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Notes from Book Week, and a shocking meeting with a literary critic.
I'm sorry. You'll have to forgive me. I'm under a lot of pressure. Though I have never been considered a particularly serene person, during these past few days my anxiety level has reached new heights. Yes, it's all because of the book, the book. I've never felt as much of a merchant as I have this past week. I am prepared to do anything, even join the next voyage to Gaza, if a public relations person will promise me this means another few dozen copies. However, not all the marketing tricks have worked out well. For example, the television interview - to be broadcast soon - for which the interviewers insisted on meeting my parents culminated in a mass disaster. At least 2,000 potential copies were thrown into the trash as a result.
"Have you read the book?" the interviewer asked my father, who only nodded in a dissatisfied way.
"And what did you think of it?" continued the moderator, and my father turned to look at me. Only because I was present and he did not want to hurt my delicate feelings, he made the effort of saying "an okay book," with the least believable "okay" one can imagine. "Just okay?" wondered the moderator. And here my mother intervened in the conversation and said: "We told him a million times he should go study law but he insists on making problems."
"As a matter of fact, when he was little he wasn't problematic at all," said my father, annoyed. "He was a good boy, he never cursed, he never thought about girls. It's only because we made a mistake and sent him to study with Jews that he has a filthy mouth and cusses out everyone right and left."
"I don't know," said my mother. "I say, why should a person go looking for trouble as though there weren't enough."
It's not going well, I'm telling you. It is driving me out of my mind. One critic, about whom I couldn't tell whether or not he liked the book, wrote that I insist on writing about Arabs even though the characters could equally have been Jews from Sderot - that is, not really Jews, but poor - almost Arabs.
That same critic noted that writing about these characters could label me as an Arab writer. I was horrified. Me? An Arab? After all I have done. After I invested everything I have, heart and soul, they come along and write that I am an Arab, and for what? Only because of the characters? It is not good to be labeled an Arab, not good, not good at all. An Arab isn't recognized, an Arab is good for a clearance sale, not for a special deal at Steimatzky.
I decided to gird my loins and combat my reputation as an Arab, so when a nice researcher called from Army Radio and said they were devoting one of their special Book Week programs to Arab writers, I immediately objected and told her I would not participate.
"I'm very sorry," I said to her, "but I don't want to be an Arab writer."
The researcher was stunned. She couldn't understand what had hit her and she sent her boss, apparently, to deal with it. She is called Tzipi Gon Gross, the boss, and in a phone call I picked up that she is a leftist. She too did not understand why I did not want to be on a program of Arab writers and her tone of voice sent the message: "After all that we are prepared to do for you people, after we fought to bring Arabs into a special, too, in honor of Book Week, instead of thanking us, you are telling us you don't want to participate in the program. How is there going to be peace this way? With whom is it going to be possible to talk at all?"
"You understand," I tried to explain to the boss, "I will of course be glad to talk about my book, but why with Arabs?" She did not understand, and with justification. I don't blame her. Especially as she told me she had insisted the moderator would be an Arab. They had already confirmed with someone, she said, and mentioned the Arab moderator's name.
"I know him," I told her. "He's a friend of mine. He hasn't read a book since first grade."
"For your information," said Gon Gross, "we have a special on literature and sport and the moderator is a sports reporter and not a literary woman. We have a special on literature and psychology and the moderator is a psychologist and not a man of letters."
"Yes," I tried to defend myself, "but Arab is not a profession."
And I don't know for whom this Gon Gross voted but I am telling you that at that moment she decided to swing to the right. Incidentally, in the end I agreed, despite the labeling and my fear I would get a reputation as an Arab.
Why does it seem to me that messing with the person who delivers culture at Army Radio is an especially serious matter. On the day of the flotilla, and here allow me to note that I was for the naval commandos and against the Turks, because in the end Turks don't buy books in Hebrew, and if only for that reason I say they deserve to have a few thousand cut down - at any rate, on the day our heroic soldiers risked their lives to defend our sacred soil from our cruel enemies, I received a text message from Army Radio saying the special on Arab writers had been canceled, even though it had been scheduled for a week after the incident.
The worst was to report to the book stand in Rabin Square in Tel Aviv and forcefully push the book on people. "I swear to you," I pleaded, "this is a good book. I wouldn't be recommending it to you if I didn't think it was simply brilliant. Especially as there aren't all that many Arab characters. It's a stigma."
This was so embarrassing. Oh my God. Fortunately, at the publisher's stand there was a keg of beer, which somewhat moderated the sense of affront and made the nightmare of selling tolerable. Every 10 minutes I went over to the beer spigot to refresh the stock.
"Excuse me," a young man with designer glasses and a sack full of books addressed me. "Do you work here?"
"Yes. That is, I do have a - I'm Sayed Kashua," and I held out my hand to shake the hand of the reader of books.
"Swell, Sayed. Get me two glasses of Heineken," and he threw two shekels into my extended hand.
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