Jewish Book Festival until November 27, and a report of the Opening Gala with Zeruya Shalev

Lots of interesting literary events happening at the Jewish Book Festival until November 27. These are held at the Jewish Community Centre at 41st and Oak.

Take a look:

The authors and books that are featured range from self-help to memoir to young adult and children’s works to literary fiction.

One that looks particularly interesting is the Tuesday night event featuring Steve Galloway talking about his book The Confabulist (which features a fictionalized Harry Houdini) with Sheryl MacKay of the CBC.

I know Galloway’s work from The Cellist of Sarajevo (and I actually first heard him read back in 2001), so this looks to be a very interesting discussion.

On Saturday night, I attended the Opening Gala featuring renowned Israeli author Zeruya Shalev, in conversation with Marsha Lederman, arts critic for The Globe and Mail. Shalev’s books have been translated into various languages, and she has recently won the prestigious Prix Femina literary award in France for her latest work The Remains of Love,

Shalev is a striking woman who looks rather younger than her 55 years, despite a life that has included suffering injuries from a terror attack in 2004 that left her unable to walk for some months (she appears to have fully recovered). Shalev says that she starts every one of her events with reading from Hebrew, even if it’s in a location where no audience member is likely to understand it, and that is what she did here, although some of the audience could undoubtedly understand her in this case. Lederman then followed by reading the same pages in English translation. As Lederman said, the poetic sound of the Hebrew was clear, even if one could not understand the words.

Shalev was suffering from flu or a cold, but she admirably rose to the occasion regardless. She was funny, warm, and witty as she described her relationship with her characters. Once her daughter caught her crying over her characters, who were suffering so much sadness, and her daughter was puzzled as to why she, as the author, could not solve their problems. But that does not seem to be how it works. Shalev uses a method where she does not plan in advance, but allows the characters to come to life and live their adventures. I have often wondered what percentage of authors fall on the very pre-planned side of the spectrum versus the “let’s see where they lead us” side. I recently heard, at Vancouver Writers Fest, the Dutch author Herman Koch (of The Dinner and other works) describe a similar process, although his characters occasionally lead him down a contradictory road, and then he has to discard some pages.

If you have a chance to take a workshop at the Jewish Book Festival, I recommend it. I have done so in the past, with Karen X. Tulchinsky,and it was excellent. Although this festival features Jewish authors (but not exclusively) and Jewish themes (again not exclusively), anyone is welcome to attend.

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