THE INGATHERING OF THE NOVEL
The first nine months delivered a plethora of fragmentary tales. Conrads by the score. She had a vague idea of me and what she wanted to do with me. Was I to be reincarnated through a womb? Was I just to appear and reappear with no explanation whatsoever? What was the Pleroma anyway? How long were my so-called episodes to last? Should I grow? Could I grow? How much like her would I be? How far can you stretch a reader’s credulity?
The writer began at what she thought was the beginning. One of her admission fragments – an imaginary anecdote, became the birth of her great grandmother, a Lithuanian illiterate who survived the pogroms via a slipper factory in Leeds and made it to South Africa, betrothed to her foretold destiny at a village fair in Leeds. The writer stuck it into the Jerusalem model.
It didn’t quite fit, like a bad pair of uppers. She’s taking it back to the time of the Romany Creams. Razzie would know what to do with it. Phil Roth calls this ‘turning sentences around.’ Little did she know.
Another was a tale of her first sexual encounter, a pedophiliac grooming from a man twice her age who deflowered her in the Temple. In reality it was Temple Shalom, the reform synagogue on Louis Botha Avenue where she’d joined the youth movement who were praying to Zion at the moment the Soweto Riots erupted. Rereading this piece which still resonated with her, she realised that the Temple could be … The Temple!
The ‘What if’s…?’ began to gush. What if Wanda was deflowered in the Second Temple in Jerusalem? What if the salacious youth leader was a Sanhedrin Priest? What if his side chick on the Maginim bus was none other than Sandy Grey, the keeper of the Mikvah where I wash off my virgin blood? What if the bridal chamber at Temple Shalom was (Y-h-v-h Forbid!) The Holy of Holies inside the Ark of the Covenant?
The writer started to reimagine the experience as if it had happened in 33AD. With the crucifixion as a backdrop. With me as the teen heroine, recently transplanted from Caesarea by the Sea, waiting for the hooded predator as he parked his Rover, aka donkey cart under a date palm? What, then, would her character, me, have participated in back in the day, to merit such a historical synchronicity? Were the politics of 33AD any different, really, to the politics of South African in the 70’s? Or again in the teens of the twenty first? A hegemonic corrupt power (The Nats, The ANC), ruling over squabbling and oppressed tribes (The Rest of the Country/The Individual)? In her attempt to rewrite her own history, she had cast on the mantle of History, like a too tightly knitted pink jersey. She needed to cast off a few stitches.
Synchronicities abound: another of C.G.’s sneaky tricks. Or, as dumbed down by The Alchemist himself, “When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you achieve it.” It happens all the time, the writer finds, writing this novel, totally immersed in the process of discovery.
The unearthing of a medieval synagogue in Cochin, India. The presence of Jewish merchants in the Ottoman Empire. Syrian refugee crises. The real inventor of DNA. Fanny Mendlessohn vamping for Queen Victoria. Nero. Zuma. Donald Trump. She just has to keep her eye peeled.
Recently, she’s been told to write in a linear way, but I still have my way with her. The edit will be interesting; she’ll have to get me out the way. I think I’m much more useful in the primary phase, when the clay is moist and pliable.
Later, she’ll have to take control and rein me in, curb my enthusiasm, though I pray to Pan it won’t be the voice that will be lost. That would be a tragedy. They’ve accused me of being a quiptastic, wise-cracking Yiddel. One could do worse than sustaining one long, Jewish joke. Ask Howard Jacobson.
It was only in July that she brought me into the 21st century. Up to then she’s done research up the kazoo about all sorts of Jewish women in history. Why cast me thus, I had to ask, even though I knew the answer. She’s never been particularly religious, this I knew, her having been brought up with bagels on Christmas trees and such. But as she’s progressed with this novel lark, exploring her newfound character, a kind of tribal affinity started to grow. She didn’t need to be behind the veil to assume her identity. She didn’t need to be rolling out the kneidlach to be part of the clan. And as I have grown in power and personality, so has her sense of this identity. A unique beast inside the davening throngs.