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 “She is as candid here as she is sometimes cryptic in her lyrics: revelatory, nervy, emotionally and, existentially raw. . . . The gifted, adventurous musician talks as brilliantly as she writes and sings.”
— Kirkus Reviews on Joni Mitchell: In Her Own Words

MalkaJoniWHEN SINGER, MUSICIAN, and broadcast journalist Malka Marom had the opportunity to interview Joni Mitchell in 1973, she was eager to reconnect with the performer she’d first met late one night in 1966 at a Yorkville coffeehouse. More conversations followed over the next four decades of friendship, and it was only after Joni and Malka completed their most recent recorded interview, in 2012, that Malka discovered the heart of their discussions: the creative process.

In Joni Mitchell: In Her Own Words, Joni and Malka follow this thread through seven decades of life and art, discussing the influence of Joni’s childhood, love and loss, playing dives and huge festivals, acclaim and criticism, poverty and affluence, glamorous triumphs and tragic mistakes . . .

This riveting narrative, told in interviews, lyrics, paintings, and photographs, is shared in the hope of illuminating a timeless body of work and inspiring others.


Joni Mitchell, in Her Own Words: Interviews with Malka Marom

The creative process is a central theme in this new book of conversations with singer/songwriter Joni Mitchell. The interviews between Mitchell and Canadian broadcaster, singer and musician Marom span from 1973 to 2012 covering a wide-range of topics, from Mitchell’s childhood and early career to her views on poverty and on relationships, but they always circle back to Mitchell’s music. Reproduced as transcripts, the conversations are interspersed with excerpts from interviews with Mitchell’s contemporaries. After Mitchell recounts how Elliot Roberts became her manager, Roberts’s account of the first time he saw her perform follows. Helpfully, whenever they refer to a specific song, its lyrics are reproduced in full. In some cases, they are included simply because they form a complementary juxtaposition to the subjects being discussed. The interviews are presented in full without any breaks that might interrupt the flow of an organic conversation, which does make it difficult for the reader to find a convenient place to pause or to go back and reread certain sections. The book, which includes photographs and reproductions of Mitchell’s paintings, makes for a compelling narrative of the creative life and is recommended for both Mitchell fans and for music lovers. (Sept.)


Book: Joni Mitchell, In Her Own Words: Interviews with Malka Marom
By Sharon Lacey

There’s a wonderful moment in Joni Mitchell In Her Own Words: Conversations With Malka Marom in which both Marom and Mitchell exchange amusing stories of Leonard Cohen, and meeting his Buddhist master, Roshi. As they banter about him and his not-so-honorable intentions, the reader feels like a guest at a first-rate dinner party, listening to incredible people tell fascinating tales about other incredible people. That is what makes this new book about Joni Mitchell so special: not the gossip, but the relationship between these two women.

Marom is a remarkable woman herself; she began her career as a folksinger as part of the duo Malka & Joso and has since become an award-winning documentary filmmaker and radio broadcaster. In fact, her short introduction at the beginning of the book on her own life is fascinating enough to be expanded into a book of its own.

She tells the tale of how she first met Mitchell in 1966 during her early days on the Toronto coffeehouse circuit. Because of their long history together, it’s apparent Mitchell is comfortable and relaxed answering Marom’s questions — which comprise the book’s “conversations” — and comes across as warm, intelligent and actually quite modest at times.

In fact, the chronology of the interviews is quite effective, as it offers different and interesting perspectives at unique points in Mitchell’s career. The first was conducted when Mitchell was at the height of her success during the making of Court & Spark in 1973; the second in 1979, when she was in the midst of her more experimental years; and the final and most recent interview from 2012, where she looks back at her life and work with new wisdom.

The transcripts of these interviews reveal plenty of amusing tidbits and recollections, particularly concerning Bob Dylan and the aforementioned Cohen. Dylan doesn’t get half the chiding you might expect, although he’s, without a doubt, something of a fallen hero for Mitchell. Cohen is mostly spoken of with affection (and sometimes bewilderment) as both Mitchell and Marom are still good friends with him; Mitchell even mentions having a wonderful time at one of his recent concerts in the 2012 interview.

