ve lived in Israel, the religion-rich and history-laden heart of the Middle East, for almost 30 years. I had always been curious about our Arab neighbors, but it was the phenomenon of suicide bombings, and then 9/11 that led me to enroll in a course entitled History of Islam. The class focused on the birth and development of Islam as a religion and cultural phenomenon. Today, Islam is perceived as backward, primitive, violent, and intolerant, but what we read and discussed in the course suggested that there was a time when it aimed to be just the opposite. At its height, Islam valued artistic beauty, international commerce, co-existence with other Monotheistic religions, scientific inquiry and creativity. The course readings and discussions sparked my imagination, and the story of Rahel began to take shape in my mind. A year and a half later I had the first draft of a manuscript.
The novel took years of research. Though the course and the internet were my main source of information, what most helped me was the fact that I was well-acquainted with life in the Middle-East. The landscape, the markets, the archeological sites, the food, the music, the weather, the literature, the values and norms – all of these helped me to envision what life for my characters would have been like.
In the summer of 2010 I set out to find a publisher. But as an unknown author living far from the US literary world, with a only a few published stories to her name, I knew that it would not be easy. In light of this, I decided to look for a small publisher, someone who would love the book enough to take it on.
I wrote to Yotzeret, and several weeks later I received an email from Sheyna Galyan, the founder and director of Yotzeret, asking to see the manuscript. A few months later I received this reply:
I have finished reading “The Wayward Moon” and it was a beautiful, engaging story…It is a story that stayed with me throughout the time I was reading it, and even after I finished…It is truly a wonderful novel, and I would be delighted to include it in the Yotzeret catalog.
Thus the connection between an Israeli writer and a St. Paul publisher was born.
The Wayward Moon came out last August. Each week I hear from readers who want to share their impressions of the book with me. They describe how Rahel remains in their mind as a unique and moving character and tell me how the book brought them into the lives of Jews, Muslims and Christians in the Golden age of Islam. They tell me how refreshing it is to read about a Jewish female protagonist, to see the world from her eyes and discover a Middle East that was once tolerant and progressive.
But recognition for the book hasn’t ended there. Last month, as if living an enactment of every writer’s fantasy, I was informed, twice, that the novel had won awards: first a Gold medal for Historical fiction in the Independent Publisher Awards, and then, two weeks later, a second Gold in the Midwest Book Awards.
“You know it’s good when it wins TWO gold medals from different organizations!” Sheyna wrote on Yotzeret’s Facebook page, and though we were on two different continents, had never met and had only ever had one phone conversation, we knew that the book we had both believed in had reached people who appreciated it and recognized its merit. A partnership between an unknown writer in Israel and small independent publisher in St. Paul had succeeded in producing an award-winning novel that excites and inspires readers.
Janice Weizman was born in Toronto and moved to Israel at the age of nineteen. She holds a degree in Social Work from Hebrew University as well as a Masters in Creative Writing from Bar-Ilan University, where she founded and continues to act as managing editor of The Ilanot Review, a literary journal affiliated with the program. Janice’s short fiction has appeared in various literary journals, including Scribblers on the Roof, Jewish Fiction, and Lilith. She lives in Rehovot, where she is currently at work on a new historical novel.