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Isra Isle

Nava Semel

So what are we Jews doing in the chaotic Middle East when we could easily have been living peacefully in our state "Isra Isle", near the Niagara Falls in America? This isn’t sheer fantasy. It could have happened!

Behind Nava Semel’s novel lies a true historical episode. In 1825, Mordecai Manuel Noah, an American journalist, playwright and diplomat, bought Grand Island, downriver from the Niagara Falls, as a place of refuge for his people. But no Jew answered his call. Noah became a footnote in history and the option for a Jewish state in North America was washed away to oblivion by the tide of Zionism.

Nava Semel has created an alternative history, a “what if” option. She takes upon herself a complex and challenging task, and stimulates new thinking about questions of memory, Jewish/Israeli identity, the attitude to minorities, women in top political positions, and the place of cultural heritage.

Isra Isle comes at a time when Israel and Zionism are under constant attack. It shakes up all the old clichés about who Israelis are and what they were meant to be and uncovers the refreshing face of an alternative existence – not only in the past but in the future.

Genre-bending triumph… Poignant and funny all at once… Semel has surely succeeded, for Isra-Isle—with Jessica Cohen’s sparkling translation, which delivers all the wit, lyrical power, and tender warmth of the Hebrew original—offers as haunting and thoroughly entertaining a story about the ancient and modern quest for home and belonging as one could hope for.

Jewish Book Council

Singular, thought-provoking novel.
Publishers Weekly

Tantalizing... Sophisticated and surprisingly witty.


Originally published in Hebrew in 2004, the English edition (beautifully translated by Jessica Cohen) offers an engrossing, if at times confounding, narrative about Jewish history as it might have been. 


Semel takes on a vast, complicated and challenging task… The cultural mix between Native Americans and Jews as a real, captivating option… [and] the rebirth of the Zionist story is an enriching encounter.
IsraIsland connects original [Biblical] chaos to our contemporary state in a skilful, original and sophisticated way. 
Nava Semel has written a conceptually fascinating novel that one reads with bated breath. 
Galei Zahal Radio

Semel IsraIsland
Title IsraIsland
Author’s Last Name Semel
Author's First Name Nava
Language(s) Hebrew, English
Genre novel
Publisher (Hebrew) Yedioth Ahronoth
Year of Publication (Hebrew) 2005
No. Pages 269 pp.
Book title - Hebrew (phonetic) Eesrael
Representation Represented by ITHL


English: Simsbury, CT, Mandel Vilar Press, 2016
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