Oak Bay husband-and-wife authors David Leach and Jenny Manzer host a double-book launch Wednesday, Nov. 16.
Beginning at 7:30 p.m., at Open Space Gallery, Leach presents his new “investigative travel memoir” Chasing Utopia: The Future of the Kibbutz in a Divided Israel, while Manzer launches her young-adult novel Save Me, Kurt Cobain.
In Chasing Utopia, Leach sets out on a quest to learn what happened to the original vision of the first Jewish settlers who came to establish a socialist utopia in Palestine, to understand what we can learn here in Canada from their successes and failures, and to seek out hope for the future of the divided nation of Israel.
“It’s a sometimes comic, sometimes tragic account of a stranger travelling through a very strange land,” says Leach, chair of the University of Victoria’s department of writing.
Leach had travelled to Israel and lived at a kibbutz more than 25 years ago.
Years later, after a returning to Canada, and pursuing family and a career, he Googled his former kibbutz to learn it was now listed on the Nasdaq exchange.
“Clearly a profitable transformation had happened to the community,” Leach says.
Through his research, he reflected upon his own experience, and the experience of others since his first visit, and how it applies to us today.
“I tried to learn from lessons we could bring to our own experience in Canada,” Leach says.
“Israel is such a fascinating country. It’s only about the size of Vancouver Island but it’s so densely populated,” he says.
From town to country and seaside to mountain, it’s equally fascinating from a visitor’s perspective, leading to the “travel memoir” label. Readers can expect humour, too.
“It’s definitely aimed at a very general audience who may not know more than what they read in the headlines,” Leach says.
While Leach approaches his work from a literary perspective, he also recognized there might be other ways to engage people in the discussion.
“To reach a younger, wider audience I also created a ‘video game’ or interactive online simulation, to accompany the book, which lets players try to guide their own utopian community through 100 years of history,” says Leach, who was teaching a university course when he noticed how students perked up when the discussion moved to video games.
“It was just an avenue into the content for them,” he says.
And, having cut 40,000 to 50,000 words from the book, the simulation game, which has players make choices in the goal of creating their own successful kibbutz, also offered an option to use that material, he notes.
Joining Leach at the launch is wife and author Jenny Manzer, whose new book is about a young music-obsessed Victoria teen who begins to wonder if she might be the love child of the maybe-not-so-dead grunge rock star.
The Pacific Northwest plays a key role as a setting for this moody and touching coming-of-age misadventure from Random House.
Meet both authors tonight at Open Space Gallery, at 510 Fort St. The event is free and open to the public.
The launch will include readings followed by a discussion and question-and-answer session about the authors’ experiences researching and writing these very different books and their shared life as authors.
• The game Kibbutz: The Settlers of Palestine can be played www.davidleach.ca/video-game/
• Find out more about the book Save Me, Kurt Cobain at www.jennymanzer.com/
• Find Open Space Gallery at 510 Fort St. Tonight’s event is free and open to the public.