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Newton author explores Israeli extremism in new novel

By Laura Paine/staff writer

Wicked Local Newton
Posted Nov 17, 2010 @ 10:00 AM
Last update Nov 17, 2010 @ 11:36 AM

Newton — Oakdale Road in the Newton Highlands has been home to several well-known
authors, including surgeon and writer Atul Gawande, as well as novelists Elizabeth Berg and
Elinor Lipman. It is also the home of Joan Leegant, a novelist who uses fiction to illuminate
lives and discover her own passions in the novel “Wherever You Go.”
“I write fiction as a way to not only find out what my characters’ stories are, but it allows
me to discover what I care about,” Leegant said. “That’s how I discover my own passions,
and that’s how this book came about.”
“Wherever You Go” is set in contemporary Israel and follows the lives of three Americans
who wind up crossing paths as a result of a reckless act of violence that takes place in
Jerusalem. Leegant, who lived in Israel for three years in the early 1970s, said she had been
interested in radical movements and how they grab onto people since her college years in the
“I wanted to write about Americans in Israel,” Leegant said. “I was interested in some
characters [I created]. I followed what they did and they pulled me into the politics. It’s not
like I set out to explore this issue of extremism and politics, but that’s where these characters
are going, so I followed their story.”
The novel also explores how living a religious lifestyle can help a person get beyond a
difficult period and become a better person, and examines family relationships and what it
means to live a life not just for yourself, but for a bigger cause.
“I’m hoping that people will have a greater understanding of what’s going on in Israel,”
Leegant said. “I’m also hoping people will have a greater understanding of what is behind the
world of any religious or political movement. How far will someone go in the name of a
cause? These questions are a part of the world today, not just in Israel, but all over.”
Leegant, 60, raised her family in Newton and has been a resident for 22 years. Formerly a
lawyer at a practice in Northampton, she began writing fiction at the age of 40 and published
her collection of stories, “An Hour in Paradise,” in 2004. She taught writing at Harvard for
eight years before she was invited to teach a semester each year at Israel’s Bar-Ilan University
in 2007. She spends nearly half of the year living in Tel Aviv with her husband.
“I’m very attached to Israel. I love and care very deeply about the country,” Leegant said.
“It’s nothing like what we often see in the news. It’s a beautiful country. It’s a very
sophisticated country; many of the people know several languages, they’re big readers and
very engaged with their own politics.”
While the primary focus is on extremism in the nation, Leegant hopes readers will be able
to see the beauty in Israel’s people, cultures and traditions.
“I think that fiction has the ability to, in the form of story, move people and illuminate
worlds in a way that nonfiction can’t,” Leegant said. “Through story, you can show how lives
are lived and there is a real value to fiction for that reason. We can get a truth in fiction in a
way we don’t always get at it in objective facts. Fiction illuminates lives in very complex and
full ways that I believe in strongly.”
Leegant will be speaking on Nov. 18 at Temple Emanuel, 385 Ward St., at 7:30 p.m. and on
Nov. 19 at Temple Beth Avodah, 45 Puddingstone Lane, at 7:30 p.m.
Laura Paine can be reached at
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