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by Kinneret Globerman

Most of us tend to run from our fears. Or be incapacitated by them. Not Malka Marom. She has spent a lifetime embracing them.

“Wherever I was scared to go, that’s where I went,” says Marom. “I’m driven to create to drive the fears away.”

Her novel, Sulha , is being celebrated as much for it’s provocative subject matter as for its lyrical writing.

Reading Ms. Marom’s novel, you can taste the sand, smell the scorched and smoky firewood that permeates everything. It’s evident she knows what she’s writing about. For months, Ms. Marom roamed the desert with five Bedouin clans at different stages of nomadic life.

“I learned that the desert is a place where good and bad are wedded like sun and shade, a place where a stranger is always received and always shut out, where the horizon is wide and the boundaries narrow, where the language is often silence or guns.”

Fear has kept Ms. Marom busy creating for most of her life. As a child, she found fame on the big screen. In her 20s, she switched to singing. Her sultry voice and stunning beauty catapulted her to stardom as half of the international hit folk-singing duo, Malka & Joso.When Malka & Joso entered the musical scene in the 60s, there weren’t many other “ethnic” folksingers bold enough to sing about the immigrant experience. Malka & Joso’s renditions of Russian, Brazilian, Israeli, Mexican, Spanish, and Italian songs made ethnicity fashionable. “It changed the perception of ‘the ethnic’ people who have a foreign accent, from the derogatory connotations to something that was elegant, wise; that was sophisticated and avant-grade, attractive and popular,” she says. Even today, decades later, EMI has released an anthology of their best songs.

By the time she was in her 30s, Ms. Marom was still winning accolades and awards, only this time for the CBC radio documentaries she wrote and produced. And now, in her 50s, Malka Marom has plunged herself into something else entirely.

Why go to the desert and share the Bedouin’s hardship?

If you’re Malka Marom, you do it because nobody else has done it. And you do it for the same reasons you’ve done everything else: a passionate desire to overcome your fears.

Ms. Marom was just 17 and newly married to a Canadian when she left Israel for a new life in her husband’s homeland. She suffered severe culture shock and soon realized that the bluntness of Hebrew did not translate well into the civility of English.

When I came here and I said, ‘Excuse me, I have to go the toilet,’ I was told ‘Well, a lady doesn’t say ‘toilet’, a lady doesn’t go to the toilet, a lady goes to the ‘powder room’… It was this kind of Canada that I came to.”

That culture shock was nothing compared to what she experienced decades later, returning to Canada following her time with the Bedouin. She couldn’t adjust to city comforts and took to living in front of her fireplace, cooking on it, sleeping by it.

“My family had a fit.” she exclaims. “They thought I went completely mad! They were scared.”

“I talked in a very quiet voice, the way you talk in the desert. Because the air carries sound so far, you talk in a whisper. Which is alien to me: I have a singer’s big voice.”

It was during those days and nights by the fireplace in her Toronto home that she began to write Sulha . The crackling fire was her link to the desert.

It’s hard to say how much of Sulha’s protagonist, Leora is Malka Marom. She certainly won’t tell. In fact, she refuses to divulge much about her private life except to say that she has two sons, and that she is married. Period. What she will say is that, like Sulha’s protagonist, Leora, she knows what it’s like to suffer grief.

“I wrote what I know. I know bereavement. Like any child who has grown up in a war-torn country, you suffer loss. Your loss of childhood, loss of innocence, loss of friends, of relatives. I know what it’s like to have neighbours who are enemies. I know the desire to have peace and forgiveness and reconciliation, a SULHA,  not at the national level but personal. And the question arises: At what price Sulha,  at what price personally, for individuals? Where does heroism begin and where does it end? How far may a person go — too far — in quest of redemption?

“The theme of Sulha – Sulha, which means a forgiveness, a reconciliation, in both Arabic and Hebrew — is not only reconciliation between Arabs and Jews or Diaspora Jews and Israeli Jews, but it’s really like a bridge between hope and anguish, between cultures old and new, men and women, you and me, really. Anybody outside of your own skin.

“I hope that the readers will learn from Sulha to explore not only the consequences of history but the possibilities of transcending them.”


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