It’s been a long time since Lihi Lapid was a black-clothed hipster on Tel Aviv’s Sheinkin Street, a persona that her husband, Finance Minister Yair Lapid, immortalized when he wrote the 1989 pop music hit “Gara B’Sheinkin” (Living on Sheinkin).
These days, the journalist, photographer and newly-minted political wife lives in tony Ramat Aviv and is both a writer and a mother of two, roles that go hand in hand thanks to her latest book, “A Woman of Valor.”
The volume, which was released in Hebrew in 2008 and became an instant bestseller, is both a novel and a memoir; Lapid bends genres by intertwining her own story of motherhood and domesticity with the journey of a fictional couple in search of the fantasy of married life. Spliced between these two women’s sagas are excerpts from letters that Lapid received during her many years writing a column for the popular Hebrew daily newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth.
The underlying message of it all? Motherhood is tough, dirty work, and Lapid, whose daughter is autistic, struggled desperately with her own expectations of herself when the going got tough. But her experience, she insists, was in no way unique.
The book is now being released in English by Gefen Publishing and will appear on bookstores’ nonfiction shelves in the US. (The Times of Israel has published an exclusive excerpt here.)
When her daughter arrived with special needs, there was guilt, devastation, and some real rocks thrown into the Lapids’ marriage
“There were things that I felt were too difficult to write about myself, and also things that I didn’t go through,” Lapid says over coffee at a little café near her apartment building. She is a regular here, exchanging small talk with the baristas, fellow customers, and even the employees from the SuperPharm next door who pop in for a quick cuppa. “I wanted bleeding fights between men and women, divorce. I wanted to write about these things. So in a way when people ask me if it’s fiction or nonfiction, I say this book is so many things.”
Lapid lays many of her domestic disappointments bare in the book, describing the two miscarriages that preceded the birth of her son, now 17, and how that difficult pregnancy entailed six months of bed rest and 50 pounds of weight gain. Her next pregnancy was easier, but when her daughter arrived with special needs, there was guilt, devastation, and some real rocks thrown into the Lapids’ marriage.
It’s a startlingly honest confession considering that Lapid’s husband has long been a celebrity, serving as one of Israel’s most popular TV news anchors for many years before launching a political career last spring. Buoyed by fame, good looks and an impressive ability to connect with the nation’s middle class, he launched the Yesh Atid party in April 2012 and steamrolled his way to triumph at the recent national elections.
For Lapid, who despite her own successful journalism career has remained in the shadow of her much more famous husband, the book is also a chance to boost her own profile. In November, she will set off on a multi-week book tour in the United States, putting in solo appearances across the country at a series of Jewish book fairs, an experience for which she has been cramming with the help of a private English teacher.
Readers in the United States will probably be surprised by Lapid, who defies the major stereotypes of the good political wife and is instead refreshingly flawed and warm. She has tapped hard into this everywoman role in “Woman of Valor,” with the readers’ letters scattered between the chapters gushing about how relatable and wise she is. But she has also done something quite subversive and bold, tearing off the veil over her glossy political life and allowing a whole curious country to peer in at the unedited, honest life within.
When she began writing “Woman of Valor,” Lapid says, she was afraid of revealing too much and so asked her mother-in-law, the novelist Shulamit Lapid, for advice.
“I told her I was struggling with what to write and what not to write, and she told me, ‘First you write the truth. Then you erase things if you feel uncomfortable.’ And it’s wonderful advice,” Lapid says. “I think in the end I erased too little, though, because I really think the book ended up being very real about motherhood.”
That realness, Lapid says, will likely be an advantage as she now pushes her book to an English-speaking audience, because it makes the story so universal.
“Motherhood is at the same time a very unique experience and a very international experience,” she says. “I believe that the more you are local and you write about real things in your life, it’s more international in a way.”
But despite the fact that so many can relate to her subject matter, Lapid admits that being an Israeli woman, writing in Israel, was what helped her find such success.
“There’s a special thing about Israel, that is both good and bad,” she says, “and that’s that it can be changed… You can write a book and it can be a real bestseller that a lot of people read and talk about. You can do a TV show that everybody talks about.”
Having a husband whose face is recognizable to nearly every citizen in the nation is probably also an asset, and Lapid says she is not trying to separate her character from his own.
“I can’t think about me not as Yair’s wife,” she says. “I’m a person that thinks holistically … I’m not trying to think about myself without thinking about him.”
Asked if she has ever considered following her husband and launching a political career, Lapid shakes her head and says she plans to stick firmly to writing.
“I don’t have the character,” she says. “During the campaign I wrote a post on Facebook that I was looking for a good spa that implants thicker skin. I am still looking.”