There are also fascinating little glimpses into Mitchell’s everyday life, like her enjoyment of Woody Allen’s Midnight In Paris (“It’s brilliant. It’s got a brilliant conclusion: enjoy the air you’re part of”); her anecdote about turning down $1m to appear for one night in Las Vegas (“That’s stupid integrity, isn’t it?”); her apathy regarding TV talent shows (“The judge’s panel… they like volume… it’s contemporary taste, it’s just not mine”); her views on relationships these days (“I really watch out for any romance at my age. A friendship, yeah… but no romance”); and the fact that, although unimpressed by a lot of modern music, Mitchell really likes Emeli Sandé (“She’s a great new talent, the first one I’ve heard in 20-something years”).

Ultimately, though, Marom’s immensely readable book isn’t really about the gossip; it’s about Joni Mitchell’s art. It is, without a doubt, the best book so far about her creative process and her continuing need to innovate and make completely unique music. In her most recent interview, she tells Marom, “I was never addicted to applause… the measure for me was the art itself.” Even her accounts of her youth, her time as an unwed mother alone in Toronto, and her unhappy first marriage to Chuck Mitchell, are told in relation to how they formed her as an artist — and are often quite revealing.

Mitchell’s frustration with how some of her more challenging and innovative work has been received is still a bone of contention for her, but it’s most obvious in the 1979 interview, done just before her collaborative album with Charles Mingus was released. (There are also lots of warm recollections of the time she spent working with the jazz legend.)

Rather nicely, a lot of her artwork is included throughout, along with lyrics from many of her greatest songs. As the women discuss the writing, recording and often-detailed meanings behind the words, referencing the full text makes it easy to understand exactly what they are talking about. Other books about Mitchell have tried to get to the root of her songs in this way, but learning the background and process from Mitchell herself is what makes this book particularly special and insightful, as she, like her songs, is never afraid to open her heart and be truthful.

Whether speaking about events in her life that inspired her art, or her opinions about the world (everything from religion to sexism to evils of the music business is covered), or people she’s known, she is always as interesting and brilliant as her songs would suggest.

In 1979, Marom asks Mitchell what her goal for her career is. “To make modern American music,” she replies, simply. This book, an absolutely essential read for any Joni Mitchell fan, reveals she has achieved so much more than that as a poet, painter, and musician. But it also makes you wish you could be friends with both Mitchell and Marom, just to listen to them talk some more.


Canada AM: Candid Look at a Talented Artist

Malka Interview: Canada AM
Author Malka Marom discusses her 40 year friendship with Joni Mitchell and offers a glimpse into the creative mind of the music legend.

Watch the view here on

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    “Crucial human questions, passionately addressed, and answered in a spirit of humility . . . I rejoice in [Malka Marom's] achievement.”
    —Leonard Cohen

    “This is not just a book for Jews and women, it is a multi-cultural adventure. Strong and provocative and illuminating, it is told in a unique new voice.”
    —Joni Mitchell

Sulha: Synopsis

Does one honor one’s country or one’s heart? Malka Marom explores this classic dilemma in her stunningly powerful first novel,
an extraordinary tale of people caught up in a violent and seemingly endless historical conflict, compelled by love and grief to
transcend it.

Sulha tells the story of Leora, who, twenty years after her husband was killed in the Sinai War, is empowered by law to decide
whether or not to allow her only son to serve high-risk duty as his father did. As Abraham was so severely tested, so her son’s
fate is in her hands. Charged with this burden, Leora leaves her uneasy exile in Toronto, and ventures to Sinai.

In the remote and treacherous mountain region of Sinai Leora encounters a Bedouin clan, who offer her a  glimpse of the other:
the mysterious Arab world that so fascinated her as a child; the enemy that her son might face. And indeed, mounting danger
and mystery pervade the air of the Bedouin compound. But are these people really the enemy? Is sulha—forgiveness, reconciliation,
peace— not possible here? The modern Israel to which Leora then travels offers no clear answers, and a deep enmity
towards her. To her former compatriots, she is the other – outsider, exile, even a deserter from the Land to which her husband
gave his life to defend.

Sulha is the story of one woman’s search for the answer to her son’s future, and through it the reconciliation of her own
fragmented past. In the process, it explores the interlocking and sometimes irreconcilable boundaries of love and loyalty—to a
person, a people, a land.

Intensely lyrical, captivating and inspired, Sulha is an unforgettable reading experience, a relentless quest to reconcile seemingly
unappeasable conflicts. Both epic and personal, it is “not only about the consequences of history but also the possibility of
transcending them.”

