“Coming out” in any culture can be fraught with controversy, internal conflict and emotion. And within religious environs, announcing one’s homosexual preferences increases the complications exponentially.
So when Evan Fallenberg began penning his debut novel Light Fell, the story of a devoutly orthodox Israeli man who pursues his male rabbi love interest, he was stirring up the contents of an already bubbling stew.
“I imagine Light Fell will be upsetting to certain people, but I hope they will understand that it was written with love,” Fallenberg told ISRAEL21c.
Fallenberg, who lives with his partner in a small town outside Tel Aviv, has been involved in the literary world for many years, but this is the first time he has had a novel published.
In the past, he translated novels from Hebrew into English for a number of upcoming Israeli writers. These include Meir Shalev’s novel, A Pigeon and a Boy , and Ron Leshem’s widely praised book, Beaufort, which was made into an acclaimed film.
Since 2004 he has also been running writing retreats for English speakers around Israel.
The main character in Light Fell is Joseph Licht, an Israeli who leaves his wife and five children and accepts a temporary teaching position in Cleveland after his divorce. Fallenberg, born in a suburb of Cleveland, has moved in the opposite direction: he came to Israel in 1985 to study Hebrew, found “home” and has lived in the country ever since.
His novel, released by Soho Press last month, received a warm welcome from critics in the US during its debut. “I’ve just returned from the (book) tour and it was phenomenal. Very validating,” Fallenberg relayed. “People turned out in respectable numbers for my events; the feedback and reviews have been wonderful. Most exciting were the many people who told me they feel the story is universal, something to which everyone can relate.”
One question reviewers always ask: Is the novel an autobiographical work?
“Joseph Licht, like all good fictional characters, is a composite brought to life,” Fallenberg told ISRAEL21c. “While certainly his issues are mine, he is most definitely his own person with his own set of experiences and challenges. He is a sabra while I am US-born; he was born to a religious family while my own is secular; he is an intellectual ensconced in academia while I write and translate and teach practical courses on the craft of writing.”
But Fallenberg, like Licht, married and had children before coming out. That’s where similarities drop off, he asserts. “I was merely trying to show what happens when people are pulled in different directions by the forces in their lives, what choices we are faced with when confronted by God and society and family on the one hand, and our own primal desires on the other. Clearly, not everyone feels this is a topic for examination, but for me it is THE topic,” he concluded.