Friday, April 13, 2007

Tamar Yellin's "The Genizah at the House of Shepher"

Tamar Yellin is a writer of novels and short stories whose fiction has appeared in a wide variety of magazines and anthologies including London Magazine, Stand, The Jewish Quarterly, Panurge, Writing Women, Metropolitan, Leviathan Quarterly, Iron, The Third Alternative, The Big Issue, Staple, Nemonymous, Best Short Stories, Leviathan (U.S.), The Slow Mirror and Mordecai's First Brush With Love: New Stories by Jewish Women in Britain.

Inspired by an extraordinary true story from her own family history, The Genizah at the House of Shepher is her first published novel. She applied the "Page 99 Test" to the novel and reported the following:
Page 99 of The Genizah at the House of Shepher is pretty characteristic. It tells the story of how the narrator's grandfather, Joseph Shepher, in a typical act of fear, pessimism and bad business sense, manages to lose the family home in Jerusalem. Unable to bear for one day longer the burden of debt he is under, he sells it for a song, pays off his loans, and "not long after, rampant inflation struck the Promised Land: the value of the loans went down, the value of the property shot up, and my grandfather, if he had only waited, would have found himself sitting on half a million." The telling is deliberately ironic, salty and tongue-in-cheek: this is a family who never made good in anything. Though of course, if he hadn't sold off the house it would never have been slated, later, for demolition, they'd never have found the Codex hidden in the attic and, in short, there would be no novel.

Is Ford's stricture a fair test? I'd say a really good novel is like a stick of rock: it has to be equally good all the way through. There can't be any lazy pages. Nor can you differentiate between style and content. Style is content so far as I'm concerned.

But that's the writer in me talking, and she's something of a perfectionist. Readers are much more forgiving. Actually lots of wonderful novels have their dull patches. Under Ford's test you'd risk missing out on them.
Visit Tamar Yellin's website and read the opening chapters of The Genizah at the House of Shepher.

--Marshal Zeringue