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Head on Backwards

A farm house in a small Italian village during the Nazi occupation. Madelene, a promising young opera singer, and her handicapped mother Dominica, struggle to survive after adopting a young orphan boy, Tomaso. One day, Tomaso senses a foreign presence in the house. But his questions are violently rejected and the two women he loves so much humiliate him publicly, claiming that he has his “head on backwards”. To cope with the emotional blow, Tomaso retreats into his imagination. Convinced that a mysterious princess is trapped in the attic, he sends her gifts and letters up the chimney, in secret. When a German soldier falls in love with Madelene their lives become even more unsettled. Will the soldier`s protection shield the family, or will his arrival reveal the preciously guarded secret? This story, written during the Nazi occupation, ends up in the hands of a nurse in a Tel Aviv hospital who then tells it to a patient in a coma, in an attempt to awaken him. This moving novel raises the difficult question: What price will people pay to maintain their humanity in dire circumstances, and how far are we willing to go to save a single soul?

Title Head on Backwards
Writer's Last Name Semel
Writer's First Name Nava
Genre Fiction
Publisher (Hebrew) Zmora-Bitan
No. Pages 308pp.
Book title - Hebrew (phonetic) Rosh-Akom
  • “ A powerful novel of great significance.”

  • “ Nava Semel’s book is a wise, multi-layered fairy tale. It gives us the feeling that we have strayed into one of the darkest Grimm brothers’ tales… Head on Backwards resonates in the heart as a special story that shifts from despair to compassion.”

  • “ It is impossible not to get hooked on the characters this book.”

  • “ An enigmatic, exciting novel that is beautifully written, with something approaching genius. ”