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Issues of the Day Giving Birth to A Private Passage

Six years ago I began drafting what would become a novel entitled A Private Passage which I have recently completed. It has been an exhausting project, entailing six major drafts, tens of rewritten chapters, continuous refinement and countless hours of preoccupation. I'll never know what it's like to give birth to a child, but I do know what it is like to give birth to a book.


The writing and rewriting of A Private Passage was a visceral process, not only because it is an account of a man with end-stage liver disease who reflects on his past and meditates on how much more fully he would live were he to survive, but because of the deep connections between the author as craftsman and his work.

The characters and story, in Passage's case, two entwined plots that converge, were a constant presence in my psyche that could be released only after I had attained a sense of completion, that is, when I felt that I had told the story in the best way I could.

Tapestry of Cultures

A Private Passage is a work of literary fiction focused on the life of Eitan Roznik, a divorced professor in his mid-fifties who awaits a liver transplant in a Jerusalem hospital. Eitan's physician treats him for his physical illness while also guiding him on a journey of self-discovery during which Eitan revisits key events in his past, traumas both suppressed and remembered, that bring him deeper understanding of himself, his aloneness and his yearnings.  


Eitan's contemplations are buffeted by the confusion, hallucinations and coma that liver cirrhosis can produce and which cause him to crisscross time. During his sixteen month-long odyssey Eitan's weaves between his past, present and future and is engaged in a kind of time travel known in the medical literature as chronesthesia. The lessons Eitan gleans during his mental wanderings are the most insightful ones of his life.


The landscapes of Eitan's life are also interwoven into a rich tapestry of cultures and places beginning in a fictional Latin American country called Concepción where he was born, continuing to Chicago and South Florida where he was raised, then onward to New England where he attends university and first falls in love, then to Israel where he volunteers during the 1973 Yom Kippur War before returning to Massachusetts as an unhappily married man. At a liberal arts college in the Berkshires, Eitan climbs the academic ladder to prominence in his field, international development.


Hoping for Survival

Prior to his return to Israel where he hopes to receive a liver transplant Eitan is commissioned to direct a rural project in Concepción. He lives and works there for four years and enters into a relationship with a local woman. The implications of their ties will cause Eitan great anxiety but also perhaps deliverance—if he lives long enough to have transplant surgery and survive it.


A parallel plot involves Leah, an academic and respected social reformer in Jerusalem who learns as a young woman that she is a bat anusim or converso, the descendant of Jews forced to convert and then into exile during the Spanish Inquisition. Learning this profoundly changes Leah. An intense love affair she had in college that she deeply regrets was broken off casts a shadow over her personal life despite her professional achievements.  


Message of Hope

A Private Passage is an account of the characters' struggles with past demons and their attempts to overcome them in order to move forward. It describes illness as seen through the prisms of both conventional medicine and mind-body or integrative healing. It is a story about people seeking to continue their lives despite bereavement and who are concerned about bequeathing a better world than the one they received. It is also a romantic tale.


In A Private Passage Eitan's journey is as important as its outcome. In a sense, the book is about rebirth regardless of whether he survives long enough to receive an organ transplant. The book deals with meaning  and how we define our priorities. My hope is that readers will see in this work possibilities for taking control over and recreating their own lives, especially in the face of challenges and life crises.


For its author, giving birth to A Private Passage entailed relating an intricate story about personal growth to readers with as much craft, grace and concision as I could muster. It has entailed painstaking development of the work during a long but gratifying gestation.  

© Yosef Gotlieb, . All rights reserved