Great Expectations Literature Shifra Kornfeld, 31

Her debut novel, 'The Second Half of the Night,' will be published in 2012.

CoBen-Simhon
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CoBen-Simhon

Shifra Kornfeld, a former winner of Israel's "Big Brother" reality program, is about to publish her first novel, "The Second Half of the Night." The plot involves a small, closed community of American hippies who find religion and congregate around a charismatic rabbi on a Jerusalem hilltop in the 1970s.

"They're a group of fringe people who are drawn to the place and to the rabbi and find an alternative family and a sense of belonging. It's a place of great enchantment and desire, but there's also a dark side," Kornfeld says.

Siffra Kornfeld.Credit: Yanai Yechiel

"The book's title is taken from a story about King David. He would hang his lyre by the window, and at midnight the wind would strum the strings and David would get up to pray. This is because until midnight the world is filled with vanity, and the second half of the night is available to usher in redemption."

Kornfeld, the wife of the producer and screenwriter Muli Segev, recently gave birth to a daughter, her first child. Born in the Old City of Jerusalem to newly religious American parents, she started to write very young.

"I must have been sad at the age of 8. Dad came over to me with a pen and notebook and suggested that I write down what I felt. I've been writing ever since. Years later I found out that he writes every day, too," she says. "One of the loveliest lines in the book is lifted from him, from a short passage I found in a drawer. He hasn't read the book yet, and I wonder whether he'll recognize the line as his."

It took three years to write the novel. "The beginning was a little scattershot. It was very hard for me to see the totality, and at some stage I even thought it would end up as short stories," she says.

"But when I set about extracting the thread of a plot from the string of anecdotes I had compiled, I discovered that the plot's main axes were already there. All I had to do was crank the handle at the right speed and in the right direction. I worked eight hours a day. In fact, I still do: I get up in the morning, sit down at the computer and don't budge."

Which elements of the book are drawn from your life?

"It's not a biographical work, at least not in the personal-chronological sense. It does describe a particular world in which I grew up, or more accurately, after it. The book is about the joy that people say was there before I was born, as the song goes."

How excited are you that the book is being published?

"Like in the ninth month of pregnancy, when the understanding that there is no choice but to get it out becomes clear and scary, but also a little wearisome and heavy from carrying it so long. A combination of 'Nu, already' and 'What, already?'"

Are you nervous about the book's reception because of your connection with the reality TV show?

"The truth is I fantasized about publishing it under an alias. But that's just as absurd as becoming famous for taking part in a reality program. It's a catch-22, because without the backdoor I burst through I would probably still be a stewardess writing a blog. Which is a wonderful thing to be, by the way. At the end of the day, my name only appears on the cover, though some people probably won't manage to get over that hurdle. People don't like the feeling that someone took what they see as a shortcut. I can understand that."

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