Michal Hartstein - When the Perfect Family is Not All it Seems
Michal Hartstein was born in 1974 in Israel into a religious family, studied economics and accounting at the University of Tel Aviv and started a career in finance. In 2006, after becoming a mother, she decided to change direction and began to write. For several years she has written a popular personal blog, and in 2011 published her first book, Confession of an Abandoned Wife. After two years she published her second book, Hill of Secrets. As our Author of the Day, Hartstein tells us all about this book.
Please give us a short introduction to what Hill of Secrets is about.
Hill of Secrets is the first book in the series the inspector Hadas Levinger. In this book we get to know the Hadas herself, who is investigating the cause of the Danilowitz family's death. A normative family, almost perfect. It is not clear to the observer from the side what could have caused such a tragic result. The book reveals all the secrets they have hidden.
What inspired you to write this book?
I draw a great deal of my ideas from reality. There are quite a few characters and dialogues that I literally copy from my private life. But to my delight I don't carry dark secrets and of course such a terrible murder did not occur in my family, but here too behind every idea there is a grain of truth. In 2008, the bodies of the Fisher family were found in Hod Hasharon. The couple were both police officers and it quickly became clear that the father shot his wife and two small children and killed himself. Unfortunately, it was not the first case (neither in Israel nor in the world) and not the last, in which a member of a family murdered his loved ones and then committed suicide. This particular story however did not leave me. This was a seemingly perfect couple, beautiful, young and happy. A normative and supportive family. This dissonance between such an ideal family (at least outwardly) and this radically vicious act was the trigger for me to write this book. It is important to note that I do not have any information or details about the terrible story of the Fisher family.
Tell us more about Detective Hadas Levinger. What makes her tick?
Hadas, the main character in the book, is in many aspects based on myself. We are both formerly religious; both are presently atheistic and refuse to accept social norms as a necessity. One of those norms relates to parenting and child bearing. In Israel, a lot of children are born. This is the norm. I have one child, unfortunately not by choice, but this is my fate. Hadas chose not to have children at all and it was important to me to speak out for the childfree community, which are considered throughout the world and especially in a country like Israel, strange people. In my opinion, the choice to have no children is exactly the opposite of egoism. I am surrounded by people who only had children because that is the norm and not because they wanted children and wanted to be parents. In most cases, they love their children very much and are quite reasonable parents, but if they were given a choice, excluding environmental pressures, I'm sure they would choose a life without children.
Why did you pick a quiet Israeli suburb as the backdrop for your book?
I chose a real town named Givat Shmuel (Samuel's Hill), located east of Tel Aviv. Just like in the book my sister lives in Givat Shmuel along with many of my fellow classmates.
In the book there is a scene in which Hadas is sitting in a city park in Givat Shmuel and is waiting for her brother-in-law and nephews. She observes residents and thinks about the hypocrisy and pretense. This scene is completely genuine. I sat in the park in Givat Shmuel and I looked around and felt everything is fake. I make it a point to note that I think people all over the world walk around with masks. People present a false impression of loving relationships, strong financial conditions, good parenting, etc ... for various reasons, foremost among them is in my opinion our desire as human beings to be valued and loved. I chose to place the book specifically in Givat Shmuel, a city where there is a high concentration of religious and wealthy Jews, because in the religious society to which I belonged up till my twenties, there is a strong need to keep the perfect exterior even at the price of concealment and suppression. In religious society there is greater importance placed on community, every religious person goes at least once a week to the synagogue. It is also of the utmost importance to find a spouse at a reasonable age (a religious single woman over the age of 25 is considered an old maid) – any defect associated with a particular family may harm the possibility of finding a spouse in a community where everyone knows everyone.
Give us three "Good to Know" facts about you
A. Although I do not believe in God, I am very close to Judaism.
B. When I was a child, I was afraid of dogs and today I have a dog and I love her as if she were my own flesh and blood.
C. I met my husband at a martial arts club, I practiced martial arts for about ten years.
When did you decide to become a writer?
I always had a good ability to express myself in writing, but until a relatively late age I did not think of becoming a writer. After my son was born, my neighbor, who is also a spiritual caregiver, told me that I had to write. When she said that it was a time when I also felt that this was something that had to happen, so I started. I started with a blog and then moved on to books.
Which famous person, living or dead would you like to meet and why?
I would like to meet Michal, who is my biblical figure. Daughter of King Saul, the first wife of King David. She is the only woman the Bible says that loved a man (David), she betrayed her father to save her husband, but unfortunately did not received much love from him (David). The Talmud says that she put on tefillin, she was undoubtedly a fascinating girl.?
Apart from being a murder mystery, your book also touches on some deep topics. Why did you write it this way?
In many of my books and in this one as well I refer to issues related to my source of income. I am an accountant and I have extensive knowledge in economic and legal fields.
Talk to us about your writing routine; what’s a typical writing day for you?
I write only in my study room, in my spare time which is very rare. First of all, I am a mother and an accountant, and only afterward a writer, so I write mainly in the evenings and on weekends. When I sit down and write I try to write a certain number of words (varies). I'm not waiting for inspiration, I prefer to write something and edit it after.
What are you working on right now?
At the moment, I am not writing anything, but after I'll finish resting, I intend to write the third book in the Hadas Levinger series. Four books are planned in the series.
Where can our readers discover more of your work or interact with you?
I have a Facebook page, a web site and you can send me a personal e-mail to: [email protected].