I was recently alerted by fans that the Jewniverse website, associated with MyJewishLearning, had an odd article about Rashi’s Daugthers. Notice the upper case D, which would suggest that they’re talking about my historical novels, not merely the daughters of Rashi.
There are several odd things here. First is that, while finally mentioning my books in the last paragraph, my name never appears. Second, they are publicizing a book that has been out since 2005; why the sudden interest nine years after publication? But the weirdest thing is the website’s picture of three medievalish women and a man outdoors surrounded by some sort of plants. I have no idea where/how they got this, but it's clearly not Rashi and his daughters, even though one woman appears to be blowing a shofar. This is a hunting scene with the man shooting an arrow at a deer, not working a vineyard. When I posted a comment about the picture, they replied that it was nice to hear from me, and that the illustration from a period manuscript, not Rashi’s daughters.
Still, even weird publicity is good publicity. And I did get my name mentioned by commenting.
On the Goodreads Historical Fiction group, I recently saw a post asking how to deal with ascertaining the truth when various sources have different birth and death dates for historical characters. I wrote back that I've had the same problem with characters in Rav Hisda's Daughter, which is almost completely based on Talmudic sources, written by men for men over a period of several hundred years.
However once I started doing the math, I realized that the men who came up with biographies of the Talmudic sages never considered the fact that women in days before modern medicine don't give birth before age 12 or [Biblical matriarchs aside] after 45, or that men generally don't marry women many years their senior [although the reverse is common]. For example, Rav Hisda is said to have married at age 16, which meant his bride was around 14. They had nine children, which pretty much accounted for his wife’s entire childbearing years. If Rav Hisda was born in 310 CE, as many of these Talmudic biographies state, then his wife’s final child could not be born later than 260 CE. Yet Rava, who marries my heroine, is said to have been born ca 270 CE. Even if she was Hisda’s youngest child, surely she did not marry a man 10 or more years younger than her. So I "adjusted" Hisda’s birthday 20 years later, and that was one of several birthdays I had to recalculate to account for this kind of thing.
They don't call it "his-story" for nothing.
I just received my copy of Spring 2013 JOFA Journal, JOFA short for Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance, of which I am a life member. While I don’t consider myself an Orthodox Jew, I greatly admire the women who are committed to promoting female scholarship, facilitating dialogue about issues of women and Orthodoxy, and advancing women’s participation in Orthodox communal life. I support these things as well, and I am well aware many serious female Talmud students/scholars come from the Orthodox world. So I was thrilled to see a very nice review of my new novel there, and I can’t resist sharing a few excerpts.
“I was enthralled by Maggie Anton’s Rav Hisda’s Daughter from the start. Here, finally, were the Amoraim in their study halls, at their Seders, stomping on dates to make date wine, and spending time with their families. The world first glimpsed in As a Driven Leaf did not end with the closing of the Mishna. Anton deftly weaves a novel full of characters in whom the reader finds herself invested, even those who are less likeable. The scope of time and geography is breathtaking.
Anton does particularly well at introducing us to the many tensions present throughout the Jewish Babylonian and Palestinian societies … Anton excels at the creativity inherent in historical fiction, and, as with her novels about “Rashi’s Daughters,” no one should mistake it for a sober or authoritative scholarly tome with academic apparatus—although a useful map, timeline, cast of characters, and glossary are included … a mesmerizing tale.
You can read the entire review online; just scroll to the almost last page to find it.
Hallelujah! I’m home from my Big Fat East Coast Book Tour. It was a great success and took me to places I doubt I’d ever visit otherwise, like Montgomery and Birmingham Alabama. While in New York City, I got a chance to be interviewed on The Jewish Channel for their “Week in Review.” The interview can be seen on this week’s show [May 10] on their website. In addition, you can watch the entire interview On Demand on your local cable station that carries The Jewish Channel. If you want to see me on this YouTube video, move the cursor to the 11.00 minute mark.
Those of you following my travels can understand why I haven’t been posting much recently. Right now I’m taking advantage of the excellent wifi and comfortable work-table seating on the Amtrak Acela express train as I head from Philadelphia to Baltimore to the second of two WLCJ regional conferences today: mid-Atlantic this morning and Seaboard this afternoon. Then tomorrow I have to fly [boo-hoo] to my next two events in Alabama [Montgomery and Birmingham].
In an extremely rare day when I had nothing scheduled I found myself in Philadelphia where an incredible exhibit was nearing its end at the Penn Museum of Archealogy, which I could easily reach by a local train from where I was staying. If you’ve read, or seen the cover of, “Rav Hisda’s Daughter, you know I’m intrigued by all the ancient mosaics found in the land of Israel, especially those of the Roman period. Imagine my delight to learn that one of the finest ever discovered was on display in the very city I was visiting.
Here’s what the Penn website has to say: More than 300 square feet and nearly 2,000 years old, this ancient Roman floor mosaic is one of the world’s largest and best preserved. Discovered in 1996 in Lod, Israel (near Tel Aviv), the "Lod Mosaic" is often characterized as an archaeological gem. Learn about the mosaic's discovery, history and conservation in this limited time exhibition. See this unique masterpiece in its final United States venue before it travels to the Louvre in Paris and eventually becomes the permanent focus of the Shelby White and Leon Levy Lod Mosaic Center in Israel. For more info, including a picture, check out this link.
Just finished taping a fun interview on The Jewish Channel TV, where I was interviewed by Steven I. Weiss for the show "The Week in Review." My appearance should be on next week, and then available on demand for a month. You can also see it on TJCTV.com.
