The Things She Carries

Maya Savir's book of a child trying to keep intangibles is a product of a past of fleeting memories and the pain of losing an uncle to war.

When parents and teachers told us kids "you have to look at the glass half-full," it was an optimistic lesson for life. Even as adults, we often draw from a reservoir of encouraging sayings and tell ourselves or good friends "to carry on," and "don't look back."

But Maya Savir, the author of the new children's book "Ilan and the Missing Thought" (published by Am Oved; Hebrew title: "Ilan Vehadavar Shene'elam") actually wants to call attention to the half-empty glass.

"As a child I was aware of the disappearance of things," she says. "I know now, through my kids, that there are children who focus on certain things more than others, and these are the things that occupied me, the temporariness of life in nature, loss and separation. I thought about separation for a long time after it happened."

In "Ilan and the Missing Thought" there is no plot in the usual sense of the word. Not much seems to happen in Ilan's life. His grandfather comes to visit and brings him and his sister presents of the kind you have to acquire a taste for, as the book refers to them.

Ilan walks on leaves and thinks about a girl named Tali whom he likes. But in contrast to the mundane, a lot happens inside him and this is what the book is about.

Ilan does not like when he is missing things and also prefers not to long for them. He finds solutions for this. At first, they are concrete solutions. So, for example, he has a box where he keeps the things he cares about. Later on, he realizes that it is possible to store events with the help of a photo, and even longing for a beloved person can be alleviated with the help of an object that is reminiscent of them.

But the question is what can be done with thoughts that are elusive and forgotten. This is where the skill of writing comes to our aid.

"Writing down a thought eases the distress and fear of losing it," explains Savir. "When Ilan places the thought on a paper, his feeling is one of victory. So, when a child acquires writing, it's a lot more than just a skill. It's the ability to cope with the world."

Savir's own childhood was full of transitions, being the daughter of Foreign Ministry diplomat Uri Savir and director general of the Peres Center for Peace, Aliza Savir. When asked if her interest in the temporary nature of things and the fear of losing things stems from this, she says it is not necessarily the only explanation.

"It was a complicated and interesting childhood," she says. One of the less pleasant parts was saying goodbye, leaving behind friends and making her way in new surroundings. "I went to many schools. I didn't really handle formal frameworks well. I didn't like being told what to do," she says.

When she was 17, she got fed up with the constant moving, persuaded her parents that she could manage without them and attended twelfth grade at the Experimental School in Jerusalem alone.

The longing for missing things that Savir expresses in her gentle way is also connected to the loss of a significant person in her life and thus bereavement and loss are another layer in the book.

During the First Lebanon War, her uncle Ilan, her mother's brother, was killed. She was 10 years old.

"The age difference between us was just 10 years and we were very close," she says. "He was very much a presence in my life, part of me and part of who I was as a child. After he was killed, I would imagine that I had an inner tape recorder and that I'd a press a button to hear Ilan's voice. His appearance is easier to recall. There is a photo album. But the voice is a more tangible memory that I was afraid to lose."

The name of the book's hero, Ilan, is a way of perpetuating his memory, "because I believe that words can store memories."

On another level of the book, the little victory of Ilan, who manages to place the thought on paper, describes the satisfaction an artist has when they succeed in writing.

And perhaps this gentle story, illustrated by Michal Bonano, is also a story about the search for personal expression. That is something that Savir is an expert in.

Her writing skills came late to her. Savir, 36, has been engaged in literary writing for just a few years. She says she had no plans to become a writer.

"I grew up in a home where they always talked about what a wonderful thing it is to create, and how lofty. I thought to myself, how could I possibly be able to create?"

She studied psychology and after her studies starting working as an evaluator for personnel agencies. "I liked the contact with people," she says, "their story, what motivated them emotionally."

But she had trouble being the one to determine their fates. Eight years ago she decided to leave her job and since then has devoted herself to writing.

This is her third book. Her first, the novel "The Tyranny of Gentleness," was published in 2005. Two years later her first children's book, "My Mother Thinks I'm Food," was released.

Perhaps because of her previous experience, she relates to writing as work. According to her, every morning she starts writing after the children have been dispersed to their school or kindergarten and only gets up from her chair in the afternoon.

Writing for her started as a way to cope with letting her own children go. "When [my daughter] started going to daycare, I discovered separation anxiety, and then one morning I sat down and wrote a scene about a mother and a daughter parting," she says. "The ages were different, they were much older, but that was the core. The whole book ["The Tyranny of Gentleness"] started from identifying my experience of separation. And the same happened with the following books. The connection between what I write and my life is indirect and evasive. Sometimes a single moment of glance enlightens the entire internal process of writing. Usually it starts from something very abstract. And the work after that is to find a way to express that same abstract thing that I want to convey."