Pam Peled, whose first novel For the Love of God and Virgins is just about to be
published, is passionate about Israel. Born in South Africa, she came alone to
this country at 17 and when she hears it described as “an apartheid state” she
is furious and saddened.
“I grew up in apartheid and ran away from it, so
I can speak with authority and refute these accusations,” says the petite mother
of three daughters who lives in Kfar Saba.
In fact it’s the totally
distorted version of Israel presented in the world’s media that is the theme of
her book. In a way Peled feels that she has been writing her book for decades;
the catalyst was the murder of her former flatmate, Eli Miron, who was one of
nine Israelis killed in Sinai in 1988.
“I was living in Jerusalem working
as an English teacher and he was the perfect flatmate.
He was an
archeologist and tour guide and he was murdered leading a group of tourists to
Egypt,” she says.
In the book the narrator is married to Eli; his death
transforms the young, pregnant woman into a grieving widow. In reality Pam is
happily married to Martin, but many elements in the book are based on her own
MAKING ALIYA She grew up in a strongly Zionist family, which in her
parents’ world didn’t actually mean coming to live in Israel. As soon as she
finished high school, she registered at the English department of the Hebrew
University and moved to the student dormitories on Mount Scopus to begin her
“The English department was world class,” she says.
was here she developed an admiration for Shakespeare which was later to serve
her well as inspiration for her doctoral thesis at Bar- Ilan University. Pam’s
novel opens with the line: “William Shakespeare is buried in Jerusalem.” He is
too, although there is obviously an unexpected twist.
LIFE SINCE ALIYA
Even before completing her bachelor’s degree she began teaching English and has
been doing that ever since. She married Martin from England in 1985, and their
three daughters are now 23, 22 and 20.
Several years ago an American
publisher brought out her first book, a nonfiction look at life through
literature called How to Have a Husband and Live with your Lover (at the same
. Thrilled to become a published writer, she was horrified when the
(Jewish) publisher told her she wanted to use her book to advertise other
in-house publications on conspiracy theories (for example a book “proving” that
Shimon Peres was behind Yitzhak Rabin’s murder) and she decided she could not be
a part of this and let the book go.
This time her book is published by a
small independent Canadian publisher, MLP (Miriam’s Legacy Publishing), an
imprint of Mantua Publishers. As well as examining the way Israel is treated by
the world media, the novel is an exciting and very personal account of living
here and a gripping love story. The title alludes to the war cry often chanted
by terrorists as they prepare to die and the hope that adoring virgins will
reward them in heaven.
“There is so much of me in the book that it really
didn’t take me long to write,” she says.
Like her, the protagonist is
South African, loves Shakespeare, teaches English and is a feminist. She also
plays a handy game of tennis and is less good at bridge. “Everything that I do
informed my writing,” she explains. “In the ’90s I took groups of tourists to
Stratford-on-Avon and lectured on the plays; some scenes from my book are set in
this picturesque town. I teach Shakespeare and feminism at Beit Berl College and
those subjects are in the book. At the IDC I teach in the communications and
government departments – so I deal with those issues as well.”
Recently she has found another outlet for her Shakespeare passion, lecturing
about the Bard on cruise ships. In exchange for her knowledge, she and her
husband get a luxury cruise, all expenses paid. “I see the cruise as an
opportunity to explain about Israel,” she says.
“Many of the passengers
are educated and retired, but lots have never met an Israeli. So I mention
Shylock, for instance, and focus on how topical The Merchant of Venice
All these centuries later the Jew is still on the outside.
I examine what
keeps the Jew or the black or the woman so firmly ‘the other.’ This is what
makes literature so compelling.”
She also works on a voluntary basis for
the English Speaking Residents’ Association magazine, a glossy bimonthly
publication reaching thousands of Anglos, and she feels that her work as a
reporter spills over into her novel.
BEST THING ABOUT ISRAEL “I’m just so
happy to live in a vibrant country where I feel I belong. I like not being ‘the