Yael Politis grew up in Dearborn, Michigan, not far from Olivia’s farm. She spent years researching the backdrop for Olivia’s story, enjoying the challenge of recreating daily life in another time and place. She based many of the details (including how Mourning got his name) on letters and journals passed down through her family, over seven generations of lives lived in the American Midwest. She received a great deal of insight from her sister Martha, who lived in a modern log home, hunted her own land, and was as independent and stubborn as Olivia.
Olivia, Mourning (Book 1 of the Olivia series)
Historical Fiction - Michigan and Pennsylvania, 1840s - 393 Pages, 132,000 Words
Olivia Killion is determined to gain her independence by inheriting 80 acres in far off Michigan. The problem: she's seventeen, female, and it's 1841.
Mourning Free would be the ideal partner for this endeavor. The problem: he’s black, the orphaned son of runaway slaves, and afraid to travel and work with a white girl.
Strong-willed, vulnerable, and compassionate, Olivia is a compelling protagonist on a journey to find a way to do the right thing in a world in which so much is wrong.
Book of the Year YWO 2010 (YouWriteOn is a site for new writer's funded by the London Arts Coucil)
Quarter-finalist 2013 ABNA (Mazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest)
The Way the World Is (Book 2 of the Olivia series)
Historical Fiction - Michigan and Pennsylvania, 1840s - 118,000 Words
Detroit Michigan, 1842 After the devastating trauma she suffered in Olivia, Mourning and finally knowing the reality with which she must deal, Olivia strives to rebuild herself – emotionally, socially, and financially.
She starts a new life in Detroit, the young and exciting city on a river where she has come to feel at home. New friends help the healing process, while she continues her search for the two people she loves, who have disappeared from her life. She finds the greatest solace in helping fugitive slaves escape over the river to Canada. She believes, as one of her new friends says, “In this time and place it is the most worthy thing a person can do.”
The Lonely Tree
Historical Fiction - British Mandate Palestine and the new State of Israel, 1934-1967, 444 Pages
In the early 1930s Josef Shulman brings his family from Poland to the hardship and chaos of British Mandate Palestine. He fulfills his socialist ideology by joining kibbutz Kfar Etzion in the isolated Etzion Bloc.
But his daughter Tonia has a different goal - to get as far as possible from the terror attacks and approaching war. She does not believe the world will ever let the Jews have their own state and is tired of backbreaking work and bathing in cups of trucked-in water. Her dreams are of bubble baths and having a lamp near her bed to read by.
Amos Amrani, whose Yemenite Jewish family has lived in Jerusalem for generations, comes to the kibbutz to help in its defense. He belongs to the Jewish underground and has no doubt that the Jews will indeed have a homeland. Nothing could convince him to abandon this cause.
Realizing that they have no common dream for the future, Tonia and Amos do not act on the strong feelings they develop for one another, and then Tonia leaves to make a new life in Grand Rapids, Michigan. But how long can they each go on living without the love and support of the other?
Book of the Year YWO 2009
2012 Eric Hoffer Award, General Fiction, Honorable Mention
Whatever Happened to Mourning Free?
Yael has begun writing Book 3 of the Olivia series - Whatever Happened to Mourning Free?
A One-Sided Conversation with Yael Politis
Toward the end of my freshman year in Ann Arbor my roommate dropped The Michigan Daily on my bed and pointed at an ad. For $400 the Israeli Students Association would arrange your flight to Tel Aviv and place you as a volunteer on a kibbutz for the summer.
“You’re forever talking about Israel,” she said. “Why don’t you go?”
So I did. Back then when an El Al flight landed in Tel Aviv its audio system blared the Theme from Exodus. I felt ridiculous when it brought tears to my eyes and even more so when I got off the plane feeling as if I had come home.
I know the next question. Why? Reincarnation? I have no rational explanation and never spent much time searching for one. The feeling was simply too strong to ignore and I accepted that Israel was where I was meant to be. And the older I get, the more I believe that none of us are as rational as we would like to believe. The important decisions - who we marry, where we live, how we make a living - are often leaps of faith, based on feelings we can’t ignore.
I grew up in Dearborn, Michigan, a city that enjoyed exceptionally good schools and city services -- and was infamous for having the most segregationist mayor in a northern state. One of his oft-repeated quotes: I’m not a racist. I just hate those bastards. When I went back for my 12th high school reunion one of my former classmates confessed to being Jewish. While she was growing up in Dearborn her mother had strictly forbidden her to reveal that fact to anyone.
So, yes, it was an eye-opening journey from Dearborn to Tel Aviv.
Since coming to Israel I have had many jobs, lived in a lot of different places (cities, kibbutzim, and moshavim), and been married to and divorced from two husbands. Life was seldom easy, but I have never regretted making my home here.
The place I lived the longest - and where I raised my children - was in the Katif Bloc in the Gaza Strip. It was there I started to write, on an old Smith-Corona typewriter. I knew the tragic story of what had happened decades earlier, on the eve of Israel’s independence, in a similar bloc of settlements - the Etzion Bloc south of Jerusalem. No one had ever written a fictional account of it, but I felt it was “too big” for me to attempt and turned to other stories.
Then the first intifada broke out and we were - like the settlers of Kfar Etzion - attacked on the roads and under constant threat. But I felt fairly safe; the IDF was there. It made me think again about the people who had chosen to live in Kfar Etzion - and hundreds of other settlements like it - when a Jewish state had seemed like a wild dream. How could they have lived like this but without an army, protected by only a few men and youths with little training and not enough obsolete weapons to go around, and so soon after the Holocaust had made it all too clear that threats of intent to wipe a nation of the face of the earth are not empty? That’s when my first novel, The Lonely Tree, was born. I don’t agree with its heroine, Tonia Shulman, but I understand her perfectly.
I have always kept a strong connection with my family and in writing the Olivia Series am revisiting my roots in Michigan. My ancestors were savers and I finally sifted through the big red box of diaries, letters, deeds, marriage certificates, etc. that for decades had moved with me from apartment to apartment but sat neglected in the corner.
The next book in the series will take me back to Dearborn and I know I will have a great time writing it.
So that’s my schizophrenic life - from the Midwest to the Middle East and back again.