Interview with Elyse Hoffman, Author of The Book of Uriel
26 Jan 2021
What can you tell us about your new release, The Book of Uriel?
The Book of Uriel is the story of an imaginative little boy and his friend and protector, a German linguist, both of whom go through their own little heroic journeys. The linguist, Uwe, struggles with his desire to stay safe and return home to his children and his moral obligations towards Uriel and the Jews, whom he has the power to save, though such a bold action may cost him his life. Uriel, the little boy, is hidden by Uwe, kept safe right under the nose of the German commander. Uriel has always been fascinated by the myths and folktales of his people, and those folktales that seem to come true for him as he is contacted by the Archangels and given a mission to save the Guardian angel of the Jewish People from the Angel of Death, a mission that is important, as the Jews will all die without their guardian, but also dangerous for both him and Uwe. Their two stories weave together, and the whole book is basically a combination of a lesser-known aspect of Holocaust history—the Holocaust by bullets carried out by mobile killing squads in Eastern Europe—and Jewish folklore, borrowing elements and creatures from classic Jewish fairytales. It’s definitely a very unique novel.
What or who inspired you to become an author?
Just a need to, I guess! I have stories I want to tell, and I like to write them out, there’s really nothing else to it!
What’s on your top 5 list for the best books you’ve ever read?
I actually don’t have any ‘favorite’ books, since I really tend to like different books in different genres and even books in the same genre for very different reasons. For nonfiction generally, I like anything by Martin Gilbert, especially his tome about the Holocaust which is really helpful for my research for writing my books. I’m also a big fan of Alice Hoffman, especially The Dovekeepers. I really love The Book Thief, which I feel has a lot of similarities to The Book of Uriel and was a big inspiration to me. I also love a whole lot of books about folklore and mythology, but I’m partial to the compilations of Jewish folklore done by Howard Schwartz, especially Elijah’s Violin. I also have always loved The Odyssey. And being a Jewish woman, I also like to revisit the Torah and especially love The Book of Jonah.
Say you’re the host of a literary talk show. Who would be your first guest? What would you want to ask?
Assuming I can yank people out of history, I would probably pick Homer. As I said before, I really love The Odyssey, but I’m also very interested in how stories change and adapt over time, and I’d definitely want to ask how close the versions we have of his works are to the stories he told orally, and how many different versions he told.
What’s your favorite thing about writing?
The carpal tunnel and anxiety, haha. Honestly, I think very few authors enjoy the process of writing as much as being able to hold and see the finished product. Of course, once you hold that finished product that’s when the Internal Editor comes out to harass you about every comma and how bad of a writer you are. I do often like planning out my books, and looking at the difference between my outline and what actually manifests is always pretty fun.
What is a typical day like for you?
Wake up, feed dog, pet dog, write, do law school work, pet cat, pet dog again, repeat as needed until I collapse.
What scene from The Book of Uriel was your favorite to write?
I enjoyed writing Uriel’s little ‘flashback’ scenes. I did a lot of research into what life was like in Jewish shtetls in Poland and writing about Uriel’s ‘happier’ times while still keeping in focus the issues that existed in the shtetls even before the Nazis arrived (ableism in his case as he was born mute.)
Do you have a motto, quote, or philosophy you live by?
Not exactly, but I do try to keep this one in mind: “Our lives are fashioned by our choices. First we make our choices. Then our choices make us.” – Anne Frank.
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