Hamilton, Masha

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Hamilton, Masha

PERSONAL:

Married David Orr; children: three. Education: Graduate of Brown University.

ADDRESSES:

Home—Brooklyn, NY. E-mail—[email protected]

CAREER:

Writer, journalist, teacher, and shiatsu practitioner. Gotham Writers' Workshop, New York, NY, novel-writing teacher. Former Middle East correspondent for Associated Press; former Moscow correspondent for Los Angeles Times; former reporter for NBC/Mutual Radio.

AWARDS, HONORS:

Arizona Arts biannual fellow for fiction, 2002; Best Books of 2004 recognition, Library Journal, for The Distance between Us; Barnes & Noble Discovery Series selection, for Staircase of a Thousand Steps.

WRITINGS:

Staircase of a Thousand Steps (novel), BlueHen Books (New York, NY), 2001.

The Distance between Us (novel), Unbridled Books (Denver, CO), 2004.

The Camel Bookmobile, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2007.

Contributor to print and electronic periodicals, including Women's eNews, Counterpunch, Mother's Movement, Miami Herald, and Arizona Daily Star. Contributing writer for the Seattle Times. Author of syndicated column, "Postcards from Moscow."

SIDELIGHTS:

Masha Hamilton started her writing career as a foreign correspondent for the Associated Press. In the late 1980s, Hamilton wrote about the struggle in the Middle East, the intefadeh, or peace process, there, and the partial withdrawal of Israeli troops from Lebanon. She often reported from the Gaza Strip, noting the mounting tensions within the Muslim population and the general surrender to death accepted as the only means of freedom.

In 1989, Hamilton moved to Moscow. From there, she sent home reports that covered such diverse topics as women's rights in Russia and political fears of the then-newly Westernized form of presidency. However, it was while in Moscow that Hamilton decided to move out of journalism and concentrate on writing fiction. The author once noted that she was afraid that if she did not soon write about the characters filling her head, she would lose their stories. Her husband encouraged her to quit her job and focus on fiction, which she did.

Hamilton published her first novel, Staircase of a Thousand Steps, in 2001. The setting of the novel is a remote Jordanian desert village in the Middle East. The story is peopled with characters such as Jammana, a young girl who learns of old family secrets through her clairvoyant abilities, and who must unravel her past and weave the details back together in their proper places. There is also the midwife, Faridah, who has the healing gift of touch but who finds the traditions that confine her role in life to be distasteful. Harif, an older man who raises sheep, is a storyteller who lives somewhat outside the customs of his village. Harif also has the gift of vision, but unlike his granddaughter, Jammana, Harif sees into the future. Jammana struggles to find her way between the world of her grandfather and the encroachment of modern customs, finding herself equally attracted to both.

The time frame of Staircase of a Thousand Steps is the 1960s, before the Six-Day War with Israel. It is a time of mystery and change, a pivotal moment where past and future are about to clash. This tension "Hamilton movingly and beautifully expresses throughout this superior debut," wrote Faye A. Chadwell in a review for Library Journal. Bonnie Johnston, writing in Booklist, found the prose in Hamilton's book "elegant." Johnston added that Hamilton's "subtle interweaving of the mystical and the mundane makes the novel delightfully compelling." A Publishers Weekly contributor called Hamilton "a natural storyteller: she weaves past and present artfully together."

In 2004, Hamilton returned to journalism, traveling to Afghanistan as a freelancer. That same year, her second novel, The Distance between Us, was published. The novel is "a compelling tale of reprisal and endurance with a rich cast of characters," remarked Christopher J. Korenowsky in Library Journal. While on her way to an important interview in Lebanon, Middle East war correspondent Caddie Blair stumbles into an armed ambush. The attack leaves Marcus, her photographer and lover, dead in her arms. His death shatters her veneer of neutral detachment, leaving her wracked with guilt. Despite the tragedy and her emotional turmoil, Caddie refuses to leave the Middle East, instead plunging back into her work with greater intensity as she searches for answers in the conflict between Israel and Palestine. When she meets a mysterious Russian professor, Alexander Goronsky, he offers information that may help her find justice for Marcus and revenge against the terrorists who killed him. Hamilton "captures the conflicted feelings of journalists but also the conflicted feelings of those living in the middle of the violence," commented Booklist reviewer Marta Segal Block. A Publishers Weekly contributor called the book "sharply etched" and "emotionally ferocious," concluding that the novel is "an affecting, viscerally charged work that offers no easy moral answers."