Praise for Sulha

Sulha is one of the most poignant and inspired novels to have emerged from modern Israel’s harrowing yet exultant experience.
- Elie Wiesel

“This is not just a book for Jews and women, it is a multi-cultural adventure. Strong and provocative and illuminating, it is told in a unique new voice.”
- Joni Mitchell

I read it above all as Poem or the Poem of the desert*If history and politics are present, it is through an individual woman’s obsessive consciousness to come to grips with them, primarily to give meaning to her own life*This is where I see the beauty of [Sulha].
- Robert Elbaz

Sulha attempts to reconcile ancient conflicts, the living and the dead, forgetting and forgiving, within the compassion and frailties of its characters. It is a large-hearted book*
- Anne Michaels

Crucial human questions, passionately addressed, and answered in a spirit of humility, which honours their grave complexities. I rejoice in Marom’s achievement.
- Leonard Cohen


Bedouin story stunning
by Michael Sainsbury

Malka Marom’s first novel is a monumental work that ranges across 2,000 years of war and bigotry in the Middle East.

This spellbinding book is a timely tale that not only encompasses grand themes and lost tribes, it also contains a mother’s love, a widow’s loss, a child’s wonder, and the power of love.

In all of this, Marom has created something much more powerful and daring than yet another war novel. She has created an original and unforgettable novel of peace.


Forgiveness in the desert
by Judith Fitzgerald – The Globe and Mail

Malka Marom’s novelistic debut, Sulha, is a splendid hymn to love, dignity, honour and duty. The riveting tale unfolds in the midst of the historic conflict between Arabic- and Hebrew-speaking peoples who disagree upon practically everything but the word sulha (“a forgiveness; a reconciliation; a joining, repairing, making whole that which has been torn asunder — peace?”).


by Maureen Garvie, Quill & Quire

To read Sulha’s 566 pages is to undertake a journey that pushes us to see the world through different eyes as events spiral toward what could be a double ritual murder, the pages fly past. Marom powerfully and lyrically evokes a people and a country in the grip of obsession. The heat and chill, smells and sounds, and paradoxes mesmerize.

About the Author

Sulha is Malka Marom’s first novel, Malka Marombut prior to it being published, she was already internationally well known. She began her career as a folksinger as part of the popular duo Malka & Joso, who were the first to bring World Music to Canada. Their recordings with Capitol EMI Records topped the bestsellers lists in Canada.
As a soloist, Malka Marom performed on stage, TV and Radio in Canada, the U.S., South American, the UK, Europe and the Middle East.

She is also known and respected as a radio broadcaster and documentary maker. Her documentary A Bite of the Big Apple, an 8-hour exploration of the American dream, was an ACTRA Award winner. Among her many other documentaries, Desert Diaries, My Jerusalem, and The Holocaust, won the nomination for the ACTRA Award.

Her documentary The Bedouins won the Ohio State Award. This documentary inspired Malka Marom to study Bedouin Arabic, return to the Sinai, Negev and  Judean deserts, where she lived with five different Bedouin clans for months at a time.

Marom’s documentaries also explore music and musicians. She has profiled Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen among others. Her interview with Pablo Casals was the last Casals ever gave and drew praise from many, including renowned pianist Glenn Gould.

Marom’s next book: In Conversation with Joni Mitchell and Leonard Cohen, will be published by ECW Press in 2013.

Making of Sulha

Sulha-1The Bedouins manner of opening their hearts and revealing their secrets—not directly but through, poetry, legends, parables and stories—inspired me to seek out my own stories, legends, parables, poetry and secrets; and to examine not only the consequences of history, but also the possibility of transcending them.

“There was only one paved highway in the whole peninsula in ’78. Every few kilometres south of Eilat, this highway climbed a hill or a mountain, rising so close to the Gulf of Aqaba–Eilat, that when the sun disappeared behind the mountain range west of the highway, the sister range swelled east across the gulf, in Jordan, and farther south, in Saudi Arabia. The faint image of the gulf looked like the creation of an artist who had no desire or time to finish his picture, choosing instead to paint half the gulf on half of the canvas and to fold it precisely while the paint was still wet, in order to press an exact copy.” (Sulha)


While the map to the right reveals how vast is the expanse of Sinai, especially in comparison to the Negev desert and to Israel, it clearly doesn’t indicate the whereabouts of Bedouins (“real” or fictional) since this was the wish of the Bedouin clans who had offered me not only shelter, food and water for days and weeks that turned into months, but also their songs, dances, poems and legends by fire circles burning long into the night.

Due to my respect for these Bedouins’ wish, this map indicates only the places that Leora and Tal touched during their journey that offer no clue to the whereabouts of the “forbidden tents”. Yet quite a few readers of Sulha’s first trade- paper edition informed me that they figured out the (fictional) location of the (fictional) “forbidden tents” from the grey lines snaking across and around the Sinai and Negev deserts.

