Book signing in Ireland!

Jeffrey F. Barken and Diana Muller together at the Book Stop Cafe, Kenmare Ireland, June 2013

Jeffrey F. Barken and Diana Muller together at the Book Stop Cafe, Kenmare Ireland, June 2013

“We relied heavily on Skype to complete the project and have been in such regular contact that it’s been easy to forget that we haven’t been in the same room for about 6 years…” Diana Muller, the Irish artist who illustrated This Year in Jerusalem, recently posted on her blog.

After so many years of purely digital communication, Diana and I were eager to reconnect in person. When the book went to press in early May, therefore, I booked tickets to Ireland. Diana, meanwhile,  made plans to host a small book signing and reading at the Book Stop Cafe in Kenmare on the 12th of June.
The story of how Diana and I first met is one of the best secrets of the book and I won’t spoil it here… For now, it will suffice to say that our reunion was a great success. Besides the joy of spending so much time with Diana’s wonderful family, it was a thrill to finally step inside Diana’s studio again and witness her creative process. For the first time I was able to see the series of original paintings used in This Year in Jerusalem. I was amazed. There is no comparing the sensation of actual ink and paint on paper, to the textureless illumination of a scan on a computer screen. As Diana explained her method, I realized the depths to which she had immersed herself in my writing.

“It was, of course, a challenge,” Diana has reflected on her website. “The short story genre can be tough to illustrate without spoiling or diminishing the story arch. Illustration is usually associated with children’s literature, this is very much the opposite.  Some of the themes are  uncompromising and upsetting but all in all it was an immensely fun and rewarding experience. I decided to go back to basics in term of style and medium and went with black and white sketches in ink with a bamboo pen. I think it suits the subtle yet gritty descriptive language of the book…”

Jeffrey F. Barken reading from "This Year in Jerusalem" at the Book Stop Cafe, Kenmare Ireland June 12th 2013

Jeffrey F. Barken reading from “This Year in Jerusalem” at the Book Stop Cafe, Kenmare Ireland June 12th 2013

Next stop, the Book Stop Cafe. On a misty Wednesday morning we piled Diana’s stash of books into the car and drove into town. The Book Stop is a cozy little spot not far from the town center and open market in Kenmare. Once you taste the coffee and a sandwich it’s hard to leave. The bookshelves are stocked full of exciting classic literature as well as intriguing titles by local authors. Warm music keeps spirits high.

We set up a table with our books and some of Diana’s prints and began inviting passerby’s inside. Soon we had a full house and our guests were clamoring for me to read. I read the from Bells, the first story in the collection. Bells is about a young South African refugee who finds himself clinging to the hope of receiving an Israeli volunteer visa as his only means of avoiding deportation. I think this story is the perfect introduction to the book, because it takes the collection’s principal character, Myles, on a journey through the holy city and examines certain geographic realities about Israel that don’t typically occur to readers. Mainly the fact that despite Israel’s contentious policies and history, the country’s democracy is envied. Throughout Asia and Africa many oppressed peoples who know little to nothing of the Arab-Israeli conflict see Israel as a beacon of light and seek refuge at any price.

These are some of the “uncompromising” and “gritty” themes that Diana has sought to capture in her illustrations, and we saw immediately the power this book has to invite conversation. Friends who had already read This Year in Jerusalem came out to have their copies signed and enjoyed giving us detailed feedback about their favorite stories. Meanwhile, the pleasant atmosphere gave us a chance to introduce ourselves to the various tourists and locals who were passing through the cafe. Everyone, it seemed could relate to our topic in complicated and emotional ways and we learned a great deal from the Book Stop’s patrons who all had unique perspectives of Israel and the deluge of troubling news that so often flows out of the Middle East.

Diana Muller signing books at the Book Stop Cafe, Kenmare Ireland, June 12th 2013

Diana Muller signing books at the Book Stop Cafe, Kenmare Ireland, June 12th 2013

When it came to signing the books, it was exciting to contemplate the rare nature of our reunion and the fact that we were setting loose into the world a truly unique series of our final product. Out of the first 600 copies printed of This Year in Jerusalem, there are only 40 bearing the signatures of both Diana and myself. Our guests eagerly stood in line for signed copies, and it was immensely fulfilling to be able to take our time in such friendly atmosphere and discuss the book personally before signing.

In the days that followed, Diana and her friend took my wife and I on a brilliant tour of Kerry. We even tried to track down the legendary Irish surfer, Joe Roddy, whose story also features in the Author’s Note. In the evenings we played music and games with Diana’s family, and enjoyed diving into the wonderful life at Brushwood Studios. Special thanks to Diana for hosting us and to all who attended the book signing. We look forward to organizing similar events in both Ireland and Israel soon!

~Jeffrey F. Barken