Bergman, Tamar 1939–
Bergman, Tamar 1939–
PERSONAL: Born January 29, 1939, in Tel Aviv, British Palestine (now Israel); daughter of Katriel Yaffe (a boat captain) and Fenia Sherman (a homemaker; maiden name, Oreloff); married Ze'ev Bergman, Ph.D. (a psychologist), September 2, 1962; children: Opher, Sigal, Orit. Education: Hebrew University (Jerusalem), B.A., 1963, attended the Sorbonne, University of Paris, 1964–65. Religion: Jewish.
ADDRESSES: Home and office—6 Hanassi St., Jerusalem 92188, Israel. Agent—c/o Author Mail, Houghton Mifflin Children's Books, 222 Berkeley St., 8th Fl., Boston, MA 02116-3764. E-mail—[email protected]
CAREER: Israeli Broadcasting Authority, Jerusalem, Israel, radio play writer, 1970–82; writer.
MEMBER: Hebrew Writers Association.
AWARDS, HONORS: Berenstein Prize, Israeli Publishers' Association, and "Best Children's Book' citation, University of Haifa's Center for Literature for Children and Youth, both 1984, Notable Children's Trade Book in the Field of Social Studies, Children's Book Council/National Council for the Social Studies, 1991, all for The Boy from Over There; Notable Children's Trade Book in the Field of Social Studies, Children's Book Council/National Council for the Social Studies, and Ze'ev Prize, Israeli Ministry of Education, both 1988, both for Along the Tracks; Jerusalem Literary Award, 1994, for manuscript of "As a Polished Mirror"; ACUM Award, 1995, for manuscript of "Conch of Secrets"; Ze'ev Prize, Israeli Ministry of Education, 1999, for Ina Afa Im Hatziporim.
Hamassa Legan Hashoshanim (title means "The Journey to the Rose Garden"), Massada (Tel Aviv, Israel), 1976.
Danny Holeh Lemirpe'at Hashina'in (title means "Danny Goes to the Dentist"), Israel Economist (Tel Aviv, Israel), 1976.
Al Shumklum ye-'al Shumakom (title means "About Nothing in Nowhere"), Hakibbutz Hameuchad (Tel Aviv, Israel), 1976.
Mi Rotze Lehitarev? (title means "Who Wants to Bet?"), Ministry of Health (Tel Aviv, Israel), 1977.
Beshabat Baboker (title means "On Saturday Morning"), Keter (Jerusalem, Israel), 1979.
Shinayim tsohakot (title means "Laughing Teeth"), Keter (Jerusalem, Israel), 1980.
(With Chemi Gutman) Simlat Haksamim (title means "The Magic Dress"), Keter (Jerusalem, Israel), 1980.
Kol Ehad Ha'ya Pa'am Yeled (title means "We Were All Children Once"), Sifriat Poalim (Tel Aviv, Israel), 1983.
Ha Yeled mi-shamah, Am Oved (Tel Aviv, Israel), 1983, published in English as The Boy from Over There, translated by Hillel Halkin, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1988.
Mehapsim Et Osnat (title means "Looking for Osnat"), Keter (Jerusalem, Israel), 1985.
Gozal Shel Aba Ve'ima (title means "Mom and Dad's Chick"), Keter (Jerusalem, Israel), 1987.
Leoreh Hamessila, Schocken (New York, NY), 1987, published in English as Along the Tracks, translated by Michael Swirsky, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1991.
Rav Hovel Shav Ela'ich (title means "The Captain Has Returned"), Am Oved/Yad Ben-Zvi (Tel Aviv, Israel), 1990.
Kemar'a Letusha (title means "As a Polished Mirror"), Am Oved (Tel Aviv, Israel), 1996.
Konchi'at Hassodot (title means "Conch of Secrets"), Sifriat Poalim (Tel Aviv, Israel), 1996.
Ina Afa Im Hatziporim (title means "Aunt Ina and the Sunbirds"), Hakibbutz Hameuchad (Tel Aviv, Israel), 1999.
Where Is?, illustrated by Rutu Modan, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 2002.
Mook, Sifriat Poalim (Tel Aviv, Israel), 2003.
The Boy from Over There, Where Is?, Kol Ehad Ha'ya Pa'am Yeled, and Along the Tracks have been translated into other languages, including German, Italian, Korean, and Japanese.