In fact, these grey lines attest to the madness that had possessed me to traverse these deserts—along these grey lines and countless more—without knowing why or what for. Nor did I question what compelled me to study Arabic so that I could communicate with the Bedouins without an interpreter and stay alone in their encampments; nor what compelled me to purchase a jeep especially equipped to cross treacherous desert passes, let alone roam by foot for countless kilometres through hostile terrain alone with nomads I’d just happened to meet, all the while snapping hundreds of photographs with three cameras and recording countless cassettes, scribbling observations on heaps of steno pads.

It was a mystery to me, and remained all the more so while this novel was created—or rather, received from a mysterious giver. Or so I felt. By the completion of the novel, I believed that the real stuff had no more to do with anything contrived by me than the grain of sand that forms the windows and mirrors held ever so lovingly, in this novel—to reveal

  • the sacred site of memory;
  • the heartbreak and the beauty inherent in a culture and a person’s contradictions;
  • the Forbidden Other—the Other who affords insight into oneself;
  • the hidden connections among most everything—even “arch-enemies”;
  • the place that paints in the colours of disappearance the two age-old adversaries: settlers, who aim to reclaim the land, to defend it to the last;
  • and nomads, whose relation to the land is much different: they live on it, live off it, move on, and find ways to love the land without becoming bound to it;
  • a place where life and death are tightly pressed and constantly bumping and scraping against each other. Like flint stones when one strikes the other, they spark fire, energy, passion, and inspiration, not only of ingenious ways to survive, but also of the prophetic powers and poetry found in the Bible; and the full power of life—of being alive!


It was in this state of being that the idea for this novel came to me all at once, sort of like love at first sight, conception at first try, when you don’t know what it takes to raise a child. I had no idea then that this child would grow up to sing with the exquisite tension created by two opposing pulls: the striving to attain the mythic dream of the New World—the pursuit of personal happiness in peace; and the longing for the mythic long-ago days when the world was a purer place and underneath everything there was a sacredness.

The following photographs were taken during my research work in the desert.

Sulha-2The nomads equipped not only me but also my jeep with amulets to ward off the evil eye of envy (“. . . more graves are dug by the evil envy in men’s hearts . . .” Sulha).

Here from the front seat of my jeep is yet another of my futile attempts to capture the sheer physical and geographical awesomeness inherent in Sinai. The heart yearns for one more try, with this or that lens, only to find it’s impossible for a camera to capture this desert that “shows you a different face every minute, a kaleidoscope of vistas powered by the ever-changing angle of the sun—and of colours. Especially when the slanting sunrays tease colour out of stone. The mountains, boulders and rocks are streaked with ancient hues of bronze and rust, copper green, iron red, yellow, purple and pink, grey and brown, while the sky bands the horizon with cloudless blue.” (Sulha)


Just a glimpse of how narrow and treacherous are some of Sinai’s wadis—so narrow that even the echo of a whisper trembles and amplifies how deep is this particular mountain fissure, which opens to a different geological era. Way up, the sky is a sliver of blue squeezed between two towering walls. The sun has never been here; the cold and dark are as old as time. In the shade, one can see history in the mountain walls—layers and layers of years, decades, centuries, in countless colours and shades. I could touch time here, polished smooth by flood waters at the top. At the bottom, flash floods  must have gushed over the centuries with a force that ripped away mountains along the way—boulders too large to clear this narrow passage.

“What drew you to the Bedouins, of all Arabs?”
“Why did you choose to do a documentary of the Bedouin culture and way of life?”
I’ve been asked these questions ever since my documentary The Bedouins won the Ohio State Award.

Well, to put it bluntly, I was a freelance broadcast journalist at that time, and I figured it would be easier to sell something that nobody else was doing—something that amazed me and troubled me terribly. The Bedouins’ Sinai made all the banner headlines at that time, as it was the subject of heated debates at the UN as a trading chip to facilitate a peace between Egypt and Israel. Yet no mention of the Sinai Bedouins’ rights to their Sinai was to be found in those banner headlines, let alone in the UN debates.

