‘Pain’ author Zeruya Shalev is unafraid of the dark

Zeruya Shalev’s newest novel is “Pain,” the story of a woman whose past returns twice over.
Zeruya Shalev’s newest novel is “Pain,” the story of a woman whose past returns twice over.Itzik Shokel (custom credit)/Itzik Shokel

In Zeruya Shalev’s newest novel, “Pain,” the past returns to a woman twice over. The pain from the injuries she sustained in a terrorist attack long ago returns, and an old love reignites. Shalev, too, was injured in a suicide bombing in 2004. The Israeli author has won a long list of international literary awards. She will discuss her new book with novelist Lauren Groff at 6 p.m. on Nov. 6 at the Boston Public Library’s central branch.

BOOKS: What are you reading currently?

SHALEV: I’m reading nonfiction, which is not typical of me. Andrew Solomon’s “Far From the Tree: Parents, Children and the Search for Identity.” I’m so drawn to this book because I’m interested in parenthood as a mother and as a writer. I’ve been in a phase of reading American writers.


BOOKS: What other American books have you read?

SHALEV: Nicole Krauss’s “Forest Dark,” which is a novel about the breakdown of marital life. With its magical realism and story about Franz Kafka it reminded me of my childhood. My father used to read my brother and I stories from the Bible and then he would read us Kafka. I remember the first evening he read “The Metamorphosis.” It was a rainy night and there was a power outage. We lit some candles and he started reading. I remember dreaming about Kafka.

BOOKS: What other American novels did you read?

SHALEV: I read Lauren Groff’s amazing “Fates and Furies” with its beautiful, beautiful writing. Before that I read Jennifer Egan’s “A Visit From the Goon Squad” and Jonathan Franzen’s “Purity.” They are all so talented.

BOOKS: Did you read these books in English or in Hebrew?

SHALEV: Hebrew. If I can’t wait for a translation I’ll read a book in English but I prefer it in Hebrew because it’s so much easier and clearer in my mother tongue. The translations come faster and are more common now, but I remember being 18 years old and reading Virginia Woolf’s “To the Lighthouse” in Hebrew. She’s my literary lighthouse.


BOOKS: Are there Israeli writers who you wish were better known to Americans?

SHALEV: Some are well known, like Amos Oz, who’s been a great influence on me, especially his book “My Michael.” Alona Kimchi is a wonderful, original writer, as is Eshkol Nevo. Tamir Greenberg is a very good poet. Unfortunately only so many Israeli writers have been translated into English.

BOOKS: Do you read mostly fiction?

SHALEV: Yes, because the experience is fuller for me. It’s sad in a way because I lost some freedom since I became a full-time writer, because novels can interfere with my own inner voice. In those times I reread books or Bible stories, which I was raised on. I’ll read the book of Genesis, which is about relationships, between God and humans and just between humans. When I read ancient literature I’m always amazed to realize how we haven’t changed. We’ve developed so much scientifically and technologically but not emotionally.

BOOKS: What else do you read?

SHALEV: Poetry, but not as much as I used to read when I wrote it. I love the American confessionals, like John Berryman and Sylvia Plath. I’m very attracted to poetry that is heartbreaking.

BOOKS: What do you read for lighter reading?


SHALEV: I’m not looking for light. I’m always looking for the depths of the human existence. I never read just for entertainment.

BOOKS: Did any books help you recover when you were injured by a suicide bomber?

SHALEV: It was such a strange, shocking period in my life. After being so close to death, I lost faith in words so I couldn’t write or read. I had so many books next to me by my bed waiting for me. I was in bed for half a year. It sounds like a huge waste of time. Finally I could write and read again, both at the same time. I read Nabokov’s “Pnin.”

BOOKS: Do current politics influence your reading?

SHALEV: Only by the fact that during times of terror attacks I find it harder to read. I know some people read more out of escapism, but for me, if I’m feeling really threatened, it’s a bit difficult. Reading requires a lot of concentration and sometimes I just don’t have it.

Follow us on Facebook or Twitter @GlobeBiblio. Amy Sutherland is the author, most recently, of “Rescuing Penny Jane’’ and she can be reached at amysutherland@mac.com