Jon Papernick, The Ascent of Eli Israel & Other Stories, 6/11/09

The Ascent of Eli Israel Links:

New York Times Review

Papernick’s blog

Reviews on Amazon

Eleven of us met to talk about Jon Papernick’s unsettling collection of short stories.  Several noted the author’s powerful and unique writing style; just about everyone experienced a sense of hopelessness and distress while reading about the characters.  Such darkness isn’t surprising considering that all of the tales take place in Israel, the focus of a great deal of distressing and seemingly hopeless news stories over the years. However DJ, DS & JS were frustrated with the unrelentingly disturbing tone of Papernick’s stories, longing for acknowledgment of the great number of thoughtful Israelis that don’t engage in extreme and bizarre behavior.

Papernick’s stories spurred lively discussion about and tales of members’ travels in Israel.  DJ told us about the dramatic differences in her experiences walking through Jerusalem, depending on her company – Jewish, Arab, or walking solo.  BC reviewed the history of the creation of the state of Israel, pointing out the colonialism, war, and displacement of peoples that have contributed to the apparently unresolvable conflict over the land that exists today.  He felt the stories would be more meaningful to those who are familiar with the history of the Middle East.

This reader was stunned by the story of “An Unwelcome Guest.” A young Jewish settler plays a deadly game of backgammon with an old Arab who mysteriously appears in his kitchen late at night with family in tow.  JW felt this story should be required reading at the United Nations.

Those who wished for more hope and wit in the tales will be interested to know that Papernick’s latest work is full of humor. A Waltham resident, Papernick read from his as yet unpublished novel, Sharpy, at the Library on June 25th.  In the chapter he read to us, the main character, a con artist on the run, meets his girlfriend’s intimidating parents when she brings him to their home to stay for a while. His writing is as fine as ever, and he had us laughing out loud.

As always, we heard tips for related reading from well-read members: