A Novel by Nava Semel (ISRAEL)
What are Jews doing in the chaotic Middle East when they could have been living peacefully in the state of "Isra-Isle," near Niagara Falls?
In 1825 Mordecai Noah, a diplomat, bought Grand Island as a refuge for Jews. The novel opens in September 2001 when Liam Emanuel, an Israeli descendant of Noah, learns about and inherits the island. He leaves Israel with a burning desire to reclaim this historic Promised Land in America. Shortly after he arrives in America, Liam vanishes with no trace. Simon T. Lenox, a police investigator of Native American origin, tries to recover Israel's "missing son." While following in Liam Emanuel's footsteps, Lenox learns about Jews and Israelis, and why this strange tribe of wanderers has been troubling the world for so long.
Nava Semel has published novels, short stories, poetry, plays, children’s books, and a number of TV scripts. Her stories have been adapted for radio, film, TV, and stage in Israel, Europe, and the United States. Her books have been translated and published in many countries. Her novel And the Rat Laughed was adapted into a successful opera, and it is also being made into a feature film, directed by David Fisher. Semel is on the board of governors of the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum. Her book Becoming Gershona received the 1990 National Jewish Book Award in the U.S. She has received many other literary prizes including the Women Writers of the Mediterranean Award (1994) and the Prime Minister’s Prize (1996). She is married to Noam Semel, Director General of the Cameri Theatre of Tel Aviv, and a mother of three children. She lives in Tel Aviv, Israel.
Jessica Cohen, translator, has worked with some of Israel’s finest writers, including David Grossman, Etgar Keret, Assaf Gavron, Rutu Modan, Amir Gutfreund, Yael Hedaya, Ronit Matalon, and Tom Segev, as well as such prominent screenwriters as Ari Folman and Ron Leshem. She has served as a board member of the American Literary Translators Association, and is also a member of the American Translators Association, the Israel Translators Association, the Colorado Translators Association, and PEN American Center. She lives in Denver, Colorado.
Reviews for Isra Isle
“Semel’s novel explores an intriguing what-if scenario based on historical fact. In 1825, Jewish-American Mordecai Manuel Noah purchased Grand Island, near Niagara Falls, from Native Americans, planning to create a place of refuge for Jews. Semel’s novel asks the question, What if this plan had worked?... In this changed world, Israel never existed, Native American and Jewish customs have been merged, and the American Jewish state affects many issues in the world. Each of the main characters struggles with issues of religion, spirituality, and identity in streaming thoughts and discussions. Through those voices, Semel explores issues of global importance—such as terrorism, prejudice, and politics—in this singular, thought-provoking novel.”
-- Publishers Weekly
"[A] spellbinding alternate-history….Semel’s true achievement with this book is her seemingly effortless ability to demolish the walls we instinctively put up in our minds between the “past,” the “present,” and the “future.” Each section is on the surface self-contained, but names, narrators’ styles, and traumatic events bleed through and into one another, suggesting recent theories in quantum mechanics about how time doesn’t necessarily flow in just one direction. Rather, Isra Isle suggests that, in two different universes (one in which Israel doesn’t exist, and one in which it does), the same problems persist: what does “home” mean? What about “exile”? Can we ever really escape tragedy and catastrophe, even if the conditions are vastly different? And then there’s the narrative style itself… that dazzles the reader. Jessica Cohen masterfully brings this through in her translation, and we’re lucky to have the opportunity to read this beautiful novel in English."
-- Rachel Cordasco, Speculative Fiction in Translation, October 16, 2016
“In a daring and brilliant book, Nava Semel turns the Zionist narrative upside-down and contemplates whether it would have been possible to change the history of the Jewish people. She creates a world in which a prosperous Jewish state under American patronage arises at Grand Island, near the Niagara Falls, in the wake of the vision of Mordecai Manuel Noah. This is a fascinating book that connects Jews, Indians and Afro-Americans, all with a persecuted past and searching for a homeland, and asks the question, “What would have happened if . . . ?”
-- Abraham B. Yehoshua, author, Mr. Mani, Five Seasons, and The Liberated Bride
“Semel once again proves herself one of the most original voices in Israeli literature. Equal parts detective novel, historical fantasia, and alternate history, Isra Isle offers a compelling exploration of modern Jewish identity for a postmodern world. Semel tackles serious topics with swift pacing and a sly wit: Zionism, multicultural politics, the attacks of 9/11, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and American Judaism. This what-if novel is Semel’s Israeli-feminist Yiddish Policemen’s Union—a real triumph of the imagination.”
-- Adam Rovner, author, In the Shadow of Zion: Promised Lands before Israel, University of Denver
November 2016 | 256 pages
Paperback with Flaps 978-1-942134-19-0 $16.95
E-Book 978-1-942134-20-6 $ 9.99