In the year 1630, in Hangzhou, China, two families were getting set to join with the marriage of Li Bing and Xiaoyun Wang. Marriage is taken very seriously and there are many traditions that must be observed in order to ensure a prosperous marriage to the couple. Li Bing is the city’s celebrity of sorts as he prepares to take the exams to become an important civil servant for the city. This causes his father to receive many gifts and accolades, as well as resentment. Vice-perfect Wang Zhengqian, father of Xiaoyun, plots to ruin Li Bing’s father, the other vice-perfect Li Gao. Wang is power hungry and wants nothing more than to gain all he can, and cares little who he hurts in the process, his own family included.
Mandarin Ducks is the second book in a trilogy by Robert Campbell. The first novel gives you more background of this community and some the characters so I recommend reading that first, but it’s not required as this book can stand on it’s own. Taking place in the 1600’s of China, it talks about how some of the inhabitants have roots in Jewish culture, and how they have to keep that hidden away. Li Bing has a deep interest in discovering his heritage and Jewish roots but must go in secret to learn more about his past. His grandfather helps him some but is growing old quickly and Li Bing is worried all the past knowledge will be lost. There is a lot of focus on class and the nuances that each rung of society has to observe. I enjoyed reading about how the different classes interacted, and as the story line developed I grew more invested as things become more intricate and layered. The novel has a slow start and builds at a steady pace that never feels rushed and allows you to grow attached to the main characters involved in the plot. The side story of Li Bing learning about his Jewish roots mixed into the scandal between the vice-perfects was well placed and fit seamlessly into things, nothing felt like added filler, everything seemed important to the progression of the story.
I really enjoyed Robert Campbell’s style of writing. The prose is clean and the story is focused. The story expertly builds suspense and develops the characters in a way that you either love or hate them. There is real history encased in the story, making things more believable, and adding extra depth to the plot. I look forward to reading the next installment of this series.
Pages: 133 | ASIN: B07G7GV256
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The Bookbinder is a memoir about your life and includes details about Rabbi Yitzhak Kaduri. What was the inspiration that made you want to write a memoir?
Well, Rabbi Yitzhak Kaduri passed away in 2006 and since then there had only been one book written in English on the rabbi from the non-Jewish perspective. However, it did not go in-depth into the specific culture of the rabbi’s inside court, the kabbalistic traditions as well as the respect that the “tzaddik” commanded from the different orthodox groups in Israel and abroad. I felt that it was important to portray the rabbi’s more human side, his compassion, his unconditional love for one and all, particularly during their times of distress and need. What better way to do so than to share our personal journey?
Rabbi Yitzhak Kaduri features prominently in this book. What were some aspects you felt were important to capture in this book?
Rabbi Kaduri, ztl, had a humble soul. Despite his remarkable memory, wisdom and knowledge he did not proselytize nor did he recruit anyone to his principles or belief. I tried to convey that message as best I could through our personal interactions with him, and those close to him. The rabbi’s ruling on any halachic impasse was not questioned as he was skilled in illuminating difficult passages for other rabbis and leaders to understand. What was important to grasp is that he led a simple life devoid of pomp and glamour. The rabbi’s signature was his peaceful silence during the many religious celebrations around the country. He only spoke to pray and bless – he never made small talk.
This is a very emotional and thought provoking book. What do you hope readers take away from this book?
Well, I think that this personal tale was meant to be shared so that others would understand that miracles occur everyday when there is the smallest seed of faith. Whenever one meets a great mystic of this degree, of course, those miracles become more obvious. The Jewish faith and its traditions are replete with miracle stories of simple people that prayed with nothing more than devotion and hope. One could come away understanding that all faiths and traditions are important insofar as they give man hope in goodness. This is just one story. It just happens to be one that concerned one of the oldest living and renowned kabbalists in the history of modern Israel.
What is the next book that you are working on and when will it be available?
As briefly mentioned in this book, I am a spiritual counselor and holistic therapist. My fascination with natural healing has led me to study many modalities from various countries for more than twenty years. Yet, I still return to our Jewish traditions. My next book will be about Jewish healing and herbalism.
