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Local Israeli-American author’s memoir recounts ‘dual life’

Karen Levy of Davis has published a memoir that reflects on Israeli-American life. Courtesy photo

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From page A3 | April 03, 2013 |

Who: Karen Levy, presenting her memoir, “My Father’s Gardens”

When and where: 7 p.m. Saturday, April 20, at International House, 10 College Park, and 7:30 p.m. Friday, April 26, at The Avid Reader, 617 Second St.

For some, there is a contrast in persona at work versus what it is at home, or around family and with friends, or with a significant other and without. Then there’s the about-face when in a different country.

Karen Levy, who lives in Davis with her husband and two children, recounts having to make that change during an immigrant experience in “My Father’s Gardens.” The 46-year-old Israeli-American writer spent four years composing the memoir; it’s finally been published.

The memoir is pieced together with vignettes, short chapters that detail snippets of her life. Levy described the experience of reading it as being like flipping through a photo album, peeking at the early memories that span the life of someone else.

She was born in Israel, but spent her kindergarten and first-grade years in America. Then she traveled back to Israel and came back to the U.S. again. She was constantly commuting between the two countries, as her father was a visiting professor in the UC Davis psychology department.

Her parents separated when she was young, and they lived in different countries. Consequently, she had to leave behind friends and relatives each time she moved from one side of the world to the other.

“It’s a dual life, really,” she explains. “From having to switch gears and speak a totally different language, and gain enough power in that language to voice what I wanted to voice, to split loyalties into what country my allegiance lay.”

That latter point was exacerbated by the fact that she had served as a sergeant in Israel’s military for two years after graduating from high school in 1984.

Following her military service, Levy pursued studies in America. She earned a bachelor’s degree in comparative literature from UCD before graduating with a master’s in English from Sacramento State, where she now teaches composition and interpretation of literature.

“I teach Americans to hopefully realize what an amazing language they have,” she says. “It’s kind of ironic that as an immigrant — with this being my second language — I get to introduce them to something they’ve always had.”

As a professor, Levy chooses novels for her classroom with themes that hold significance to her life — mainly identity, and all the things that go into creating it.

Her memoir may provide its readers with its own set of lessons: what it truly means to live life as an Israeli.

“Israel is in the news quite a bit, and not always for all the good reasons,” she says. “I’m hoping that it will shed some light on life in Israel, and how it’s not so different than anywhere else.

“People get up, go to work or school, have families. Once in a while they are reminded that they’re surrounded by enemies. … Aside from that, to me it sometimes feels like a safer place than here.”

“My Father’s Gardens” is being released Saturday by Homebound Publications, and a book launch is scheduled for Saturday, April 20, at International House, 10 College Park in Davis.

Levy also will give a reading and sign copies of her book on Friday, April 26, at The Avid Reader, 617 Second St. in downtown Davis. That’s something she never envisioned having to do at the beginning of this four-year project.

Originally, Levy had not intended her recollections from the past to be more than a personal reflection, but she decided to plan a book when nudged in the direction of publication by a friend. Her hope now is for her words to resonate with others:

“There were a few people who read or heard pieces of it while I was writing it — as I introduced it to others to get a feel for how people would react,” she says. “It seemed to hit a chord, regardless of the fact that it’s a world away.

“I guess there’s something universal about this need to belong, to find home. … The people with an immigrant experience will certainly relate, but its themes will hopefully resonate with all kinds of audiences.”

— Reach Brett Johnson at bjohnson@davisenterprise.net or 530-747-8052. Follow him on Twitter at @ReporterBrett

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