Interview with Yigal Zur

Posted By Ethan Cross on Oct 31, 2012 | 0 comments

Today, I want to share with you an interview that I conducted with Israeli writer Yigal Zur.  Yigal started out his career by writing travel books and guides to China and India.  He also has his own travel show on Israeli TV.  But now he has turned to thrillers.

Here’s a description of his new book, Death In Shangri-La.

Willi Mizrachi an Israeli arm-dealer is murdered in Delhi. Dotan Naor, private eye, is landing in Delhi only to discover that an innocent bet done a year earlier had gulfed the Himalaya’s with terror against Israelies.

This is an journey into a nightmare of every Israeli – the fear of terror and kidnapping. The plot combines two opposing ends: terror and spirituality. In the middle there is an exceptional love story


Can you give us a couple examples of some not widely known but fascinating places you’ve come across in your travels?

I have been traveling for over 30 years. not considering my childhood when I went a lot to the Israeli desert. So I still cherish deserts like Sinai desert, desert cities like Turfan in China or Timbuktu in Mali. I love the Caucus mountains in Georgia for their summer unique blooming and I try to travel every year or two in the regions of Kinnor and Spitti in the Indian Himalaya’s – where I based the last part of DEATH IN SHANGRI-LA.

Why did you make the leap to thrillers from travel books?

I started as a prose writer. Writing travel books came naturally as I was drawn into travel journalism. So for some years I had this sort of mix: a novel and as kind of relaxation a travel book. But than after publishing a novel which I worked on for 5 years and it went to ruins, as I published it in 2000 – the year of the Intifada in Israel and the occupied territories. I went into “silence” in writing for a few years. Looking for my new inner voice, I decided to combine the two and to choose different locations for the plot in order to intensify it while creating sort of a “culture choke” between the Israeli characters and their surrounding.

The description of your book states that the plot combines two opposing ends: terror and spirituality. Can you expand upon this and what it means for your characters?

My Israeli characters are torn between two great forces: their habit to relay on aggressiveness and violence and their eagerness to find calm and their quite inner self. I think it is my reflection on our society and we can see it a lot in our young guys heading in great numbers to India after their military service seeking ashrams, gurus, meditation courses or just smoking pot. So I tried to use this tension in creating the plot. even my private eye – DOTN NAOR, who is the result of tough years in the secret service–is listening to his Indian friend who is preaching to him that part of the search for kidnapped Israelis is a Dharma – his obligation to fight the Muslims terrorists and fight them.

What kind of research did you conduct for DEATH IN SHANGRI-LA?

In the beginning of the book an Israeli arms-dealer is murdered in Delhi. In my research I went to talk with some active arms-dealers. Well, they smiled a lot, had big egos but I learned nothing on the profession. Still I got some good ideas how to portray my arms dealer – very cunning, arrogant, self made. I think it came out as maybe the best character in the story. Strange.

Was there anything particularly interesting that you discovered during your research that didn’t make it into the novel or something that you’d like to highlight?

I have met the late Daniel Perl (spelling?) in Oman, so the harsh ending of my arms dealer in Delhi is based part on this tragedy and part of my fears from similar end – as I used to cover storied in Arab countries which are in a state of war with Israel. I do not do it any more and I think that writting this episode was sort of relief from these deep emotions. the same was while writing the chapter in which there is an attack on the Habad House in Manali – I based it on the one which happened in Mumaby. I was worried that it will happen while writting – I even mentioned it in the book- the things you create in your mind have the germ ortendency to happen. My book appeared few days before the terror attack in Burgas Bulegria. And it was weird as I came to interviews on some tv channels due to my knowing the place and the story I created in DEATH IN SHANGRI-LA. You can call it bizarre or life.

What are you reading now? What are some of your favorite books/authors and who has had the greatest influence upon your own work?

I read now while travelling ELMORE LEONARD (sorry, I forgot the title –  the one with Chile Palmer). He is fun and witty. I like to read James Lee Burke thrillers. But as to influence, I still go to the classics like Conrad, Kippling, and Graham Green.

What’s something that you’ve learned about the publishing business that you weren’t expecting?

In the last two thrillers, I spend a lot of time in book stores all over Israel. Almost two months for each book. The problem of publishing in Israel today is that the publishing houses throw out almost too many books to the market just to roll the machine. Big mistake. Too many translations – instead of cherishing our own local writing.

Do you have any advice for aspiring (or struggling) writers out there?

My advise to struggling writers – it is just to keep struggling. I do. I separate my time of writing to what happens with the book after publishing. These are two completely different stories and the force of the market is not the reason to sit and write.

Can we get a sneak peek at your next thriller?

My next thriller is the third in the series of Dotan Naor – the private eye. This time he is looking for a young Israeli girl who is kidnapped to Cambodia, and it deals with human trafficking in this region. You can imagine what I think about this sad trade. Again – good background to a story of a fall of an Israeli youth and an ambitious lawyer.

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