“Ha Rav”, Rabbi Yitzhak Kaduri, OBM (1898-2006) was the most senior kabbalist of the 21st century in Israel. While many believe that his life and work: studying, praying, and counseling the masses was far removed from the everyday man, this perception could not be further from the truth. The Rav was a humble but great sage whose glance commanded the respect and ear of the leading rabbis of his generation. He experienced exile from the country of his birth, Iraq, and witnessed the destruction of holy places of study in Jerusalem. Yet, to anyone privileged to have been in his presence, the tsaddik showed only joy, humility, kindness (chesed) and a deep wisdom unique to his character. The Rav’s contemporaries respected his decisions on questions of the Torah and Talmud and above all, they cherished the Rav’s blessings.This is an intimate portrait of one family’s journey of ten years standing in the shadows of this sage. There have been many righteous (tsaddikim) throughout the ages whose lives were dedicated to teach, guide and console the Jewish nation. Yet, in the memory of the Jewish people, there will only be one Rabbi Yitzhak Kaduri.
The Spanish Inquisition in 1492 left no Jewish family untouched. The impact of this horrific period in Spain runs deep and it has had long-lasting effects upon Jewish families through the ages. Maria, a descendant of a Jewish family forced to convert to Catholicism, allows her gut feelings to rule her religious preferences, and she spends time researching her family’s hidden past. As she begins to find more and more clues, she realizes that her soul is true to her Jewish roots, and she sets out to turn her own life upside down even if it means alienating her Catholic family members.
Genie Milgrom’s Pyre to Fire contains two parallel story lines detailing the village of Fermoselle, Spain’s sudden and devastating conversion to Catholicism and descendant Maria’s slow but sure discovery of her family’s painful secrets. The quest Milgrom lays out as part of Maria’s search for answers is written in tandem with excerpts detailing Maria’s ancestors’ struggle in the 1490s. As a reader, I appreciated the parallels and the bounce between modern times and the historical descriptions. I am not versed in this aspect of world history and can easily say I feel equal parts of enlightenment and horror. Milgrom does a wonderful job of painting the trauma and the emotional struggle of the Jews in Spain being forced into conversion and threatened with their lives if they did not comply. Milgrom’s characters, based on her own lineage, help draw a painfully clear picture of the atrocities and the pain experienced by Jewish families who battled for centuries as a result of having to choose to hide their rituals, worship practices, and adherence to dietary restrictions.
I found the heartbreaking life of Maria’s ancestor, Catalina, and the circumstances in which she finds herself on the night of the inquisition to be among the most tragic I have read in historical fiction works. Catalina is faced with hiding, lying, and evading arrest. Her life, though she and her husband try everything in their power to make normal lives and honor their Jewish traditions, is a life of pure fear. Catalina is never afforded true happiness. Milgrom gives readers a tragic and historically accurate protagonist.
As I read, I had a little trouble getting past some errors that could have been prevented with proofreading. Two characters speaking within a single lengthy paragraph and some misplaced quotation marks and punctuation presented some challenges as I read.
This short read (just under 140 pages) gives readers a clear picture of the horrors inflicted on one group of people by another in the name of religion. Milgrom is helping raise awareness, encourage tolerance, and educating generations far removed from her characters’ lives. Readers who are interested in history and curious about the details surrounding The Spanish Inquisition will find Pyre to Fire a great addition to their collection of literature.
Pages: 228 | ASIN: 1976594510
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The Literary Titan Book Awards are awarded to books that have astounded and amazed us with unique writing styles, vivid worlds, complex characters, and original ideas. These books deserve extraordinary praise and we are proud to acknowledge the hard work, dedication, and imagination of these talented authors.
Gold Award Winners
Silver Award Winners
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In Xaghra’s Revenge the past and present collide when paranormal forces seek revenge and force one couple to relive the past. What was the inspiration for this thrilling book?
