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!
  • The Jewish bachelorette has spoken.
  • "When it comes to Brenda Turtle, I ask you: What do you expect of a woman repressed all her life who suddenly finds herself free to explore? We can sit and pass judgment, especially when many of us just simply “got over” own sexual repression. But we are obliged to at least acknowledge that this problem is very, very real, and that complete gender segregation breeds sexual repression and unhealthy attitudes toward female sexuality."
  • "Everybody is proud of the resistance. No matter how many people, including myself, disapprove of or even hate Hamas and its ideology, every single person in Gaza is proud of the resistance." Part 2 of Walid Abuzaid's on-the-ground account of life in #Gaza:
  • After years in storage, Toronto’s iconic red-and-white "Sam the Record Man" sign, complete with spinning discs, will return to public view near its original downtown perch. The sign came to symbolize one of Canada’s most storied and successful Jewish family businesses.
  • Is $4,000 too much to ask for a non-member to be buried in a synagogue cemetery?
  • "Let’s not fall into the simplistic us/them dichotomy of 'we were just minding our business when they started firing rockets at us.' We were not just minding our business. We were building settlements, manning checkpoints, and filling jails." What do you think?
  • PHOTOS: 10,000 Israel supporters gathered for a solidarity rally near the United Nations in New York yesterday.
  • Step into the Iron Dome with Tuvia Tenenbom.
  • What do you think of Wonder Woman's new look?
  • "She said that Ruven Barkan, a Conservative rabbi, came into her classroom, closed the door and turned out the lights. He asked the class of fourth graders to lie on the floor and relax their bodies. Then, he asked them to pray for abused children." Read Paul Berger's compelling story about a #Savannah community in turmoil:
  • “Everything around me turns orange, then a second of silence, then a bomb goes off!" First installment of Walid Abuzaid’s account of the war in #Gaza:
  • Is boredom un-Jewish?
  • Let's face it: there's really only one Katz's Delicatessen.
  • "Dear Diaspora Jews, I’m sorry to break it to you, but you can’t have it both ways. You can’t insist that every Jew is intrinsically part of the Israeli state and that Jews are also intrinsically separate from, and therefore not responsible for, the actions of the Israeli state." Do you agree?
  • 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.