I’m writing this from a stranger’s home in Lido Beach [south shore Long Island] NY. I’m on day 3 of my 22 day, 22 venue, 6 state East Coast book tour. I spent the last two nights at the home of Rabbi Robin Fryer Brozdin, who happened to be one of the women arrested in Israel recently for praying at the Kotel/Western Wall.
Those who have followed my blog for a long time may recall that I was privileged to davan with the Women of the Wall in December 2006. It was an incredibly moving experience, especially since I was honored with an aliyah. We had our Torah service at the south end of the Western Wall, near Davidson’s Arch, using a giant flat rock that had once been part of the wall as our table to read Torah from. I thought at the time that if there could only be a way to enlarge the Kotel to include this area, which was obviously a continuation of the same holy wall, then there should be room for all Jews to pray there in their own way. Of course it would have to be open to the public, free of charge, 24/7, just as the Kotel currently is. But this was just an idea.
Now I hear that my idea is not just my idea alone. When Natan Sharansky was charged with finding a way to solve the “problem” of women wanting to read Torah at the Kotel, he can up with the same solution.
Now will it work? Can all the sides agree to it, including the Muslims who contract the Temple Mount and the archaeologists
who control the Davidson Arch area? Can the Israeli government actually find the money and the resolve to make it happen? Who knows? It will probably take a miracle, but hey, miracles happen there.
Last post I mentioned that I was dealing with “personal stuff.” Now that my son-in-law has gone public with his testicular cancer battle on Google+, I can share what has been occupying me since mid-February. Thankfully, much of my support has involved spending time with my grandsons, although Gary's week of chemo coinciding with Pesach was a definite bummer. For the full story, see this link.
Just after I apologized for waiting almost 2 weeks between posts, I’ve now taken even longer. Yes I’ve been traveling and dealing with personal stuff [as Nachmanides says, “those who understand will understand”], but I’ve actually been working on Volume 2 of “Rav Hisda’s Daughter.”
The first draft is up to seventeen chapters, my hero and heroine are finally married, and my challenge at this point is how to condense 50 years of their life together into a manageable number of pages. Obviously I will have to skip entire swaths of years, or summarize them into a few paragraphs, so I can concentrate on the high points. Yet I don’t want to give short shrift to the important stuff, plus there are many interesting Talmud passages that mention my characters that I’d really like to include. I’d rather not write 1000 pages and then cut 500 of them, like I ended doing for the first volume of “Rashi’s Daughters.” I would hope that by this point I’d have developed better writing skills. At a minimum I need to reread some historical novels where the author has covered a lot of ground without detailing every year, or better yet, every decade.
I know it has been a while since my last post, but between preparing for Pesach and cleaning up afterward, the time flew by. Another big time-drain has been preparing for my upcoming East Coast book tour. At three weeks long, this will be my longest, continuous book trip. Starting on April 19, when I fly to JFK, and concluding on May 10, when I come home from Orlando, I will be speaking at 22 venues in six states .
My first locations are close to New York City: Long Island [April 20-24], Westchester & Rockland Co [April 24-28], ending at JTS in Manhattan. From there I move south to the Philadelphia area [April 30 – May 5], including a lunch and learn at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College on May 2. Next come back-to-back lectures at two Women’s League of Conservative Judaism conferences on May 5, the Mid-Atlantic Region in the morning and Seaboard in the afternoon. Then a quick flight to Montgomery, Alabama on May 6, followed by a Sisterhood luncheon in Birmingham on May 7, and evenings in Gainesville and Orlando the next two nights. I’m hoping to squeeze in a visit to Harry Potter World before I fly home.
Interestingly, I’ve found that I receive better publicity and much higher attendance in these small Jewish communities than in the big ones. I’ve yet to get any reviews or write-ups in the Los Angeles Jewish press, despite this being my hometown, and apparently New York media is even harder to crack. In addition, there are a huge variety of Jewish venues, most of which attract only their own membership. Here in Los Angeles, it seems like most Jews won’t cross the street to hear a speaker at a different shul. Yet in places like Winston-Salem or Virginia Beach, where I’m the only game in town, the whole community comes out. So I will be curious which venue will have the largest, and the smallest, attendance. But the important thing is that you, my readers who live near where I’ll be appearing, come to hear me next month.
Years ago I used to consume science fiction in great quantities, but somehow I moved onto other kinds of novels. Then “Rav Hisda's Daughter, Book I: Apprentice: A Novel of Love, the Talmud, and Sorcery” was selected by Library Journal as Best Historical Fiction for 2012 and while on their website, I saw that Kim Stanley Robinson’s "2312" was chosen best Science Fiction. I waited 3 months for my name to get to the top of my library's hold list, and the wait was worth it.
This book is wonderfully creative and superbly crafted, with a tight plot that is not merely science fiction but political thriller, murder mystery, social commentary, and romance all in one story. Robinson takes us into a future world without any information dump, letting us learn about it as his characters experience it. His science is so plausible that I never had to suspend disbelieve, no matter how fantastic the various worlds and inhabitants become. All the various and varied threads come together to form a whole at the finale, with a happy and satisfying ending. And did I mention some very creative sex scenes?
As an author who must bring my readers into ancient worlds almost as bizarre as Robinson's future ones, I learned so much from his writing. For those who like hard science fiction [no fantasy elements], I highly recommend this novel. The author presents such a creative future that I'm filled with admiration and envy for his writing talents
What a wonderful and heart-warming video, a flash mob like no other.