Former Teaneck resident Zahava D. Englard credits best-selling authors Leon Uris and Stephenie Meyer for turning her into a novelist.
Uris’ magnum opus, “Exodus,” so inspired Englard as a teenager that she kept nudging her 15-year-old youngest child, Nili, to read it. Nili, however, prefers fantasy novels, like Meyer’s “Twilight” books.
“So to get me off her back, she said, ‘You read “Twilight” and I’ll read “Exodus.”’ And I actually fell in love with it and read the whole series,” says Englard. “After the first book, I thought, ‘I could do this.’ That’s when I decided to write a novel.”
The result of more than a year’s work, “The Gilboa Iris” is soon to be released by Israel-based Gefen Publishing House. The sometimes-racy romantic drama takes place in Israel, where Englard and her family have made their home since 2006, but it’s not merely a Harlequin-style story set on a kibbutz.
“I was always different from my friends growing up,” Englard relates. “I never touched romance novels. I was very focused on Israel and the Holocaust, and if I read a novel, it had to be about Israel. It was just natural that I read ‘Exodus,’ because it’s about Israel and it’s also a very passionate book – and I love passion.”
She even named her older daughter, Jordana, after a beautiful and brave character in the Uris classic. (The family also includes two boys, both serving in the Israel Defense Forces.)
Like the fictional Jordana, Dara – the similarly gorgeous and gutsy protagonist of “The Gilboa Iris” – suffers traumatic personal loss. The American Dara’s love interest, the macho Israeli soldier Roni, also deals with death in the context of the battlefield and global jihad.
“I tried hard not to base them on anyone actual, or to focus on any one real incident,” says Englard, whose previous book, “Settling for More: From Jersey to Judea” (Devora Publishing, 2009), is a compilation of e-mails she sent to friends and family during her first two years in Israel.
“The storyline came out of my experiences of visiting people who’ve lost family members to Arab terror,” she says. “I had all of them in my mind, especially David Hatuel, a father from Gush Katif whom I met a few months after his wife and four daughters were murdered. Knowing what he went through had a huge impact. I also knew that he somehow was able to go on with his life, remarry, and start anew.”
Englard wove that hopeful note into her writing. “I did not want a sad ending to my book. I wanted it to have a positive message.”
She geared her novice novel to a general audience, believing it has commercial appeal to non-Jewish and non-affiliated Jewish readers.
“It’s not an in-your-face pro-Israel book,” says Englard. “I wanted to acquaint people with the human side of life in this country, through characters they could relate to. It’s a novel of personal and national survival, triumph in the face of despair and over evil. As insurmountable as global jihad can be, the human spirit is stronger.”
Ilan Greenfield, CEO of Gefen, says “The Gilboa Iris” “deals with a realistic situation and brings out a great story. Our editor, who reads many books and doesn’t like them all, praises it from start to end. She loved every page.”
Were “The Gilboa Iris” to be made into a movie, Englard envisions “Twilight” stars Ashley Greene and Kellan Lutz playing the leads.
Perhaps the same celeb pair could star in a remake of the Paul Newman-Eva Marie Saint film version of “Exodus,” which Nili Englard still hasn’t gotten around to reading.