Malta is a popular destination for us Brits. It’s foreign, hot and sunny but the locals speak English! What’s not to like? 12 years ago I attended a multimedia presentation in Malta about its history. I gripped my seat to stop falling off when I learnt that in 1551 pirates savagely abducted the entire population of the nearby island of Gozo. Most became galley slaves, labouring slaves in Libya and the young women in harems in Constantinople. Those poor souls need revenge. I gave it to them in Xaghra’s Revenge. The other inspiration is a pile of old rocks in the Gozo town of Xaghra. The Ggantija Temple is one of the oldest buildings in the world. Older than the pyramids and Stonehenge. When I hugged them I felt a buzz. They told me to include them in that historical novel so I did.
Reece and Zita are interesting characters that continue to develop as the story progresses. What were the driving ideals behind the characters development?
I needed contemporary characters that were descended one from the pirates and one from the abducted. Oh what fun I had with them. A mumbling fart like Reece, who knew he had no luck with women and yet this great looker was interested. Thrown together by ancient spirits they were destined to be together, but of course like real life, nothing goes smoothly. Reece grows up quickly when one crisis after another trips him up, but he develops a backbone and maturity. Zita gains experience but her womanly ways always were sophisticated and she is able to support the fakwit Reece on and off until she realizes she’s in love with him for real.
The story is rich in historical detail. What research did you do for this novel to get the setting just right?
I’m a sucker for research in whatever stories I write. I stayed at the Preluna Hotel in Malta and traipsed all over both Malta and it’s little island, Gozo. Over the limestone surface and below in people’s cellars, which often had caves complete with stalactites and stalagmites. Hours I’d spent in the Melitensia and other libraries in Malta, up to my elbows in ancient deeds, records and emptied coffee cartons. So grateful was I that I donated a copy of Xaghra’s Revenge to the library and the librarian shook my hand only last week in gratitude. All the geography in the novel is accurate. Yes, I crawled into Calypso’s Cave on Gozo, really hugged the Ggantija massive stones and stood inside an Ottoman galley – that one is in a North Cyprus museum at Kyrenia Castle. A few yards away I nearly fell over a stone grave and too my shock saw it belonged to Sinan Pasha, the Jewish Ottoman Commander at both the abduction of Gozo and the siege of Malta in 1565. During the writing I returned many times though only the once to Tarhuna, Libya, in order to smell the aromas, see the wildflowers, and meet the real people.
What is the next book that you are working on and when will it be available?
I run a short story critique group. It forces me to write at least six shorts a year in between novels. The publisher of my ARIA Trilogy (scifi / medical mystery based on the unique premise of infectious amnesia) commissioned me to put together a collection of surreal shorts. I’ve called it INCREMENTAL because they all have an element of something getting smaller, or bigger. For example a noise the world hears one day getting louder by a decibel every day. A pothole appears in a Madrid suburb and doubles every day – without stopping. Do you know it would only take 46 days to swallow the planet, but it still doesn’t stop. There’s historical fiction in there too. It’s being published by LL-Publications later this year.
Xaghra’s Revenge follows the fate of a sixteenth century abducted family, and of two contemporary lovers thrown together by the ancients. Reece and Zita are unaware that one descends from the pirates, the other from the abducted family. While ancient Gozo spirits seek revenge, so do the Ottoman Corsairs, who intend to roll back history, and this time win the siege of Malta.
The history is real. The places are authentic. The tension and excitement are palpable.
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When the Cossacks invade their village, young Avrum and his brother Hershel manage to hide and survive the attacks which kill more than 80 members of their small Polish community. Trying to gather their wits about them and come to terms with the deaths of both parents, the two boys decide to make their way to the synagogue in Lvov. The road to Lvov is paved with one horror after another, and a harrowing experience at the home of a decrepit old woman leads to the brothers’ ultimate separation. Avrum, the tragic main character in Arnold Holtzman’s To The End of Days, spends the better part of his young life making his way to America to build a life for himself and, hoping beyond hope, to reunite with Hershel.