On a practical level, I figured the Bedouins would accept me more than other Arabs, because it’s part of the Bedouins’ way of life to accept guests, all guests, even be they arch-enemies. Hospitality in the desert—at that time—was like the First Commandment.
Deeper still, on the deep-seated emotional level that I’d kept secret since my childhood years, I was extremely curious to find how the Arab nomads lived. Of course, I romanticized it as a child, when it was a life-risking danger to cross the divide between my hometown and the neighboring Arab town only a short walk away from my bedroom’s window. Or so it seemed to my child’s eyes.

Therefore it was like a child-dream come true when the true Arabs (as the Bedouins refer to themselves) invited me to visit-stay with them. It so moved me that I quit my work, left my children, my husband, my parents, and my home to accept the Bedouins’ dream invitation.

Little did I know that after living in Bedouin encampments for months, I’d return home—and what a culture shock that was! I couldn’t adjust even to sitting on a chair. I sat—lived, really—in front of the fireplace in my home. Members of my family were alarmed when they heard my booming voice reduced to a barely audible whisper, as if I were still in a desert that carried even a whisper for miles, and found that there was no persuading me to move from the fireplace in which I cooked and brewed coffee, week after week. I slept by that fire for months. I also started the first draft of Sulha by that same fire.

What’s the difference between the Bedouins’ outlook on life, and ours—the so- called Western outlook on life?
That difference can be put in “a nutshell”: a Bedouin considers his lot in life to be good/fortunate even if nine things out ten are bad, and only one is good. We of the West, however, consider our lot to be unfortunate/bad even if nine things out of ten are good and only one out of ten is bad (for instance, if one’s child “lacks discretion” as the Bedouin refer to a mentally challenged child, a condition which is not uncommon among the Bedouins, due to their age-old custom of marrying their first cousins, as many social scientists maintain.)

A Bedouin woman has to bend nearly to the ground when she smokes so that her veil will pull away from her face just far enough to allow her to smoke without burning it. Her hands reveal that she is not “a lazy woman”, as the Bedouin women referred to me when they saw and felt how lean were my hands and how soft their skin – all too easily get slivers and blisters from carrying out chores that a Bedouin girl-child could do daily, like collecting firewood or hauling a rope from the bottom of a well with a pail half full.

I stayed and roamed with five different Bedouin clans in the course of my research in which not even one member knew how to read or write. Yet living with them restored for me the meaning and dignity of words and terms that had been hackneyed to drivel.

Sulha-2The full measure of the words “drought”, “patience” and “generosity” came to life when I saw this Badawia, above, drawing water with a tin cup from a spring that yielded half a drop a minute in that seventh year of drought. This particular spring was the only water source for her family and her stranger-guest, as well as for visiting members of her clan.

It took her hours upon hours to fill her water jerrycans, then hours upon hours to carry them to her “kitchen”. And if a parched nomad happened on her way, she’d share her precious drops to quench his thirst.

The water conduit was invariably a Badawia—a Bedouin woman—like this one, transporting heavy jerrycans full of water for kilometers over rugged terrain in bare feet. Her husband as well as her other male kinfolk were the only ones wearing shoes.

It was from a Bedouin child like this one, and the one crouching in the darkness behind me, that I learned the full meaning of the term “scraping rock bottom”.

It just so happened that during my research work, the desert regions suffered yet another year of drought—for the seventh year in succession, just as in Joseph’s time. And though longer than ever ropes dropped a pail over the lip of the waterhole, time and again the pail would come up empty. “‘For the water is trapped between the rocks at the very bottom of the well,’” according to the Bedouins by the well. “Finally, in desperation, the Badawias tied a rope around a child’s waist and slowly and carefully lowered the child into what seemed like a bottomless pit. Then they lowered a pail and moved away from the lip of the well to afford the child enough light to see. Whenever the child cried, ‘I found it, I found it,’ the pail would be pulled up, full of murky, stale water that smelled and tasted even worse than it looked. If they were not so addicted to tea, they’d probably all be shivering and sweating with malaria by now.” (Sulha)

It was also “women’s work”, as the Bedouins called it, to gather firewood for the fires at the Maq’ad—the men’s guest-receiving-place; as well as goat dung for the cooking-fire at the women’s section of the encampment.

The nomad’s kitchen.

Sulha-2Here, the Bedouin woman, fully veiled, is preparing supper—the one daily meal for most nomads—for which the little one is too hungry to wait.
Her kitchen counter is a torn sack spread flat on the hard, sun-baked ground, upon which she has to crouch in order to build and to refuel her stove and oven: her cooking fires—one for the rice, the other for the pitas. The jerrycan at her right and the pail on her left serve as her kitchen sink. Her cooking utensil is a shibriyya—a dagger. Rice is boiled in a chipped enamel pot. Pita is baked over a flat iron disk that looks like the top of a rusty gasoline barrel (and probably is the top of a rusty gasoline barrel).

