Horn, Shifra

views updated

HORN, Shifra


Born in Jerusalem, Israel; divorced; children: one son. Education: Hebrew University of Jerusalem, B.A., earned teaching degree.


Home—Jerusalem, Israel. Agent—c/o Author Mail, St. Martin's Press, 175 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10010. E-mail—[email protected]


Former media relations specialist and producer of films and written materials about oppressed Jewish communities in Europe, Ethiopia, and the Middle East; former spokesperson for Israel Absorption Ministry; former correspondent in Japan for Israel Defense Forces Radio and Ma'ariv (daily newspaper); writer. Visiting lecturer in Bible studies and Hebrew, Bible College, Ginza, Tokyo, Japan.


Two Golden Book citations and two Platinum Book citations, Israel.


òHaòvayah Yapanit, Sifriyat Maariv (Tel Aviv, Israel), 1992, translation by Ora Cummings published as Shalom, Japan: A Sabra's Five Years in the Land of the Rising Sun, Kensington Books (New York, NY), 1996.

òHatulim, sipur ahavah, òKeshet (Tel Aviv, Israel), 1999.

Arba imahot, [Israel], translation by Dalya Bilu published as Four Mothers, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1999.

Yafah ba-nashim, òKeshet (Tel Aviv, Israel), 1998, translation by H. Sacks published as The Fairest among Women, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 2001.

Tamarah holekhet al ha-mayim (novel; title means "Tamara Walks on Water"), Am Oved (Tel Aviv, Israel), 2002.


Shifra Horn is one of the most popular contemporary female novelists in Israel. Her fiction regularly makes the bestseller list in her native land, and it has been translated into more than a half-dozen foreign languages, including German, French, Italian, Greek, and Mandarin. Horn's novels are set in Israel, and the tensions and tribulations of that country's politics form a background for the stories. What Horn highlights, however, are domestic incidents—primarily involving women—that explore love, motherhood, generational conflict, and old age in the neighborhoods of Jerusalem. As Horn explained in an interview with the London Times, "My books are not political. They are sagas, reflecting through women's eyes the history of Israel."

Horn's family has lived in Israel since the end of World War II. She grew up in Jerusalem and was educated at the Hebrew University. As a young student she began volunteer work on behalf of oppressed Jews in other countries, including Ethiopia and the Soviet Union, and her talents as a writer, film producer, and spokesperson eventually led to a job with the Israel Absorption Ministry. Her career direction changed when she accompanied her husband to Japan for a five-year stay. Horn began doing radio broadcasts and commenced work on her first book, a nonfiction travelogue translated as Shalom, Japan: A Sabra's Five Years in the Land of the Rising Sun. As its title implies, the work offers an Israeli perspective on certain aspects of Japanese life and culture. A Publishers Weekly reviewer deemed Shalom, Japan a "wicked and freshly revealing report on domestic details of Japanese life."

While working on Shalom, Japan, Horn began to dabble in fiction. When her nonfiction title was completed and she found herself sidelined with an illness, she began to write a novel in earnest—not to publish, but just to entertain herself. "The book just developed from chapter to chapter from page to page.…I, myself, was very curious as to what would happen," she said in an interview with the Surry Hills, Australia Daily Telegraph. A novel inspired by a picture of her great-grandmother, Four Mothers, became Horn's first published work of fiction. She reported that she was quite surprised when the book found favor with both the Israeli critics and the reading public. Four Mothers was her first bestseller.

Set in Jerusalem, Four Mothers tells the story of five generations of Jewish women, all of whom are deserted by their spouses and forced to rear their children on their own. The central character is Sara, a gifted healer and great beauty whose long life ends as her great-granddaughter bears a son. The novel explores the lives of Sara and her mother Mazal, daughter Pnina-Mazal, granddaughter Geula, and great-granddaughter Amal. The womens' lives are enriched by magic, drama, and psychic episodes as each must grapple with personal destiny and daily life. "The bond between the women of the various generations is almost mystical," noted Gila Ramras-Rauch in World Literature Today. "Throughout, despite the strongly patriarchal society, women are shown as thriving and transcending all odds.… Madness, loss, and tragedy do not diminish the strength, tenacity, and wisdom of these women." A Publishers Weekly critic felt that the novel "gives a personal perspective to [a] city more often defined by its historic and political headlines."

The Fairest among Women offers another magic-realist tale of growing up in Jerusalem during the tumultuous decades following World War II. Unusually precocious physically and mentally, Rosa is raised to believe that she is uncommonly beautiful. This notion persists as Rosa makes three marriages, raises eight children, and takes advice from her ancestors, living and dead. In her Library Journal review of the novel, Ellen R. Cohen observed: "Realism and fantasy mix nicely in this sometimes surreal tale, with absorbing results." A Publishers Weekly critic found the book "by turns salty, funny and always inventive, delicious."

Horn told the London Times that the violent nature of life in Jerusalem inspires women authors there to write domestic stories with universal appeal. Normal life, she said, "is what we crave.…But from time to time between the lines you can hear a different voice, our genuine voice of fear.…We cannot escape that."



Booklist, May 1, 1999, Nancy Pearl, review of Four Mothers, p. 1577; May 1, 2001, Nancy Pearl, review of The Fairest among Women, p. 1665.

Daily Telegraph (Surry Hills, Australia), September 9, 2000, "A Mother's Lode," p. 118.

Library Journal, April 1, 2001, Ellen R. Cohen, review of The Fairest among Women, p. 132.

New York Times Book Review, December 8, 1996, David Willis McCullough, "Travel"; November 21, 1999, Sandee Brawarsky, review of Four Mothers, p. 74.

Publishers Weekly, October 7, 1996, review of Shalom, Japan: A Sabra's Five Years in the Land of the Rising Sun, p. 57; March 1, 1999, review of Four Mothers, p. 57; June 25, 2001, review of The Fairest among Women, p. 48.

Times (London, England), June 7, 2002, Anne Sebba, "I See the Arabs as Victims" (interview), p. 5.

World Literature Today, autumn, 1999, Gila Ramras-Rauch, review of Four Mothers, p. 890.


Shifra Horn Home Page,http://www.shifra-horn.com (October 23, 2003).*