Holtzman has the striking ability to appeal to all of the reader’s senses through his writing. The scene in which Avrum and Hershel are fighting for their lives at the cottage of the old woman is particularly gripping. I was utterly repulsed by the vivid descriptions of the vile woman and the filth in which she lived. As horrific as the circumstances were, I was unable to tear myself away from this disturbing string of events. The same can be said for each stage in Avrum’s life. As he moves across the country and eventually on to North America, each new circumstance brings rich details, vivid images of despair, and poignant scenes of his struggle as an immigrant.
The various settings described throughout Avrum’s journey are exceptionally well-written. At every turn, I felt myself immersed in the sights and sounds of early 1900’s America and the Jewish culture. Holtzman leaves nothing to the imagination which, in turn, leaves the reader more time to focus on the plot surrounding Avrum and the subplot focusing on Fanny.
Avrum captured my heart from the moment he and Hershel faced the fate of their mother. His heart-wrenching grief and his determination to find his brother dominate his life for years, and are the driving force behind everything he does from finding work and wrestling when offered the opportunity to pursuing every lead no matter how futile it may seem. Avrum’s strength is unmatched.
Bella is not a character I enjoyed–but I wasn’t supposed to feel warm toward her. Holtzman has done a phenomenal job creating a selfish, arrogant, and needy female match for unlucky Avrum. Though she doesn’t make her true intentions known until much later in her relationship with Avrum, I admit I was suspicious of her from the beginning. She is one of those characters who is far too concerned with making herself understood and appreciated. The author has succeeded phenomenally in creating a character worthy and deserving of the reader’s loathing.
Intermingled with the characteristics of historical fiction is a pleasing amount of mystery. Avrum encounters numerous clues to Hershel’s fate throughout the years, but the author skillfully weaves a web of subplots while redirecting the reader’s attention. Even to the final pages, I was yet unsure of poor Hershel’s fate. Kudos to Holtzman–this is how I prefer my fiction.
Fans of historical fiction will appreciate the insanely detailed descriptions of the havoc wreaked by the Cossacks and the accuracy regarding the Jewish culture. Avrum and Hershel represent everything that was wrong with this period in world history and everything that can go incredibly right when a man remains unfailingly loyal to his family.
Pages: 410 | ASIN: 1977981844
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Follow Me Down is a thrilling novel that follows Lucas as he seeks justice for his family while uncovering corruption in the city’s largest real estate development company. What was your inspiration for this novel and the setup to the story?
The never-used subway beneath Cincinnati is real—built during the Depression but abandoned and sealed up. I lived for years near Cincinnati, both scared and intrigued by ghosts beneath my feet. When I later learned about the “urban explorer” subculture, I HAD to write the story.
One thing I really appreciated in this story was the authenticity of the relationships. What were some themes you wanted to capture while creating your characters?
Observant readers will notice one consistent theme for the four main characters: the plight of the underdog. Lucas, suppressed by corporate corruption. Alfred Blumenfeld, put down by cruel social mores, and Tricia Blumenfeld too, unwilling to play the part of the “good girl.” And Reuben, victimized for being short and Jewish. These characters deserved a voice and a shot at justice.
Lucas explores Cincinnati’s underground in this novel and the scenes were detailed and well developed. Why did you choose this setting for the novel?
In the story, protagonist Lucas reflects on a childhood experience descending voluntarily into a well on his grandfather’s farm. That scene resembles my own childhood “adventure.” What urban explorers do is just damn cool, risking capture and physical dangers in very cool places. Also, the noblest among these modern-day adventurers respect and revere the places they infiltrate. I admire them.
I find a problem in well-written novels, in that I always want there to be another book to keep the story going. Is there a second book planned?
Thank you! While I’m finished with Lucas for now, two new stories are underway. The first fictionalizes a true 1980’s battle between an auto manufacturer and an underdog labor union. The second, set in small-town USA, explores the plight of another underdog, a young woman unjustly blamed for a deadly accident.
Urban explorer Lucas Tremaine should buckle down and complete his Masters in Architecture, but the past torments him. Six years earlier, Drax Enterprises’ negligence killed his father and left his mother strung out on Valium. Lucas longs to punish the corrupt behemoth of Cincinnati real estate development, but what can one man do?
