I have tenÂ publishedÂ novels.Â Iâ€™ll talk about just five today. Even five is too many,Â however, Judaism slips quietly into five, so Iâ€™m introducing five of my novels today.Â There are two novels I couldnâ€™t write without being Jewish Australian. Iâ€™ll saveÂ those twoÂ for last.Â Let me give everything numbers, to make it easier.
1. In Langue[dot]doc 1305 (a time travel novel)Â I have a single Jewish character. Thatâ€™s all. When I did my MA and PhD in Medieval History, I discovered many fascinating things about the Middle Ages, and some even more fascinating things about how we see the Middle Ages. I wanted toÂ smash together our knowledge of the Middle Ages and howÂ we interpret it and toÂ make it explode.Â Also,Â I wanted marauding peasants.Â ThatÂ single Jewish characterÂ is one of the pieces that led to the explosion.
I canâ€™t tell you more without spoilers, but I can say that scientistsÂ checked my depiction ofÂ myÂ bunch of scientists andÂ said, â€œScientists behave like this. How did you know?â€Â Thatâ€™s another story. Â
2. My space opera novel, Poison and Light,Â tells ofÂ a societyÂ thatÂ reinvents the eighteenth century for all the wrong reasons.Â There are threeÂ Jewish townsÂ on New Ceres, and theyÂ quietly rebel against the rule of the eighteenth century.Â Also,Â there areÂ JewishÂ puns. The novel is set in a big city and the towns are a tiny part of the whole. The puns, the â€œIâ€™m not what you think,â€ and the tendency to overeducation reflect my relationship to my own cultural relationship with my own country (as an Australian Jew).Â Thatâ€™s theÂ surfaceÂ Jewishness.
Poison and LightÂ has sword fights and balloon rides and gourmet food and much politics, but itâ€™sÂ actuallyÂ about how GraniaÂ (the protagonist)Â deals with impossible loss and change.Â Her efforts areÂ part of my personal response to the Shoah.
Iâ€™ve spent a lot of my life trying to learn how pogroms and exploitation and massacre and throwing people out of their homes and homelands affect survivors and Iâ€™m not even closeÂ to understanding. InÂ Poison and Light,Â I built a society of colonisers and bigots because I wanted toÂ understand the vested interests people have in defending what they know, even if it means hurting people.Â Poison and LightÂ is one step towardsÂ meÂ understanding,Â andÂ none towards acceptance. Â
3. I used a different Jewish history in The Time of the Ghosts.Â The Time of the Ghosts is a contemporary fantasy set in Canberra. Three women (the youngest is sixty) and their sidekick fight supernatural threats. There arenâ€™t nearly enough novels with Jewish fairies, so their sidekick reads a memoir written by a Jewish melusine. These three women are all heroes of the tea-drinking, dinner party, and stock-whip using kind. Â
4. My most recent novel (The Green Children Help Out)Â is totally about Jewish superheroes. My background isÂ AustralianÂ Orthodox (somewhere between ModernÂ OrthodoxÂ and Conservative) and I wanted to create an alternate universe where people could kick ass their personalÂ work towardsÂ tikkun olam. Tikkun olam is more balancing the world and bringing it to rights than saving it, and itâ€™s informed my whole life.Â It was about time it informed the lives of a bunch of superheroes who are, as the title suggests, the Green Children.
The Green Children Help OutÂ isÂ set on an alternate Earth (with magic) so that I couldÂ look into how to write people fromÂ culturalÂ minorities.Â Also, I wanted a world so real that I could step into it in my mind. Â
5. The very first Australian fantasy novel that incorporated Australian Jewish culture was my own The Wizardry of Jewish Women. It uses the Anglo-Australian Jewish culture I come from and it includes my grandmotherâ€™s recipes with their London Sephardi origins. There are many novels about ultra-Orthodox Jews, and very few about secular Jews, and I wanted to even things out a bit.
What happens whenÂ secular JewsÂ rediscover lost culture andÂ aÂ lemon treeÂ becomesÂ demonically possessed? I began building the family culture with food, soÂ Iâ€™ll tell you more aboutÂ The Wizardry of Jewish WomenÂ and give you some of the recipes in Part Three.
BIO: Dr Gillian Polack is aÂ Jewish-AustralianÂ science fiction and fantasyÂ writer,Â researcherÂ and editorÂ and is the winner of the 2020 A Bertram Chandler Award.Â The Green Children Help OutÂ is her newest novel.Â The Year of the Fruit CakeÂ won the 2020 Ditmar for best novel and was shortlisted for best SF novel in the Aurealis Awards.Â She wroteÂ the first Australian Jewish fantasy novel (The Wizardry of Jewish Women).Â Gillian is a Medievalist/ethnohistorian, currently working on how novels transmit culture. Her work on how writers use history in their fiction (History and Fiction) wasÂ shortlisted for theÂ William Atheling Jr Award for Criticism or Review.
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