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The Deborah Harris Agency

WHEN THE WORLD BECAME WHITE

WHEN THE WORLD BECAME WHITE

By: BETOLIN-SHERMAN, Dalia

Young Adult, 2013

In this debut collection from one of Israel’s most promising young authors, Dalia-Betolin Sherman offers an unprecedented window into the world of Ethiopian immigrants to the Jewish state. Her main characters are two sisters who arrive in Israel as young children and grow up in the poorest areas of the country, speaking Hebrew with their peers as their parents toil in factories to pay for rent and schoolbooks and the chickpeas and lentils they cook for dinner.

In perhaps the most autobiographical story, “Bookcase,” the heroine spends her summer vacation working in a factory beside her mother, who scolds her: “Do you want to end up like me? To work like a dog in a place that’s toxic? Do you also want to live like this, to take two buses to the other side of the world just to earn pennies? Why don’t you start writing? Why is your notebook blank?”  Readers will rejoice that Dalia Sherman has filled some of the blank pages, showing us how our familiar lives and landscapes might appear through foreign eyes. From her descriptions of the surreal world of immigrant factory labor to the cruelty of schoolyard antics, Sherman’s exquisite prose captures the frustration and bewilderment of the older generation and the curiosity and amazement of the younger, united in upheaval and hope as they begin life in a new land.

Rights Sold to:

Israel, Kinneret Zmora Bitan; World English, Penguin

Reviews:

“Moving and gripping… Dalia Betolin-Sherman has done something that has never been done before in Israeli literature: She has succeeded in affording the reader a glimpse of the private world of an Ethiopian family in Israel… [Her] writing is courageous and unabashed.“ – Efrat Yarday, Ha’aretz

[T]his original collection... is the first in contemporary Hebrew literature to offer an intimate portrait of family life from the perspective of an Ethiopian-Israeli.

It may be apparent that Betolin-Sherman’s guileless voice tells the author’s own story, but the extent to which these narratives reflect the universal human experience of displacement is equally striking. American-Jewish readers might be most readily reminded of “Call it Sleep,” Henry Roth’s unsparing portrait of the lives of poor Jewish immigrants in New York City in the early decades of the 20th century. – Eva L. Weiss, The Jewish Week

[A[ collage of vivid postcards, painted by a growing girl, chronicling the strains of assimilation…a delicately drawn and largely unspoken depiction of a force that has shaken the community. – Mitch Ginsburg, The Times of Israel

“In addition to capturing the sudden transition from rural life amidst cattle and beneath a starry sky to roads paved with asphalt, elevators, bombings in the Sinai, and teachers who mark papers with red ink, Betolin-Sherman depicts the forces that rattle a family of immigrants…. With straightforward prose and a keen eye, Sherman succeeds in writing fascinating and touching stories.” – Dafna Levi, La’Isha

The childish-feminine voice of Jews who immigrated to Israel from Ethiopia in Dalia Betolin-Sherman's splendid collection is one we have not yet heard here.

“They are not merely women, they are black women in a white reality… who deal in their own clever and precise way with double-otherness, with two-faced strangeness: they are different from the  society they find themselves in, and different from their parents, who too often remained behind in the journey to social integration. The protagonists of the book are in various stages of integration, and are of various ages, but all share similar transformative experiences, or a similar feeling, which places them  them time and again in the role of  observers, not participants.

“Betolin-Sherman seven stories… are fascinating in that they turn  the mirror from white, belonging, proprietary…society to  families from Ethiopia undergoing the hardships of assimilation…What Betolin-Sherman has to say...is not just important, it is also certainly beautiful.” – Edna Abramson, The Literary Republic (www.lit-republic.co.il)       

“A spare but spot-on collection of seven stories that hover around a few tense, salient points and enable the reader to envision an intriguing, composite, character standing before them.

“This is a depiction of a time, a place and a social surrounding that is still unknown to consumers of Israeli culture.

“With her complex characters, and with their ugly moments, Betolin-Sherman prevents readers from basking in their enlightenment. Casually, and without preaching, she bequeaths readers a challenging insecurity, perhaps stirring them to ask what sort of work her stories have performed. Are they part of a system which whitens people, putting correct words in their mouths, which joins a polite sleepy cultural discussion – or do they provoke the eye, teaching it to be alert and rebellious?” – Yoni Livne, Yediot Acharonot