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Tamar Yellin


Website: TamarYellin.com

Tamar Yellin was born in the north of England. Her father was a third generation Jerusalemite and her mother the daughter of a Polish immigrant. She received the Pusey and Ellerton Prize for Biblical Hebrew from Oxford University, and has worked as a teacher and lecturer in Judaism. Her first novel, The Genizah at the House of Shepher, appeared from The Toby Press in 2005 and was awarded the Sami Rohr Prize, the Ribalow Prize and was shortlisted for the Wingate Prize. Her third book, Tales of the Ten Lost Tribes, was published by The Toby Press in 2008.

Short Story Collections

Kafka in Bronteland
Toby Press, 2006

Winner, Reform Judaism Prize 2006, longlisted for the Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award 2006, finalist for the Edge Hill Prize 2007.

Reviewed by Tania Hershman

Tales of the Ten Lost Tribes
Toby Press, 2008

 Interview with Tamar Yellin

The Short Review: How long did it take you to write all the stories in your collection?

Tamar Yellin: About twelve years. I was working for a long time on my first published novel, The Genizah at the House of Shepher. It was a complicated book to write and went through many drafts. Every so often I would break off from it and turn to writing short stories. I found them considerably less stressful and more fulfilling. I could relax and feel freer - if a story didn't work out, it wasn't such a disaster. I was also able to explore further the themes I was opening up in my novel, or alternatively, have a complete change of theme and genre, which was very liberating.

TSR: Did you have a collection in mind when you were writing them?

TY: It wasn't until I had a dozen or so published stories under my belt that I began to think in terms of a collection, and to write further stories with the shape of the collection in mind.

TSR: How did you choose which stories to include and in what order?

TY: Roughly speaking, the stories follow a progression from childhood to adulthood and old age. From home and out into the world. The second, title story, and the last, act as a sort of frame - both refer to Kafka but in very different ways. Other than that, I really just followed my instinct as to the order the stories should follow. It's probably a bit like deciding what order songs should go in on an album: you want them to lead melodically into each other and to complement or contrast with one another, pick up themes and echo images. It's a pleasurable process. My choices were dependent on quality, of course (only one of the stories was previously unpublished) and whether the story was a fit with the themes of the collection: displacement, cultural dissonance, loss, the search for belonging.

TSR: What does the word "story" mean to you?

TY:  A story is like a magnifying glass. It magnifies time, slows it down and examines it in minute detail. It's a way of containing past, present and future in a very compressed space. (Often, the future of the narrative lies in the reader's mind, beyond the last sentence - if the writer is skilful enough to plant it there.) I'd say it's like an intense shot of significance. This makes the story form an exceptionally powerful one.

TSR: Do you have a "reader" in mind when you write stories?

TY:  Only in the sense that I exercise my critical faculty. Otherwise, at the moment of writing I write for myself.

TSR: Is there anything you'd like to ask someone who has read your collection, anything at all?

DH: I never know what to say to people who've read my work. I'd rather talk about something else.

TSR: How does it feel knowing that people are buying your book?

TY: It doesn't really have any reality for me. The only real part is writing it. Sometimes readers drop me a line, which I very much appreciate.

TSR: What are you working on now?

TY: A novel. I'd love to get back to writing short stories at some point.

TSR: What are the three most recent short story collections you've read?

TY Mortality by Nicholas Royle, which contains one of the creepiest stories I've ever read, The Churring. Mothers and Sons by Colm Toibin. I admire him immensely. His writing is so simple and unadorned - not one use of imagery throughout the entire collection. Well, there is just one perfect simile: a car wheel spinning in mud is "like a spider caught in water." I'm currently reading Forty Stories by Chekhov. I've read a few of his stories over the years, but I've always heard that he's the master, so I got this collection. They're arranged in chronological order, so I've only read his early ones as yet, all of them painful.