Today I have the talented Uvi Poznansky on my blog whose book I recently reviewed. Not only do I have my review but an intriguing article by the author on the Perils of Biblical Inspiration.
This article focuses on A Favorite Son. Uvi has just released a new book, Twisted. It is a collection of dark stories, the first of which is also biblically inspired.
This story is a present-day twist on the biblical story of Jacob and his mother Rebecca plotting together against the elderly father Isaac, who is lying on his deathbed, in order to get their hands on the inheritance, and on the power in the family. This is no old fairy tale. Its power is here and now, in each one of us.
Listening to Yankle telling his take on events, we understand the bitter rivalry between him and his brother. We become intimately engaged with every detail of the plot, and every shade of emotion in these flawed, yet fascinating characters. He yearns to become his father’s favorite son, seeing only one way open to him, to get that which he wants: deceit
“What if my father would touch me,” asks Yankle. In planning his deception, it is not love for his father, nor respect for his age that drives his hesitation—rather, it is the fear to be found out.
And so—covering his arm with the hide of a kid, pretending to be that which he is not—he is now ready for the last moment he is going to have with his father.
“A Favorite Son” by Uvi Poznansky is a well crafted and superbly written re-telling of a Biblical story. The rivalry between Jacob and Esav about who is the favorite son. The competition between the two is an old theme and Poznansky does a brilliant job at bringing it into modern day experience and sensitivity. It is a tale of greed, betrayal and twisted family relations.
Told from the perspective of the second born twin brother Yankle (Jacob) it shows his hate, insecurities, envy and desperation, yet we also see the mother;’s favoritism and scheming nature and the father’s real thought as revealed on the death bed.
This story is as valid now as it was back then. On a personal level the story worked incredibly well for me. I had been taught the story in Catholic Religious Education, which paid little respect to the Jewishness of the family and their culture. Poznansky seems to play with both ancient and modern themes, none of which are completely favoured, so there are references to kosher as a future concept as well as a present one.
It also achieves to bring relevance to an old story, a wonderful illustration of what the story did and does tell us about families.
The format of a novella was well chosen, the writing flows smoothly and comes to a perfectly timed end. I don’t know if any biblical and theological sensitivities are being offended by this particular reworking of this story but on a moral and ethical level the novel had a powerful impact on me and I look forward to more of the same.
The Perils of Biblical Inspiration
by Uvi Poznansky
Apart From Love, Home, A Favorite Son, and Twisted
Would you believe that writing biblically inspired books is a risky proposition?
Let me suggest to you that it is. Why?
Because some of your readers may have only a vague recollection of the reference material, back from their days in Sunday school. Others may be totally unfamiliar with it, because they may come from a different culture altogether. So you have to introduce enough of the original story to the readers, and you better do it in a fresh way, one that highlights the immediacy of its meaning. Here, for example, is the voice of Yankle (based on the biblical Jacob) in my book A Favorite Son:
“When I sprinkle my secret blend of spices; here, take a sniff, can you smell it? When I chop these mouthwatering sun-dried tomatoes, add a few cloves of garlic for good measure, and let it all sizzle with lentils and meat—it becomes so scrumptious, so lipsmacking, finger-licking, melt-in-your-mouth good!
There is a certain ratio of flavors, a balance that creates a feast for the tongue and a delight for the mind; and having mastered that balance, with a pinch of imported cumin from the north of Persia, a dash of Saffron from the south of Egypt, I can tell you one thing: When the pot comes to a full bubbling point, and the aroma of the stew rises up in the air—it would make you dribble! Drive you to madness! For a single bite, you would sell your brother, if only you had one!”
By design, his voice is a direct and intimate one, letting you get close enough to taste, or at least to smell the aroma of his lentil soup. Not only that, but the ‘you’ in this passage is not just the preverbial you.
Rather (as is revealed later) it is a character with a complex emotional relationship to the main character: his firstborn, who at the conclusion of the story is just about to fool Yankle in a most devastating way, by letting him believe that Joseph, his favorite son, has been devoured by a wild beast.