It is impossible to keep dust and sand away from the food because of the ever-blowing desert wind and the ever-meandering goats and saluki dogs.

Sulha-2Even at this early age, this girl-child is so disciplined that no matter how thirsty she is, she won’t demand or nag anyone for a drop of water from the jerrycan by her side.

Her kinfolk believe that “a boy should not be disciplined as much as a girl, lest he be fearful. A girl should not be indulged as much as a boy, lest she be wilful—overly strong, refusing to do what she is told, talking back, doing things without permission. . . .

“A true real woman is a woman modest, obedient, deferential, soft-spoken, and at the same time, like a true real man, she must be strong, courageous, assert herself . . . even against her husband, if he or his blood-kin dishonour her blood-kin or herself. Or she will not be respected.” (Sulha)

Sulha-2A girl, like this one—who is not yet a maiden, else her face would be veiled—is charged with shepherding the goat herds of her father’s wives. Most days she’d lead the herd to a water source not far from her clan’s encampment. But then, as the goats would devour any green blade they could find near the water source and/ or the encampment, the girls are compelled to lead the goat herd a further distance—as far as three days and nights away from their home encampment. A shepherd girl would be alone, or with a cousin, and sometimes with sisters as little as the ones in the following photograph.
They’d laugh at me on the few occasions that I accompanied them, because I’d fear we were lost soon after we’d left the water source. It was beyond me how they could find their way—as if a compass had been implanted in them—in a wilderness that had no landmarks whatsoever. (This was before GPS.) What had been ingrained in them was that the desert—the Bedouins’ desert—was a place safer for a woman than a man. So highly do the Badu value a woman that “one of [their] names for woman is amarat a’beit, meaning the main pole of the tent, the pillar of the house. If a woman is violated, it is as if the house or tent has collapsed.

And even in blood-price, a woman is valued more than a man: forty camels for killing a man; one hundred and sixty camels for killing a woman; three hundred and twenty camels for killing a pregnant woman.
“Even a wealthy tribe can become impoverished if one of its sons harms a woman, even if in error. That is why women wear black, to prevent error. Even in the old days, when Badu tribes raided one another and plundered, the men would flee if too weak to drive back the attackers. But the women and children stayed. They knew that no matter how their menfolk fared, no other Badu tribe would stoop so low as even to frighten a Badawia, let alone harm her.” (Sulha)

Sulha-2Girls, even as young as the ones to the left, will start to learn how to tend goats: on the job, by joining a shepherdess not much older than they are, on days when the shepherdess will walk a relatively short distance: two to three hours each way from their encampment.

Sulha-2Here she is tending her mother’s goats, alone in the deserted wilderness, enjoying the cool shade offered by the thorn tree, or Acacia. Note the rope hanging on the right side of the tree. It’s with such ropes that the Bedouin women tie and fasten to the treetop their tents after they fold them and before the roam to the next water hole and/or grazing ground. Woe to anyone who stole  such a tent, or anything that belonged to the Bedouins, be it tied to a tree of roaming with the goat herd – he or she would be tracked down, even if it would take five generations to catch the thief and avenge this crime.

“It is forbidden to cut down trees like this one,” the Bedouins told me, “for they provide shade to shepherdesses and firewood for special-occasions cooking fires. And the fruit provides fodder for the flock. And if you cut down a tree like this one, you will cut down the possibility of ever living here or anywhere trees like this are growing. . . . The thorns that fall from these trees can spike right through your boots, so tread carefully,” they cautioned me, while treading there in their bare feet.
The Bedouin woman below is weaving a “welcome carpet” with long wool threads in the colours of her desert mountains, stretched tight in long neat rows. The rows are secured at each end to spikes she had hammered into the ground, weeks or perhaps months ago. Not one spike has budged, so hard was the ground in this part of the desert. Crouching as she does, so close to the ground, is such back-breaking work that she can’t weave for very long without taking a break to stretch her legs and rub her back.

Sulha-2It took her three years to weave her tent, using the black hair of the goats that she and her mother had raised and sheared, spinning it, rolling it onto their runners, and stringing it onto their looms.

