Over a decade ago, Fiction Editor Yona Zeldis McDonough received a story called “Roadkill,” submitted unsolicited. The story dealt with the plight of Ella, a 30-ish Israeli woman who accidently hits a dog while driving. The dog’s last moments and subsequent death are woven in with other losses, and other sorrows; altogether it was a haunting, powerful work that appeared in the Spring 2003 issue. Ever since then, McDonough has followed the career of the story’s author. Now spelling her first name with a “y,” Miryam Sivan lives in the Galilee but writes in English. Sivan’s new collection, Snafu, contains “Roadkill,” “City of Refuge” (which appeared in the Spring 2011 issue), and 10 other bristling, animated and highly intelligent stories. McDonough recently caught up with Sivan, who was happy to share her thoughts on “street Hebrew,” the role of dogs in our lives, and the tricky, shifting dance—or sometimes battle—between the sexes.
YZM: Tell me about living in Hebrew and writing in English.
MS: I just gave a talk about this…. it’s not a simple phenomenon for a number of reasons. When a Jew moves to Israel, she returns not only to her people’s ancient homeland, replete with many wonderful and seriously challenging dimensions, but she also “returns” to Hebrew. Since I don’t write in Hebrew, I experience myself as an artist-outsider. And this creates a kind of dissonance, since I am a Jew in Israel. I belong and don’t belong, simultaneously.
Years ago a German colleague of mine asked me if I was an Israeli writer or an American one. I honestly didn’t know how to answer. Finally I asked him why I had to choose…. why couldn’t I be both? A hybrid — an American writer who writes about Israel, an Israeli writer who writes in English?