22. ilb 07. - 17.09.2022

Valérie Zenatti

Valérie Zenatti was born in Nice in 1970 and, at the age of thirteen, moved with her family to Israel, where they settled in Beersheba in the Negev desert. When she was eighteen she did the military service which is required of young men and women alike and shortly afterwards returned to France. She worked there as an au pair, saleswoman, journalist, and Hebrew teacher. Today she is a freelance author, screenplay writer and translator and is deeply involved with the work of Aharon Appelfeld.

Her books for children and young adults, largely inspired by her personal experiences, are concerned both with the experiences of children and youth cultures and the everyday lives of young people amid the cultural, political, and religious conflicts between Gaza and Jerusalem. An example of this is »Quand j’étais soldate« (2002; Eng. »When I was a Soldier«, 2005), which describes her own time in the military, giving an account of life as a female soldier, depicting the slow transition from childhood to adulthood. It describes the path of the main character, Valérie, from her exams, via her enrolment in the army, to military routines and drills and lack of sleep and privacy. The young immigrant, full of curiosity, is enthusiastic about her work in counter-espionage and, for the first time, feels a sense of belonging. Yet there are still moments when images of the enemy and the reasons for her own behaviour become blurred. The author described her approach to writing the book in an interview with »The Times«: »It’s me, but it’s not me. […] It’s my history, but I wrote it as a novel. It’s not an exact memoir.«

While there is a striking absence of political argument in this novel for young adults, her second book, »Une bouteille dans la mer de Gaza« (2005, Eng. »A Bottle in the Gaza Sea«, 2008) reflects on Valérie Zenatti’s political confrontation in her early years in Israel. The seventeen year-old Tal lives in the Jewish part of Jerusalem. After a suicide bombing in a public place in the neighbourhood, she decides to give a face to the so-called enemy in the Gaza Strip. Via messages in bottles and coincidences, she gets to know the twenty year-old Naïm. The two communicate by e-mail. This is a narrative description of the first step in approaching and overcoming entrenched stereotypes of cultural and political positions.

Valérie Zenatti has written film adaptations of books »En retard pour la guerre« (2006, t: Late for war) and »Une bouteille dans la mer de Gaza«. The last one was nominated in 2007 both for the German Prize for Young Adult Fiction and the Gustav-Heinemann Prize. Valérie Zenatti lives in Paris.

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