Sinai dwarfs even the most courageous of “camel riders”, as the Bedouins refer to their men.
What do the Bedouins consider to be “men’s work”, one wonders, after seeing that most the time, the men just sit and talk and sip tea or coffee at their Maq’ad—the men’s guest-receiving place. At other times, they seem to take off on their camels suddenly and stealthily; disappear for days and nights, only to reappear as suddenly and stealthily as they’d disappeared.
This question loomed larger the longer I lived with the nomads and found that their “women’s work” entailed not only the raising and sustaining of their children and the sustaining of the clansmen’s lives, but also the raising and sustaining of the goat herds that “sustain the Badu way of life”; not to mention the weaving of the tents and the “welcome carpets”, and the camels’ saddlebags; as well as drawing water, carrying it, collecting firewood, building fires, cooking, cleaning . . . doing all of that in full “modest-proper” garb: ankle-length dress over dress, plus an array of shawls and heavy veil regalia, through which I could barely breathe.Sulha-2

It was nearly impossible for a “stranger-visitor” like me to find the answer to this and other such questions because the nomads I stayed with believed that “A Badu, the true Arab, trusts no strangers, therefore all questions from the mouths of strangers must be parried with silence or agile words. For to give information to a stranger is to hand him a shibriyya—dagger. The stranger might admire the shibriyya’s handsome handle. Or the stranger could, with its sharp edge, pierce your honour, and then your whole tribe would be bathed in shame. Such shame must be avenged . . .”
Even the Bedouin children adhered to this credo, and it was only after I stayed in one encampment for many weeks that a child revealed, “It is men’s work to gather information-power. That is why women can never be as powerful—informed—as we men are. . . . It is also men’s work to cross borders. . . .”, meaning smuggling information and goods from country to country, across very dangerous terrain, around enemy fortifications and troops. Therefore only the “best and most cunning of Badu trackers are assigned this most best and honoured and ennobling of men’s work. . . .” (It’s due to this particular men’s job, or rather the training for this job from very early age, that the Bedouin trackers are still without equal in the Sinai and even the Negev.)
“Camel riders” were also assigned to the task of fetching basic food provisions, especially when their clan was encamped at a distance of three to four days on camelback to the nearest grocery store.


This novel (Sulha) gives voice to the voiceless: to Bedouin nomadic women who share a husband in a polygamous marriage and a way of life that has endured for centuries and kept them not only veiled and out of bounds to all outsiders, but also voiceless.

Sulha-2It was forbidden (in most of the Bedouin compounds where I stayed) to record a Bedouin woman’s voice; and also forbidden to photogtaph her-but not for her to photogtaph me wearing her veil, exquisitely worked by her,”so that even a person blind in both eyes can see—hear the coins of her virtue, though it covers her cheeks and chin, bespeaking of her pride, strength and endurance—and her nose—her breath, inner life, soul—and her mouth, her hunger, craving, desire, sexual charm . . .” (Sulha)
The photograph above was taken at one of the dream spot in the desert: a real oasis, not a mirage.

Sulha-2This cliff’s formation reminded me of the tablets on which the Ten Commandments were carved. It was the flood in Noah’s time, according to the Bedouins, that triggered a flash flood in Sinai of such force, it dragged for God only knows how many miles this boulder, arrested by these tablet-shaped peaks. And ever so precariously, it appears to be acting as a bridge, or so I like to see it:
A bridge between the Dos and Don’ts A bridge to living with conflict rather than running away from it To reconciliation with the Other A bridge to Sulha