“Plenty,” says old Mr. Blumenfeld, Lucas’s boss and a former photojournalist with too many secrets. Evidence to bury Drax exists, he claims, but to find it, Lucas must breach the city’s welded-shut subway system. Lucas takes the plunge, aided by his best friend and moral compass, Reuben Klein.
The deeper the duo infiltrates the dangerous underground, the further back they turn the clock. They learn that Drax’s corruption intertwined with fascism’s rise in Germany. That campfire tales of a subway crypt were true. That no one can be trusted, not even Lucas’s boss.
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A coming-of-age tale set in 1975 New York during Tom Wolfe’s “Me Decade”, Stainer follows the misadventures of a naïve Jewish Columbia University student named Benjamin Steiner, who, on the night of his 21st birthday, meets not only the sweet girl of his dreams, a lovely young lady named Rebecca Glaser, but also an unprincipled drug-loving rogue from Princeton called P. T. Deighland. As the days pass, Ben’s immature inability to resist temptation and an overwhelming need to be “cool” gradually cause him to fall under Deighland’s malign influence until, at an impossibly glitzy Princeton party, he encounters and becomes spellbound by a ravishing but predatory high-fashion model named Anthea Montague.
When Rebecca returns from an unexpected overseas trip, Benjamin’s unreasoning jealousy over her friendship with another boy casts a shadow on their budding relationship. A series of rashly imprudent decisions abetted by Deighland and the model leave Ben feeling guilty and angry. At an ill-fated summer barbeque, he wrongly explodes at Rebecca and soon plunges headlong into a reckless self-destructive downward spiral, culminating in a horrific confrontation with Anthea Montague that brings his life crashing down in ruins.
Against the background of a vanished period in American history, Stainer offers a bittersweet nostalgic trip back to a less complex world, during a time of incautious excesses that, while deceptively fun and carefree, in due course forced many unwary youngsters like Benjamin Steiner to learn some necessary – but terribly painful – lessons about growing up.
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STAINER follows Ben Steiner, a Jewish Columbia undergrad who is a decent person but wishes to be “in” with the “in crowd.” What was the initial idea behind this story and how did that transform as you were writing the novel?
Since I wrote the book forty years ago, I must confess that I cannot precisely recollect what the initial idea was. I just sat down and started scribbling (longhand, on legal yellow sheets) and eventually the novel emerged. However, as I explain in my Author’s Preface, the manuscript was an overwritten mess. I was a complete amateur, and made every mistake in the book… (okay, that was a truly cringe-worthy pun.) But now that I think of it, I did have a vague notion that I wanted to somehow skewer an acquaintance of mine, and decided that the cleverest way to accomplish that would be to turn them into a rotten character in a book. Which I did… and no, I won’t tell you which character, but suffice it to say that nowadays my intended skeweree is rich, fulfilled, aging much better than I am, and utterly unaware of my –or my novel’s– existence. Which, all things considered, is exactly as it should be.
Of course, at a distance of four decades, I am now able to perceive things in the novel that weren’t apparent to me at the time I wrote it; by which I mean that there’s more than a trace of autobiographical heartbreak in the story. And I think we’ll leave it at that.
Ben goes through some strikingly personal conflicts throughout the book and his character is meticulously developed. How did you capture the thoughts and emotions of a 70’s Jewish teen?
Easy… I was a 70’s Jewish teen. Well, not technically… even though I was already in my mid-twenties when I wrote STAINER, my mindset remained that of an irresponsible teenage scamp, and I simply wrote prose in the same the way I spoke/ thought/lived; in other words, from the viewpoint of extremely arrested adolescence (ahem.) Luckily for me, it turned out that I had a knack for accurately capturing the mood and lingo of the times in my writing… who knew?
Ben meets P.T. Deighland, a wiseass from Princeton, who is clearly up to no good. What were the driving ideals behind the characters relationship throughout the story?