SIDELIGHTS: Israeli children's author Tamar Bergman has penned more than a dozen books in Hebrew, subtly interweaving incidents of her own childhood into the words she sets down for youngsters. In her novels, Bergman deals with difficult subject matter, such as coping with the death of a parent and the hurt of prejudice. Because she lost her father when she was two years old, Bergman has created protagonists who must deal with the loss or absence of a parent, as in The Boy from Over There. This book and Along the Tracks both draw upon the social and economic upheavals that occurred during the "events stemming from the Nazis' rise to power in the late 1930s, the subsequent war, and slaughter of over six million Jews" while Bergman was a child. Bergman's birthplace, Palestine (now Israel), became a refuge for many Jewish refugees fleeing from the carnage in Europe.
Raised on a kibbutz, Bergman used this setting for The Boy from Over There, her first story translated into English. Avramik has finally reached Palestine after hiding from the war in Europe for most of his young life. Refusing to admit that his mother is dead, Avramik finds adjusting to life on a communal farm with his uncle very hard and the other children find his behavior—hoarding food, insomnia, never speaking without shouting—odd, but understandable, because he is from "over there," a survivor of the war in Europe. However, the relative peace of the kibbutz is brief, as war breaks out in 1948 when Israel begins to fight for independence. Again under fire, Avramik must lead the children to safety and come to accept a new life in a different land.
Critics lauded Bergman for her touching portrayal of refugee life in Israel after the Second World War. Calling The Boy from Over There "potent," a reviewer in Publishers Weekly remarked that "Bergman develops strong characters and recreates Kibbutz life in rich detail." In the School Library Journal, Louise L. Sherman also applauded the "realistic" characters and praised Bergman for her deft handling of life on a communal farm. Writing in the New York Times Book Review, Jenifer Levin proclaimed that the book "is a rewarding, consistently entertaining, multilayered book of emotions and ideas."
The saga of refugees is also discussed in Bergman's second novel translated into English, Along the Tracks. In this story, a young boy and his family flee Poland for the Soviet Union at the onset of World War II. After settling in a work camp there, the refugees find life becoming progressively harder, especially for young Yankele. When the Nazis invade the Soviet Union, Yankele is separated from his parents in the chaos and must learn to survive on his own. Forced to roam the countryside for the next few years, he bands together with other orphans and lives in railroad stations. Eventually Yankele finds his family and faces a new challenge of adjusting to a more settled life. In a School Library Journal review, Susan Knorr claimed that "Bergman poignantly shows the pain of separation and the remarkable determination of youth to survive." "The novel offers young readers plenty of action" according to Horn Book contributor Nancy Vasilakis, who went on to write that the book "excels particularly well in its evocation of setting."
Many of Bergman's books are for older children, but she has also written picture books for toddlers. Where Is? tells of a kitten left with Grandma and Grandpa for the day while Mother goes away. After contemplating where Mother might have gone, the kitten decides to pull a prank, leaving readers to puzzle out the answer. In Booklist, Ellen Mandel commended Bergman for covering the topic of separation anxiety "with a sympathetic, tender, and humorous brush." A Publishers Weekly critic remarked favorably upon the "revealing secrets to which youngsters will be privy" as they absorb the illustrations and text.
Bergman once told CA: "Since my early childhood I used to tell stories to myself. The stories were different, but the end was always the same: My father returns home. My imagination created different plots, the scenery varied daily, but HE always hugged me in the last page. By and by, I told myself other stories, one of them found its written form in The Boy from Over There. Telling stories to oneself is one thing, writing books is completely different.
"My writing once began with stories told to my children. As they grew older, so did my readers. Now that my children are grown I find myself working on a novel for adults, but perhaps my future grandchildren will turn my imagination back to the enchanted realm of childhood.
"I have written more than a dozen books, most of them for ages five to eight, but the three of my books which are most meaningful for me are The Boy from Over There, Along the Tracks, and The Captain Has Returned. They were written for teenagers, but quite often I am accused by adults of keeping them up at night, while they finished a story they couldn't put down.
