Thursday, May 10, 2012

Lots of Interesting Sex: The Pagan Spirits Interview with Nomi Eve

In a June 25, 2011 post, I wrote:

"The History of Love is not my favorite Jewish fiction ever. That might be Nomi Eve's The Family Orchard, Markus Zusak's The Book Thief or possibly Mona in the Promised Land by Gish Jen."

The post then deviated from a discussion of fiction, as one might guess from its title, "5 Jewish Dudes I'd Most Like to See Lewd." ("Lewd" was the buzzword of last year's Congressman Anthony Weiner scandal.) At the moment, it's my #7 all-time most viewed post.  

Imagine my surprise when Nomi Eve sent me an e-mail saying she'd read the post and thanking me for mentioning her book. It was a bit of an awkward way to start a literary dialogue, but Nomi Eve agreed to answer a few questions for me and my readers. 

Erin O'Riordan: Some of the reviewers of The Family Orchard criticized the book for its emphasis on the erotic. How did you respond to this criticism?

Nomi Eve: My characters break many taboos.  They steal, lie, and have lots of interesting sex.  Personally I don't like to read about boring people doing ordinary things.  And so I don't write about people doing ordinary things.  I responded to those reviewers by not responding at all.  If someone was offended, I assume they stopped reading after the third or fourth page.  And if they kept reading, well, then they couldn't have been all that offended in the first place. 
Erin O'Riordan: To create your novel, you used your father's research into your family history, but fictionalized that history. Other authors have been caught at passing fictionalized memoirs off as their true stories. In your mind, is there a clear line between a carefully-shaped historical account and fiction? 

Nomi Eve:  Absolutely.  I very consciously blended fact and fiction in The Family Orchard.  I was blatant and upfront about my use of my father's narrative. But my whole point was to show that the line between fact and fiction is naturally blurry.  We tend to think that memoir is devoid of fiction and fiction is devoid of truth.  I have always found otherwise.  Each contains elements of the other.  Now, historians are different.  Historians need to build their narratives out of sturdy fact-based materials, whereas fiction is made of soul, memory and imagination. That doesn't mean that good fiction can't rely upon research and historical veracity.  Only that readers need to be aware that the fiction writer can take them anywhere, and that adhering to a character's truth isn't the same thing as being factually accurate.  

Erin O'Riordan: Did you create the family tree and the glossary of orchard terms before or after completing the novel? I wonder if you used it as a reference as you were writing, or added it afterward for the benefit of readers.

Nomi Eve:  I created both of these things afterwards.  The whole time I was writing I had all the characters floating around in my head, and the same goes for the glossary of orchard terms.  They were two of the last things I did before the book was sold. 

Erin O'Riordan: In an interview for The Jewish Federations of North America, Jodi Werner compared your writing style in The Family Orchard to Latina fiction. Was the work of the Spanish-language magical realists something you had in mind as you were writing the novel?

Nomi Eve:  I have always loved Jorge Luis Borges, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Isabelle Allende, but I also love Isaac Bashevis Singer, Cynthia Ozick and Meir Shalev.  Jewish writers have always been magical realists. The Talmud, and the mystical Jewish texts are nothing if not magically real.  There is tremendous cultural and spiritual overlap between the great Spanish language writers and the great Jewish writers.  
Author: שחר דרורי Creative Commons license
Erin O'Riordan: Why do you think it is that Israelis seem so infatuated with trees? Is it just a consequence of living in a desert area, or is there something more to it?

Nomi Eve:  My Israeli grandfather was of the generation who planted the orchards in the early twentieth century, and then made a livelihood by harvesting the fruit.  That way of life is mostly gone now.  But the history of Israel can certainly be told as a story of the grafting of disparate people, the planting of hearty trees, and the harvesting of the fruit of ancient days on modern soil.  Orchards provide endless metaphors, and for a writer, and the granddaughter of an orchard man, well, they proved irresistible. 

Erin O'Riordan: If I were to visit Brookline, Massachusetts, what would be the one cultural attraction - whether part of the Jewish community or otherwise - I would not want to miss?

Nomi Eve:  I no longer live there.  Now I live with my family in Elkins Park, Pennsylvania.  And the one thing I would recommend not to miss is a construction site.  Our community has come together to build a food co-op on the site of an old abandoned empty grocery store -- which also happens to be located in the heart of our tiny town center.  It is just glorious to see what can happen when people come together to build something out of nothing.  Every day we watch more beams go up.  Our entire community is thrilled by the progress and promise of this one communal undertaking. 

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