No wonder Yankle has a dark side. Here he is, pondering the bitterness of sibling rivalry, and the abuse of an elderly father by his son, which perpetuate themselves here from one generation to the next:
“It is an odd feeling. Have you ever faced it? Being dead to someone you envy; someone you miss, too; someone who knows you intimately and, even worse, has the chutzpa to occupy your thoughts day in, day out. It grinds down on your nerves; doesn’t it? Trust me, being dead to your brother is not all that it is cracked up to be, but it does set you free—oh, don’t act so surprised! It frees you from any lingering sense of obligation. Brother, you say to yourself. What does it mean, Brother? Nothing more than a pang, a dull pang in your heart.
You have betrayed him. Accept his hate. You need not talk to him ever again. For the rest of your life, you are free! A stranger— that is what you are. A stranger, visited from time to time by dreams: Dreams about the mother you will never see again, and the father you left behind, on his deathbed. Dreams of waiting, waiting so eagerly for the next day, to meet your brother at the end of an endless exile. Dreams of grappling with him all night long, until the crack of dawn. Until your ankles give way. Until you lose your footing on the ground.
Then, rising up to take you is the darkness of the earth; which is where you wake up at sunrise to find yourself alone.”
Some of your readers may be well versed with the reference material, and for them, you better offer an extra layer of meaning. For example, in the passage above, the sentence “Dreams of grappling with him all night long, until the crack of dawn. Until your ankles give way“ is an allusion to Jacob grappling with the angel, the night before he meets his brother after years of estrangement. In the biblical story, this is symbolic of Jacob struggling with God. But in my modern interpretation, this is symbolic of Yankle struggling with his curse, the loneliness in which is he is stranded, now that his brother is his enemy.
A Favorite Son does not amplify what the bible says. In fact, it offers a secular point of view, and a mirror to our souls. To me, the bible is rife with drama, sex, and violence, which makes it a rich source, a place to explore the truth about ourselves, about our struggle between the angels and demons inside all of us. My Yankle is no hero, no one you might want to revere. Instead, he is a rebellious teenager, a sly smart-ass about to cheat his father. Which may well offend some readers, especially those who make the mistake to expect nothing more that an expansion of the original story. To such readers, my book may be seen as nothing less than blasphemy.
So? What do you think? Is writing biblically inspired books is a risky proposition?
Uvi earned her B. A. in Architecture and Town Planning from the Technion in Haifa, Israel, and practiced with an innovative Architectural firm. She received a Fellowship grant and a Teaching Assistantship from the Architecture department at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, where she earned her M.A. in Architecture.
Then, taking a sharp turn in her education, she earned her M.S. degree in Computer Science from the University of Michigan. During the years she spent in advancing her career—first as an architect, and later as a software engineer, software team leader, software manager and a software consultant (with an emphasis on user interface for medical instruments devices)—she wrote and painted constantly.
Uvi has published a poetry book, Home, two children books, Jess and Wiggle and Now I Am Paper. Apart From Love, her novel, was published to great acclaim, as was her biblically-inspired book, A Favorite Son and her collection of dark tales, Twisted.
In this unique collection, Uvi Poznansky brings together diverse tales, laden with shades of mystery and the macabre. There are four of them: I Am What I Am; I, Woman; The Hollow; and The One Who Never Leaves. Here, you will come into a dark, strange world, a hyper-reality where nearly everything is firmly rooted in the familiar—except for some quirky detail that twists the yarn, and takes it for a spin in an unexpected direction.
This is the reality you will see through the eyes of a ghost of a woman, trying to reclaim her name by appealing to the devil; the eyes of a clay figure of a woman, about to be fired in the kiln, longing for her Creator; the eyes of a woman in the midst of a free fall, about to become a ghost; and the eyes of a feline creature with cracked fangs, trying in vain to resign herself, by hook and by crook, to being locked. These characters explore their identity, and challenge their fate.
Inspired by her art, by quotes from literature and the bible, and by the author’s professional career, these tales come from different times and places. Yet all of them share one thing in common: an unusual mind, one that is twisted. So prepare yourself: keep the lights on.