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Pnina Moed Kass

Talking with Pnina Moed Kass about her powerful new novel, Real Time

Real Time
Young Adult

Sixteen-year-old Thomas Wanninger is on a mission: to find out what his grandfather, a Nazi officer, did during World War II. Thomas is going to Israel to work on a kibbutz, where he will have access to a Jerusalem archive that may hold the information he seeks. His life is one of many to be affected by a terrorist attack that occurs at 11:47 A.M. on the day he arrives. Kibbutz members, a doctor, "the boss" of a diner, two Palestinian teenagers and their families, a bus driver, policemen, a news correspondent, an Israeli soldier, a Holocaust survivor . . . these and others add their voices to the minute-by-minute account of a catastrophic incident that changes everything, while at the same time renewing a deadly cycle of sacrifice and destruction. Pnina Kass, who lives in Israel, delivers an even-handed and powerful portrayal of the complex world her characters inhabit. Chilling, suspenseful, and frighteningly real, this novel could be the back story behind tomorrow"s news.
--Clarion Books 2004

Pnina Moed Kass has taught high school Englilsh and has worked in the advertising and music industries. She is a professional writer whose credits include short stories, picture books, and television screenplays. She is the recipient of the annual International Reading Award for best yound adult short story. Her books for the very young are widely ready by Israeli preschoolers.

Raised in New York, Ms. Kass has lived in Israel for thirty-five years. She has three sons and three grand children, as well as scores of dedicated and loving friends around the glove. She refers to Real Time, her first novel, as "an attempt to humanize both sides of a complex situation."

Kass1. What prompted you to write this story? An event?

Frankly, I never thought I would write novel about life in contemporary Israel. But, the overwhelming anxiety about what we were living with overpowered me and coalesced into this.

It was difficult to write, almost surrealistic. I live 20 minutes outside of Tel Aviv. While I write, I keep the radio, and a small TV, on in my workroom. Suddenly there will be breaking news on CNN Ė it seems like almost every day, so explosions are happening while Iím writing. At times I wondered if I was writing something, or just recording it.

Also, because Israel is so small, thereís a visceral connection to news. Itís not like here, when you hear about something happening on the East Coast, or West Coast. There are soldiers all over place, and when something happens, a friend might be involved.

These events are an overwhelming presence in my life and lives of those around me.

2. How closely are your characters connected to real people?

This story gave motivation to talk about people I was thinking about. The characters are all connected to real people Ė not necessarily to individuals I know personally, but the fascinating thing about Israel is that it has a representation from people tied to almost every historical moment. It has Holocaust survivors Ė there are many and they are quite alert; there are German kids and older German citizens who, for variety of reasons, come to Israel to find out what relationship they may have to Israel and to the Jews -- for example there are lay nuns who have come, priests and brothers of religious orders Ė who come to perform some type of work. Some, like the character in this novel, come just to find out what itís like, and to make a part of their history come alive, rather than seeing it as some aspect of history book

We also have had a huge Russian immigration and people who discovered their Jewish heritage. There are also people who had changed Jewish-sounding names out of fear, or because they wanted to better their situation in Russian society. Some, like my character, found out they were Jews, and some became very religious.

There are a lot of immigrants from Argentina who are very politically aware because they have gone through a horrendous period with great deal anti-semitism and fascism in their country. I also portray a young Israeli soldier and his dilemmas, and the dilemmas of the people in his unit -- many kids question occupation.

Itís a multi-threaded tapestry.

In odd way, almost stereotypical, but in point of fact, all these types of people truly exist. The country is a haven, a social lab and a way station for some people. Itís a touchstone and a final stop for a lot of others.

4. How would you describe your point of view, and how do you view the Palestinians in your story?

Mine is a centrist point of view. Iím very sad that [there are] Palestinians who want to build a nation state [maybe clarification here], and [some will] send their youngest and finest to commit suicide as a way to make that happen. I think thatís the opposite of what youíd want to do to build a state, but there are also extremist Jewish groups [something here Ė who do things I donít agree with?].

I feel sad that it may go on another 100 years Ė it has become pointless. I feel sorry for Sameh, the boy who has been sent as a suicide bomber, but I see his dilemma. Iíve read case histories of suicide bombers, of those who have not done it because they falter, and those who have carried it out. Iíve been to the Hadassah Hospital trauma unit and have seen the aftermath.

I hope readers will get that out of the book Ė itís all very complex and hard. But, I think the book is well-balanced and tries to show the different perspectives.

3. Why did you choose to write fiction?

In fiction, a writer can throw different types of people into the mix. Here I can emphasize things I feel. I think there is something about fiction that can be truer than fiction.

4. Who do you see as the sympathetic characters?

I think Sameh is a sympathetic character Ė I feel greatly for him. All of the characters are products of an historical moment for which they are not to blame. When a person is 16, 18, 25-years old, you see life more in black & white, but then as you get older, like the Holocaust survivor & the Palestinian doctor in my story, you come to view life with more of its nuances and gradations. This may seem like compromise, but you also realize that itís a way to live with difficulty.

5. Did you intend this for an Israeli, or American market?

I wrote the story in English, which is my native language. I emigrated to Israel in 1969. The book has been published here, rights have been sold to an Italian publisher, and thereís a lot of interest in Europe. I donít know if it will be published in Israel, but I didnít feel I needed to write this for Israeli audience Ė thereís nothing I can tell them about what the situation is -- nor the Palestinians.

6. How do you view the ending of the book? Itís ambivalent, which is how I feel. Another suicide bomber is on the way; another person we have come to like, has come away from his experience more troubled, and heís a more complex individual Ė there are not always answers.

7. What about the Palestinians in the story? With Sameh and Omar, I tried to portray the complexity of the situation. When a person contemplates such a violent act, so much depends on their personality characteristics and the extent to which the person has become radicalized. Omar is older person and is recruiting younger people; generally the older people donít go on the mission, they send the younger people. Sameh is 16, thatís what I find dreadful. But in the story, Omar senses Samehís weakness, so he steps in to get the bombing done, which has to do with his ideological commitment to the ultimate act.

The counterpoint is the Palestinian doctor who, despite his disenfranchisement by the Israeli soldiers, continues to go to his work at the hospital and goes to social events with his colleagues. As the book ends, this is likely to destroy him.

My sense is that weíre beginning to reach a state of hopelessness and desperation. Many Israelis and Palestinians have become radicalized and solutions seem a long way off, but we canít come to any without an understanding of the many points of view.

8. What do you hope readers will take away from this book?l

My feeling is that because there are so many adult characters, it can be a non-complicated read that will give some thread of understanding to both adults and teens. It can provide a window for people who have kids, relatives or friends in Israel or the Middle East, and is for those wondering what life there is really like. I didnít write it as a young adult novel, though Iím very well aware of genres, but I believe there are some books that give you an understanding of a complex situation, and this is a book that can be shared between parents and teenagers. It opens up questions for discussion about ethics, about politics and about what kind of future we want.