The Arty Semite

Author Blog: Truth That's Stranger Than Fiction

By Lois Leveen

Earlier this week, Lois Leveen wrote about what makes a book Jewish. Her blog posts are featured on The Arty Semite courtesy of the Jewish Book Council and My Jewish Learning’s Author Blog Series. For more information on the series, please visit:


Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction. But it can be hard to tell.

I did an enormous amount of research for my book “The Secrets of Mary Bowser.” The novel is based on the true story of a woman born into slavery who was freed and educated in the North, and then became a spy for the Union army by posing as a slave in the Confederate White House. Historical fiction can be a powerful way to learn about the past. Thanks to “Sarah’s Key” by Tatiana de Rosenay, readers around the world have learned about the 1942 Vel’ d’Hiv Roundup. Bowser’s bravery, like the horrors enacted at Vel’ d’Hiv, should be more broadly remembered. But for authors, blurring the lines between history and fiction can still feel risky.

Quite a few of the facts that I incorporated into “The Secrets of Mary Bowser” — particularly the actions of Bet Van Lew, a pro-Union white Richmonder whose wartime escapades including digging up and reburying the body of a Union officer killed by the Confederates — were so bizarre, I feared readers would find them too implausible, even though they were true.

Read more


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: The Secrets of Mary Bowser, Lois Leveen, Books, Author Blog Series

Author Blog: Funny, You Don't Book Jewish

By Lois Leveen

Lois Leveen’s newest novel, “The Secrets of Mary Bowser,” is now available. Her blog posts are featured on The Arty Semite courtesy of the Jewish Book Council and My Jewish Learning’s Author Blog Series. For more information on the series, please visit:


There’s a novel I first read years ago that rang true in deep ways for me: Immigrant parents work hard, and, as a measure of success, move to the suburbs — where their older daughter thrives in school, while the younger daughter struggles socially, especially with her ethnic identity. Introduced to a charismatic, and most certainly unorthodox, rabbi, this younger daughter immerses herself in Jewish learning to steady her passage through the throes of adolescence. Her deepening involvement in the synagogue youth group imbues her with a sense of social justice, and greater confidence about who she is and what she wants. What could be a better example of Jewish-American literature?

Except, the novel in question, “Mona in the Promised Land,” is about a Chinese-American family. Its author, Gish Jen, is herself the daughter of Chinese immigrants. Jen grew up in Scarsdale, a community she portrays with an amazing mix of accuracy, acerbity, and affection. Raised in a similar suburban community and only 13 or so years younger than Jen and her protagonist, I’ve joked that I don’t need to write a novel about my childhood, because Jen already did it for me.

Read more


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: The Secrets of Mary Bowser, Lois Leveen, Books, Author Blog Series




Find us on Facebook!
  • "I’ve never bought illegal drugs, but I imagine a small-time drug deal to feel a bit like buying hummus underground in Brooklyn."
  • We try to show things that get less exposed to the public here. We don’t look to document things that are nice or that people would like. We don’t try to show this place as a beautiful place.”
  • A new Gallup poll shows that only 25% of Americans under 35 support the war in #Gaza. Does this statistic worry you?
  • “You will stomp us into the dirt,” is how her mother responded to Anya Ulinich’s new tragicomic graphic novel. Paul Berger has a more open view of ‘Lena Finkle’s Magic Barrel." What do you think?
  • PHOTOS: Hundreds of protesters marched through lower Manhattan yesterday demanding an end to American support for Israel’s operation in #Gaza.
  • Does #Hamas have to lose for there to be peace? Read the latest analysis by J.J. Goldberg.
  • This is what the rockets over Israel and Gaza look like from space:
  • "Israel should not let captives languish or corpses rot. It should do everything in its power to recover people and bodies. Jewish law places a premium on pidyon shvuyim, “the redemption of captives,” and proper burial. But not when the price will lead to more death and more kidnappings." Do you agree?
  • Slate.com's Allison Benedikt wrote that Taglit-Birthright Israel is partly to blame for the death of American IDF volunteer Max Steinberg. This is why she's wrong:
  • Israeli soldiers want you to buy them socks. And snacks. And backpacks. And underwear. And pizza. So claim dozens of fundraising campaigns launched by American Jewish and Israeli charities since the start of the current wave of crisis and conflict in Israel and Gaza.
  • The sign reads: “Dogs are allowed in this establishment but Zionists are not under any circumstances.”
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.