“Driving ideals”? Hmm… I have no clue, other than to suspect that the relationship between ‘bad-boy’ P.T. and ‘good-boy’ Ben somewhat reflected the two sides of my own slightly schizophrenic persona; which, in those days, remained more-or-less in a constant state of conflict. To all outward appearances I was definitely a good boy, but like many such young fellows, secretly wished that I had the nerve and coolness to behave like one of the bad boys. Because, after all, the bad boys always got the girls… didn’t they? But, like Ben, my efforts to attain bad-boy status were ultimately doomed to failure, and came at a heavy cost.
What is the next book that you are working on and when will it be available?
I have a new novel under way, and it’s as different from STAINER as STAINER is from SHE’S MY DAD. I can only write stand-alone novels; the mere thought of doing sequels or a series is a stupefying bore. For me, once a story is wrapped up, that’s the end of it, and then I’m off to build a new world, with new characters, new problems, new everything. It’s the only way I can stay interested enough to keep going.
As to when the new book will be available, who knows? All I can say is, stay tuned… I do believe it’s a pretty good yarn.
New York City, 1975: Decent-hearted but spoiled Jewish college kid Ben Steiner is naively possessed by an overwhelming desire to be cool. At a springtime party on the night of his twenty-first birthday, he meets two people: Rebecca Glaser, the longed-for sweet girl of his dreams, and P.T. Deighland, a beguilingly knavish wiseacre from Princeton. Seduced by Deighland’s bold irreverence while simultaneously succumbing to his own temptations, Ben makes a cascading series of unfortunate choices which not only threaten his budding relationship with Rebecca, but expose him to ruin at the hands of a ravishing but ruthless fashion model named Anthea Montague.
Against the background of a vanished period in American history, STAINER offers a bittersweet nostalgic trip back to a less complex world, during a time of incautious excesses that, while deceptively fun and carefree, in due course forced many unwary youngsters like Benjamin Steiner to learn some necessary –albeit painful– lessons about growing up.
Posted in Interviews
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Stainer by Iolanthe Woulff truly lives up to being a novel of the “Me Decade”. Set in 1975, we follow Ben Steiner, a Jewish Columbia undergrad who at his core is a decent person but wishes to be “in” with the “in crowd.” On the night of his twenty-first birthday he attends a party that will change his life forever. He meets P.T. Deighland, a wiseass from Princeton, who is clearly up to no good, and Rebecca Glaser who he falls for immediately. His new-found friendship with Deighland and his own youthful temptations lead him to make escalating bad choices that may not only harm his budding romance with Rebecca, but expose this alternate life to the rest of the Jewish community. It is a classic journey of self-discovery, but one with a lightness of humor that keeps it from becoming too dismal.
Woulff does a wonderful job with blending the scenery of 70’s New York City with the strikingly personal conflict of Ben Steiner. The cultural tropes of the Jewish community come into full play and provide the initial conflict of the individual strikes out away from the old traditions of his culture. The fact that Ben lives in a converted residence hall with other Jewish scholars from Columbia. He thirsts for the experience outside of his roots that has been denied to him all these years, and turning twenty-one he feels that he is empowered to do so.
In some ways, this novel is very much the spiritual successor of Catcher in the Rye, but considering it is about the 1970s, it feels much more relevant to our present age. I found the pacing to be a bit of a slow burn, since it weaves this inner journey that Ben must make in order to reach the final beats of the narrative. Woulff provides a story with rich character development, which is impressive for a book that is trying to tackle not only personal conflict, but societal conflict and the social statements at large. Ben suffers from the divide his life takes after the party, where he hides pieces of his life from his Jewish friends.
The book is particularly polished, which is enjoyable and Woulff’s attention to detail and the interiority of her characters to be particularly good. It is also such a wonderful tale of how we can sometimes self-sabotage ourselves and not be able to see the “good” that is often right in front of us.
Stainer presents itself as a coming of age work and one that I think all ages should be able to enjoy. YA readers may take a particular pleasure in reading this novel.
Pages: 345 | ASIN: B071G8KFX1
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