In her third novel, The Camel Bookmobile, Hamilton turns her attention to Africa and the clash of cultures. According to BookLoons Web site contributor Joan Burton, the novel "is a heartwarming story of people reaching out to help others." The Camel Bookmobile features Fiona Sweeney, a librarian whose desire to make a difference leads her to the bush of northeastern Kenya, where she helps start a traveling library. Alexis Burling wrote on the Bookreporter.com Web site that the author "takes readers into the remotest areas of the African continent to explore what happens when modern Western traditions are introduced into the very fabric of a third world, traditionally nomadic society."

Although Fiona's intentions are good, she has much to learn about the people she wants to help. "Hamilton has always been concerned with cultural differences—her previous novels were set in the Middle East—and here she shows the disruption that can arrive with the dust stirred by the camels," wrote Barbara Hoffert in Library Journal. Specifically, Fiona finds herself caught in a volatile struggle in the small community of Mididima when the bookmobile's presence begins a feud concerning some of the locals who see their traditional culture as being threatened by modernization.

Booklist contributor Carol Haggas commented that the author "has created a poignant, ennobling, and buoyant tale of risks and rewards, surrender and sacrifice." A Publishers Weekly contributor wrote that "Hamilton weaves memorable characters and elemental emotions in artful prose."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

PERIODICALS

Booklist, April 15, 2001, Bonnie Johnston, review of Staircase of a Thousand Steps, p. 1534; October 1, 2004, Marta Segal Block, review of The Distance between Us, p. 310; March 1, 2007, Carol Haggas, review of The Camel Bookmobile, p. 62.

Bookseller, June 15, 2007, review of The Camel Bookmobile, p. 10.

Entertainment Weekly, April 6, 2007, Hannah Tucker, review of The Camel Bookmobile, p. 79.

Kirkus Reviews, November 1, 2004, review of The Distance between Us, p. 1024.

Library Journal, April 15, 2001, Faye A. Chadwell, review of Staircase of a Thousand Steps, p. 132; November 1, 2004, Christopher J. Korenowsky, review of The Distance between Us, p. 74; March 1, 2007, Jenn B. Stidham, review of The Camel Bookmobile, p. 74; March 15, 2007, Barbara Hoffert, "Books by Camel: A Heartfelt but Tricky Business," p. 60.

New Statesman, July 16, 2007, Natasha Tripney, "Spread the Word," review of The Camel Bookmobile, p. 64.

New York Times Book Review, August 26, 2007, Claire Dederer, "Unshelved," review of The Camel Bookmobile, p. 18.

Publishers Weekly, April 2, 2001, review of Staircase of a Thousand Steps, p. 37; October 25, 2004, review of The Distance between Us, p. 26; December 12, 2005, Matthew Thornton, "HarperCollins's Camel," p. 8; January 29, 2007, review of The Camel Bookmobile, p. 39.

San Francisco Chronicle, October 22, 2004, review of The Distance between Us.

School Library Journal, June, 2007, Jamie Watson, review of The Camel Bookmobile, p. 179.

USA Today, April 12, 2007, Carol Memmott, "‘Bookmobile’ Drives Home African Life," review of The Camel Bookmobile, p. 7.

ONLINE

BookLoons, http://www.bookloons.com/ (May 6, 2008), Joan Burton, review of The Camel Bookmobile.

Bookreporter.com, http://www.bookreporter.com/ (May 6, 2008), Alexis Burling, review of The Camel Bookmobile.

Boulder Weekly Online, http://www.boulderweekly.com/ (October 7, 2001), Lynn T. Theodose, review of Staircase of a Thousand Steps.

Colorado College Library Web site, http://library.coloradocollege.edu/ (January 11, 2008), Margret Salm, review of The Camel Bookmobile.

Literary Mama Web site, http://www.literarymama.com/ (September 4, 2005), interview with Masha Hamilton.

LitMinds Blog & Interview, http://litminds.org/blog/ (May 6, 2008), Lewis Klausner, "Interview with Masha Hamilton, Author of The Camel Bookmobile."

Masha Hamilton Home Page, http://www.mashahamilton.com (September 4, 2005).

Romantic Times Online, http://www.romantictimes.com/ (May 6, 2008), Leslie L. McKee, review of The Camel Bookmobile.

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