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Interview with Eva Etzioni-Halevy

September 4, 2008

Last week I had the opportunity to read and review Eva Etzioni-Halevy’s new book, The Triumph of Deborah. (Read my review here.) Now, she’s been even more gracious and agreed to answer a few questions about writing, her books, and life. Welcome Eva!

Thus far, all three of your books (The Song of Hannah, The Garden of Ruth, and The Triumph of Deborah) have focused on women in the bible. What about Bible stories in general (and the ones you’ve chosen in particular) inspires you to write about them?

It so happens that, rather late in life, I began reading the Bible on my own and I was fascinated by it. What intrigued me was the fact that it is full of the most DRAMATIC and the most TRAUMATIC stories about people who lived thousands of years ago, and yet are so similar to us in their souls.

I was also enchanted by the fact, that the people in the Bible, even the most exalted heroes and heroines, are described not as angels, but as true human beings, with strengths but also with weaknesses, many of which stemmed from their sexuality, and also by the fact that the women in particular are presented as intensely sexual persons.

I was mesmerized particularly by the women of the Bible, whose fears and hopes, anxieties and desires I could visualize as if they were my own, as if I were part of them or they—part of me.

At times their voices in the Bible are not as distinct and strong as they could have been. I wanted to turn the spotlight on them and hand them a loudspeaker, so to speak, so that they could be heard loud and clear across the generations.

Hence I began writing about them, stories of love and betrayal, of redemption through more love and friendship, stories with twisting plots, “page turners” as they have often been referred to, and yet tales that are totally faithful to the Bible. At the same time they stand on their own two feet and can also be enjoyed by people who know nothing about the Bible and have no interest in it.

What’s the most unexpected thing about writing a book? Was there anything about The Triumph of Deborah that surprised you?

For me, the most unexpected thing about writing The Triumph of Deborah and my other biblical novels, is that I wrote them at all, and that having written them, they got published and became a success.

I started writing biblical fiction late in life (I am by profession a sociologist.) I had no previous experience whatsoever in fiction writing. I wrote in a language, English, which is not my native tongue. I began writing for English-speaking, particularly American, readers, even though I lived—and still live—in a country (Israel) that is at a distance of thousands of miles from those readers.

On top of everything else, I was a complete outsider to the American fiction publishing scene. I had no knowledge of what was going on in it, and no connections with anyone who did.

It seemed hopeless. Some people who truly had my welfare at heart, advised me to give up, rather than investing an enormous amount of time and effort in an endeavor that could lead to nothing but dismal disappointment.

Today, I have published three biblical novels with one of the world’s largest and most reputable publishers: Plume/Penguin. The first two novels: The Song of Hannah (2005) and The Garden of Ruth (2007) had six printings each and are still going strong. The third one, The Triumph of Deborah (2008), although published only a few months ago, has had its second printing already, as well as incredible reviews.

How did I get from one to the other?

One important explanation lies in the fact that the American publishing market proved to be truly open to outsiders and open-minded, as well as populated by some wonderfully supportive people. Secondly, I made the fortunate decision to base my work on The Old Testament of the Bible, which Christians and Jews share. So members (particularly women) of both faiths found an interest in my novels. Thirdly, the novels, although meticulously faithful to the Scripture, make for light, entertaining, reading, and hence are attractive also to people who feel no special connection to the Bible or to any religion.

Yet another explanation is tenacity. When all seemed hopeless, I did not give up.

What’s something you can cook better than anyone else you know?

Absolutely nothing.

At one of the talks I gave about The Triumph of Deborah, one lady in the audience said, “Judging from the tasty dishes you describe in the book, you must be a terrific cook.”

I had to admit that I was not. In my novel I put together dishes from foodstuffs that are mentioned in the Bible, some of which have also been discovered in archeological excavations, in the hope that my recipes worked. Anyone is welcome to try them out.

What’s the most recent “gotta-recommend-it” book you’ve read?

The Song of Songs (Song of Solomon) in the Bible. This is a collection of stunningly beautiful erotic love songs, some of which, if you think about what they really mean, will make you blush. It makes for most incredible reading and shows that the Bible does not recoil from describing romantic love and sensuality.

What do you hope people will take away from reading The Triumph of Deborah?

Apart of remembering The Triumph of Deborah as an enjoyable read, as a love story with romantic themes in it, I hope people will also realize that underneath the surface the novel is a tribute to women’s inner strength and power.

Based on the account in the Bible, as further developed in my novel, Deborah may serve as a splendid role model for women of all times and also for modern women.

Deborah lived in a male dominated society, where women were downtrodden: they had few legal rights and their position in the family was deplorable. But nonetheless she succeeded in “breaking the glass ceiling” and attaining an outstanding position as an exalted national leader.

Much has changed since then, but the circumstances for women are still difficult, although in a different way. If Deborah could assert herself then, there is no reason why modern women should not be able to do it now.

The lesson that women today can learn from Deborah is: I can do it. No matter how difficult and limiting the circumstances, I can overcome them.

That does not mean that all women ought to become leaders. Rather, the message in the Bible and (based on it) in my novel is, that the limiting circumstances did not deter Deborah from asserting herself and doing what SHE wanted to do. So that present day women seeking to build lives of their own, may derive inspiration from her in whatever THEY want to do, in whatever field they choose to do so.

Okay, last question that I ask of everyone… who do you think would win in a fight, pirates or ninjas?

Please forgive my ignorance, but I don’t know much about them. I would recommend that they stop fighting and make peace, as the ancient Israelites and Canaanites did, as we learn from the Bible and in greater detail from my novel.

Eva, thanks again for stopping by to chat!

You can visit Eva’s website here, or buy The Triumph of Deborah from Amazon here.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. September 4, 2008 9:51 am

    thanks for the nice comment you left on my blog today. i appreciate it. and you did a great interview with eva etzioni-halevi too! :-)

  2. September 4, 2008 11:10 am

    Hello Nicki,

    Thank you so much for your most thoughtful questions and for letting me share my thoughts about THE TRIUMPH OF DEBORAH with your readers.

    Wishing you continued and great success with your blog,


  3. September 12, 2008 7:13 pm

    I reviewed this book for my blog and I really liked it. Great interview with the author!

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