Gefen Publishing House.Paperback. 184 pages. $14.95.
Author: Deborah Masel
One approaches a book like this with a wariness and a sense of trepidation. The author, a writer and lecturer on the Torah with a special interest in Jewish mystic writing, tells of her devastating experiences with metastatic cancer. In fact, at the end of the book she writes: “I am here, in the flesh, writing in ink of things that happened after the end. Perhaps I will still be here when you are reading of them. Perhaps I will not.”
Once I had gotten past the first few paragraphs, I found I had to finish reading the book. Somewhere around the middle, when the death threats of cancer grow in intensity, I took a break, and then went back to read.
Masel writes from the heart, no holds barred. And with more than a hint of humor! In the hands of an accomplished writer with a story to tell this is an unbeatable combination.
She begins her story with her visit to Safed (from Australia) in July 2006, where she was to study mystic texts. Instead Masel finds herself with a mixed group of people in an underground shelter under rocket attack during the Second Lebanon War. Safed was being shelled and she was scared. A taxi was waiting to take her to safety – to her sister who lived in Jerusalem – but fear had immobilized her and she found that she couldn’t move out of the shelter. Her belongings were still in the house where she had been staying. All she had with her was her mobile phone – which didn’t work underground – but she held on to it like a drowning person clutching a straw.
“Pamela, an Englishwoman in her study class, reached out, and politely took my mobile phone.
“Pamela, what are you doing?”
She was walking towards the stairs.
“No!” I called. “Don’t take my phone!”
“Well,” came the gentle reply, “you can come and get it.”
I edged towards the stairs. Pamela climbed a few and waited, coaxing me with the phone. Step by step, I followed her up into the fading light, knowing full well what she was doing, and allowing myself to be taken. It was a way to side-step my fear.”
The ride to Jerusalem is also told in short, basic sentences. While the reader feels her fear, he finds more than a hint of comedy in the scrambled and understated dialogue (Haim the taxi driver’s matter-of-fact conversation with his frantic wife – who, with her children, is under rocket attack in Netanya. First, he tells her, he must take a scared tourist to Jerusalem).
All the way through, the story is interwoven with flashbacks - the time in Australia when Masel, as a little girl, was run over by a car (miraculously the tyres of the car passed on either side of her); the time in Malaysia when, at night, she, her mother, and her little brother left their car on the edge of a precipice and walked down the mountainside in utter darkness singing “The Sound of Music” at the tops of their voices to cover the sounds of the wild animals around them.
But this is only the beginning: an introduction to Masel’s discovery that she has cancer – of the worst sort. We follow her through a series of treatments, recessions, hopes, more cancer (eventually it reaches the brain) and all the time we feel her emotions, her pain, her reprieves. Most important, we discover how a fearful, normal person continues her walk through the darkness, sometimes faltering, sometimes being helped, and eventually finds herself walking into light. All this is told in simple sentences and dialogue.
Whether you are a believer or disbeliever, a Jew, a Muslim, a Christian or anybody else, as a person you will most likely discover something in this story which will touch you.
Deborah Masel is not just a good writer who has written a powerful book. She writes with deep emotion, from the heart. This is the sort of book which could change the way you think. You have been warned!
Mike Porter was born in South Africa where he was a reporter on the Rand Daily Mail, and other newspapers. Today he is a freelance computer operator, and writer/editor.