Thursday 13 August 2015

Israel. A Country Overflowing with Stories

By Leah Kaminsky,
Photo credit: Nicola Bernadi 
My mother was a sole survivor of Belsen. After she died I promised myself I’d write a book about her, but all I had were small snippets of memory of stories she had told me when I was much younger. I’ve drawn on these, as well as my own real experiences living and working as a doctor in the Middle East, to weave together a tale about values we share in common. The novel took me over ten years to write. 

It started with a childhood memory of a story my mother once told me about her father. He died in the Lodz ghetto aged 42. He was a pious man who insisted his six children burn their nail clippings in the fireplace, using matchsticks as witnesses. I found out years later, while researching THE WAITING ROOM, that according to the mystical thinking of the Kabbalah, the fingernail is a remnant of the membrane covering Adam’s body before he ate the forbidden apple. Nails are pieces of the soul and if you do not burn or bury them you cannot pass into the afterlife until you have found each one you have scattered. 

A pregnant woman, who represents life, is in danger of miscarriage if she steps over a stray nail clipping, which is dead matter and represents our own mortality. This intrigued me and became the prologue for the novel, as well as one of its leitmotifs – the wispy realm that lies between life and death.

The face of war has changed dramatically over recent years. In the past, those at home used to mourn for their fallen soldiers who died far away on foreign battlefields. Nowadays, as civilians, we have all been conscripted into global conflict and are threatened with random acts of terror as a part of our everyday lives. Even the countries we once thought blessed with peaceful borders have now become non-too-safe sanctuaries.  THE WAITING ROOM is a love-story, set amongst this new landscape of war, affirming that at heart we have more in common with each other than our differences might suggest. Trauma carries down through generations, but so does love. And love is ultimately what gives us hope.
Dina is an Australian family doctor, trying to live her day-to-day life in Haifa, a port city which prides itself on being an oasis of co-existence in the Middle East. Pregnant with her second child, she juggles her patient’s needs and eccentricities, a fraying marriage and the demands of motherhood, with the threat of terror looming near. Trying hard to hold everything together, she is haunted by the legacy of her holocaust survivor mother. 

Despite attempts to escape the persistence of her ghosts, focusing instead on her relationship with her Israeli husband, her young son and her work, Dina finds herself reliving her mother’s imagined past. She can’t keep out her mother’s presence, the weight of their history and the reality of living in Israel; everything is seeping through the cracks and imploding. Dina’s internal psychological bomb is ticking away alongside the sudden terror threat that casts a shadow on an otherwise ordinary day. THE WAITING ROOM explores what it means to be a mother, a lover and a listener (for her patients), at a time when Dina can’t even hold herself together.
THE WAITING ROOM has all the elements of misery woven into its narrative – death, war and depression – but at its heart it’s an uplifting love-story about hope and that’s the overriding message of the book I would like people to take home. 

Pre-order copies of the book from Random House

The Sydney-launch of THE WAITING ROOM entitled Israel. A Country Overflowing With Stories: In Conversation with Leah Kaminsky will kick off the Sydney Jewish Writers Festival from 7:15pm-8:15pm on Saturday, 29 August at Waverley Library, Bondi Junction. Book here! 
To see the full program: 

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