Interview with Yael Politis
by Yael Politis and Holland Park Press
B: At what age did you start writing and how did you discover that you had talent and could write?
B: Did you write The Lonely Tree more or less in one go or was it more a case of writing a part, getting interrupted, coming back to it some time later, reviewing it followed by more writing?
Y: I had to laugh when I considered this question. It was a whole lot of goes - that lasted 25 years.
Eventually I began working on a new novel, but one day I stopped and took Tonia out of the drawer. I didn't want to keep devoting all my time and energy to the new book until I had given Tonia another chance. I don't know how many novels I may write, but I tend to believe that Tonia, or The Lonely Tree, will always be my favourite.
By that time I had finally done what I should have way back when - read a few books on how to write publishable fiction. I never did that when I started writing. Why would I? I knew how to write. Didn't I get A+'s in English? I may have had doubts regarding imagination/ideas, but not about being able to write good sentences. What I didn't bother to consider was the difference between writing fiction and writing term papers.
When I began rereading The Lonely Tree I was appalled by how many slips I had made - misused dialog tags, sudden changes in POV, etc. So I spent a year editing and rewriting and posted the first 10,000 words on YouWriteOn, where you came across it and offered to publish it!
B: Did you write during set hours or did and do you carry around a notebook to record new ideas immediately?
B: The Lonely Tree is full of beautifully observed situations, for example right at the beginning on page 10:
Tonia descended the wide stone steps and strolled through
the shady neighborhood with its elegant dress shops and flower
vendors. As usual, downtown Jerusalem was deserted. Few cars
passed, and the owners of many of the hole-in-the-wall shops
had closed up for their afternoon nap. She window-shopped toward
the Pillar Building on Jaffa Road to wait for the battered
bus that would take her home to kibbutz Kfar Etzion, about
a forty-minute drive south of Jerusalem. The long black bonnet
of the bus soon nosed around the corner. It had high fenders and
pop-eyed headlights on either side of its tall grill, and its side
was covered with deep scratches and dents. Since yesterday, six
of the seven windows on either side of it had been fitted with
squares of plywood.
Did this require a lot of research? If not why not and if yes, how did you go about it?
Y: No, no personal experience.
Y: I never really made that decision. I'm hopeless at thinking of titles and began calling it The Lonely Tree as a working title. I thought that if a miracle ever happened and I needed a real title, the publisher would come up with something. But you liked The Lonely Tree so it stuck. It is a well-known symbol of the area and I do like the image of the tree.
Y: No, I was and remain in awe of their level of determination and willingness to sacrifice, though I realize they were not alone. Anyone who went to live in an isolated settlement back then was no less heroic.
Y: I think this is a story in which you can't separate those two connections. I can't imagine any of those characters living happily anywhere else.
B: Related to this, when I read the book, it struck me as being about: Who am I and am I allowed to be who I am, as an individual and as a nation. What’s your opinion about this?
Y: I think any book I write will focus on a strong female character. The problems she faces will depend on the time and place.
In the 1940s and 50s it wouldn't have been realistic for Amos to be less chauvinistic or for Tonia to even think in those terms.
Y: Actually Amos is the only one of the main characters who is a real 'fighter'. Though determined about achieving his objectives in life Josef, while certainly not lacking in courage, is very passive in the battle, as is Tonia's brother, Natan.
I think the need to fight one war after another has taken an unfortunate toll on men in Israel, emotionally even more than physically. I hinted at this through Natan's different experiences in the two wars, but that is a story for a different book.
As for motherland or fatherland - definitely motherland.
But your question sent me to the dictionary. Both are defined simply as the country where one was born. In my mind, however, the word fatherland has somehow come to be almost exclusively associated with Nazi Germany - the vaterland - and aggression.
Though Israel is constantly fighting wars, they have all been defensive (even if sometimes resulting in Israeli forces pushing their attackers back into their own territory and thus coming into, usually temporary, possession of that territory). This plot of land is definitely where the Jewish people were born and the womb they have longed to return to, so yes, definitely motherland.
B: Did the writing of The Lonely Tree made you think differently about certain issues? Or were you surprised yourself by some of the twist and turns in the story?
Y: There were no great discoveries, though in some areas my awareness certainly was heightened.
B: Finally: why did you decide to move from Michigan to Israel?
My standard 'excuse' is that Exodus, by Leon Uris, was one of the books I read (several times) by flashlight. It certainly had a profound effect on me -- but enough to cause me to take such a drastic step? I can't say.
By the way I reread Exodus lately, curious to see if I would have a different opinion as an adult. Still think it's a great book.
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