Book Club Reading Guide

  1. This novel has been called “. . .a splendid hymn to love, dignity, honour and duty.” even though the novel is set in the ever war embroiled Middle East. Were these seeming contradictions reconciled in the novel?
  2. Do you find you gained a deeper understanding of the many aspects of the conflict after reading this book? How did your prior knowledge of the Middle East affect your perception of this book?
  3. The concept of Sulha – which means in both Hebrew and Arabic: forgiveness, reconciliation, peace– is central in the book.  Do you think a complete sulha was accomplished in this novel? Did Leora make peace with her husband’s death, her son’s decision, her current husband, her upbringing, childhood, lover – with the True Arabs, as the Bedouins refer to themselves?
  4. Discuss the significance of duality – a major theme Sulha: Dave’s dual loyalties as well as the Camel Rider’s; Leora’s two husbands; Abu Salim’s two wives; and the desert, “a place where good and bad are wedded like sun and shade, where a stranger is always received and always shut out, a place where the common language is often silence or guns, where the horizon is wide and the boundaries are narrow . . .”
  5. Is the “official” reason Leora states for her journey to the Sinai Desert and to The Forbidden Tents the “real” reason? Is Leora’s journey a quest “ to find the woman buried in the rubble of widowhood? Or is she escaping to the desert?
  6. Why couldn’t Leora have solved her dilemmas in Canada? What might this tell us about her, Canada, and the immigrants to Canada?
  7. If you, like Leora, were obliged by law to decide whether or not to allow your only son to serve high-risk military duty in defense of your nation, what would be your decision?
  8. Throughout her stay in the Forbidden Tents, Leora wonders why this Bedouin clan broke their tribal law, which forbids all strangers to enter their women’s tents. What do you believe compelled these Bedouins to invite Leora to stay with them?
  9. What compelled Leora to remain with her Bedouin hosts after the rumor was smuggled to her that she might be staying in tents where a father will kill his son and a brother will kill his sister? Why didn’t she, or Tal, Hillel and el Bofessa alert the authorities?
  10. Leora is an outsider not only in the remote Bedouin tents, but also in her native Israel and her husband’s native Canada. How do the many layers of her Outsiderdom interact? Consider the differences between observing and noting the action as opposed to participating, engaging in them. By observing, does one become a de facto participant?
  11. What should be the position of a modern society concerning tribal cultures living within it? Does society have the right to enforce its modern laws? What about honouring the cultural codes? Where should the line be drawn, if at all? Should the custom of women’s circumcision, for example, be allowed? As well as polygamous marriage or Honour killings?
  12. Can you envision a society with a liberal worldview living in seclusion like the Bedouins? Does the very fact that they live so isolated make it necessary to have strict rules of human conduct?
  13. Can people be transformed by an experience of the “other” in a way, which sensitizes us to moral differences between cultures and makes us respectful and tolerant of their practices? Clearly, Leora is estranged by the rite of female circumcision among the Bedouin, to give one example, and no measure of her newly acquired respect and tolerance will spare her a sense of cultural and moral distance on this point. Can one maintain both sides of this relationship to the “other” without losing one’s own sense of self, one’s honesty, one’s openness and one’s commitments?
  14. Despite their differences, some of the characters in this novel become close friends and confidants. Are these true friendships? How do they influence on one another’s outlook on life? Do any of them truly change their beliefs during the course of this novel?
  15. How is Leora a different person at the end of the book than she was at the beginning? Was there any particular point in the book that marked the turn?
  16. Sulha was written in a unique style: like the Sinai’s dry river beds, the novel is constructed in circles, and some parts within these circles are narrated in a lyrical poetic style, other in mythic style, and some in a journalistic reporting style. Which sections would you attribute to which of these three styles? Examine the effects of these various styles on the novel, and on your perception of the novel.
  17. The personal versus the tribal are interwoven in many cases in both the Israeli and Arab-Bedouin societies, as in Leora’s dilemma whether to give her consent to her son, and in the case of Abu Salim’s dilemma over whether to pay for Bride Price with rights to smuggling routes or to water holes. Discuss other places where the personal and tribal are tightly linked, and where they are parallel.
  18. What did the war widow Leora and the war hero Tal share in common? What attracted one to each other? What kept their relationship fueled? What do you think happened to them after the novel left them?
  19. Discuss the effect of warfare on personal life, belief, morality, conduct, spirit, relationships, love – of mate, child, parent, country.
  20. Twenty-two years after her husband was killed Leora still grieves for him. Does it ring true to you? Did you suffer sudden loss? Is the trauma of sudden loss any different in the case of the missing in action, killed in action, or killed in a car accident, or a heart attack?
  21. Did Leora betray everything her husband Arik lived and died for when she ‘dropped out’ to Canada? Talk about the theme of betrayal and guilt in this novel. Has everybody in this novel betrayed somebody or some ideal?
  22. In his praise of Sulha, Leonard Cohen pointed out that “. . . Crucial human questions, (are) passionately addressed, and answered in a spirit of humanity . . .” do you agree? What specific questions do you think were raised in Sulha? Were they resolved? What questions do you wish Sulha explored?
  23. “Silence is a speaker” in this novel, what does it say?


After reading this novel, Ann Michaels noted that, “Sulha attempts to reconcile ancient conflicts, the living and the dead, forgetting and forgiving, within the compassion and frailties of its characters . . .” Does it apply to the conflict between Awaad’s clan and their Sheik? Do you agree or disagree with the Sheik that the conflict in the Middle East is sparked not only by the dispute over land and water and religion but by the concept of time: modern Vs. ancient, and authority: male hierarchal Vs. democracy?

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