"I have written … a biography of my father, Katriel Yaffe, who was born in British Palestine in 1909. It is the story of a man who dedicated his life to the sea, who from adolescence wanted to be a sea captain and could not because of poor eyesight, and who fulfilled his dream against all odds as a pioneer in creating the basis for the navy of the future state of Israel. Further, he achieved his goal in a remarkably short lifetime: In May, 1941, as captain of a commando boat, he disappeared with his crew of twenty-three while on a military mission. One of the highlights of the book occurs on September 1, 1939—the date World War II broke out. On that day he landed a ship on the Tel Aviv coast filled with illegal immigrants escaping the Nazi shadow that was spreading over Europe.
"Along the Tracks starts on this same day. It relates the odyssey of a young Jewish boy who found himself alone in Kazakhstan, U.S.S.R., during World War II. It is a fictional account of survival, full of incredible—yet real—adventures during which the boy changes from a frightened child of eight to a brave fourteen-year-old youth, resourceful, a great lover of the freedom of the endless horizon. For me it is a personal 'if' story: what might have happened to me if I had been born 'over there,' in Europe.
"The Boy from Over There, written first of the three books, starts at the end of World War II. It is also an 'if' story, based on my experience. I have a cousin who survived the holocaust and was then adopted by a Dutch couple in the Netherlands. My uncle eventually found the cousin, but she chose to stay with her adoptive parents. I wondered what would have happened if my cousin had instead gone to the kibbutz where we all lived. Like Along the Tracks, it is a novel based on historical fact.
"Although each of the three books stands alone, for me they form a kind of personal trilogy, created contrary to their chronological order."
More recently, Bergman commented: "I wrote … 'Now that my children are grown I find myself working on a novel for adults, but perhaps my future grandchildren will turn my imagination back to the enchanted realm of childhood.' Well, the 'perhaps' became reality: Now that I am a proud (what else?) grandmother I have returned to the fresh, wonder-filled world of young children with a few more books.
"Nevertheless, I have discovered that whoever I am writing for—from an adult (Kemar'a Letusha [title means 'As a Polished Mirror']) to a toddler (Where Is?)—I always create a full 'story' in the basic meaning of the word, with a beginning, an intriguing 'body' and an end. It sounds obvious, but if you try to develop a full story in a book for toddlers, the kind we call a 'picture book,' you will see it's not so easy. You have to be extremely precise, like the artist who engraves a whole cathedral on a grain of wheat.
"Sitting down to write a new book, I always find myself searching for the delicate and ever-changing balance between being distant and too close to my protagonists. The distance enables me to create the perspective and objectivity while modeling the characters, and the closeness is vital in order to understand their motives, their inner world.
"My heroes change during the story. They learn, grow up, acquire insight, gain a better understanding of the world, and often feel empathy with the people around them.
"In my book Ina Afa Im Hatziporim [title means 'Aunt Ina and the Sunbirds'], at the beginning of the story the hero, a boy nine years old, has a very common problem: He is not happy with his social position, and he is jealous of a classmate. But his friendship with an older neighbor who feeds the birds visiting her window makes him change. By learning facts about birds, especially about the tiny sunbirds which he likes so much, he begins to understand what responsibility is and to empathize with the people around him, especially the old woman. He gains the respect and appreciation of his friends and the help of the girl he loves. At the end of the story, as he mourns the old woman's death, he 'sees' her flying with her beloved birds to the heavens, joyfully waving farewell to him. He takes her place, starting a bird feeding station at his window. What starts as a duet, then continues as a chorus made up of a family and a small community, reaches a finale with the clear voice of a boy standing alone at dawn, welcoming the first sunbird feeding at his window."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, December 15, 2002, Ellen Mandel, review of Where Is?, p. 766.
Horn Book, November-December, 1991, Nancy Vasilakis, review of Along the Tracks, pp. 741-742.
New York Times Book Review, May 8, 1988, Jenifer Levin, review of The Boy from Over There, p. 26.
Publishers Weekly, March 11, 1988, review of The Boy from Over There, p. 104; September 9, 2002, review of Where Is?, p. 67.
School Library Journal, June, 1988, Louise L. Sherman, review of The Boy from Over There, p. 101; December, 1991, Susan Knorr, review of Along the Tracks, p. 135; September, 2002, Lisa Dennis, review of Where Is?, p. 180.
Voice of Youth Advocates, December, 1988, review of The Boy from Over There, p. 234.