Tammar Stein is back with the sequel to The Six-Day Hero, Beni's War. This novel follows the journey of Beni, as he learns friendship, bravery, and trust all the while the Yom Kippur War has begun. We interviewed Tammar Stein and went behind the scenes to find out the inspiration behind the novel, personal story attachments, and other interesting facts about this Kirkus Starred Review novel.
What inspired you to write this book?
The inspiration for Beni’s War actually started when I wrote The Six-Day Hero. My childhood rabbi approached my mom and told her he had nothing to assign his fifth graders to read about Israel. My mom called me and said, “you should write something.” And so I did! (You should always listen to your mother.) But as I wrote about Motti, the 12-year-old protagonist in The Six-Day Hero, the whole time I had this nagging thought: when Motti’s little brother Beni will be 12-years-old, Israel will be in the middle of another war. It occurred to me that I could tell the history of Israel from what this family goes through.
Is there a personal story attached to the story or the characters?
I lived in Israel when I was a child and my parents served in the Israeli Defense Force. My father, in fact, fought in four wars, including the Six Day War and the Yom Kippur War. There’s a scene in the book where Beni and his family send a greeting to be read over the radio hoping Motti might hear it wherever he’s stationed. My mom did exactly that, and the incredible thing is that my dad, stationed on the other side of the Suez Canal, actually heard it! I put the exact message she sent him in the book.
What does your writing process look like? What did it look like for this book?
Knowing there’s not much out there about Israeli history, I felt a deep obligation to make sure that the historical part of Beni’s War was accurate. I read scholarly books, newspaper articles from the time period, and even flew to Israel to interview as many primary sources as possible. People were incredibly generous with their time, agreeing to revisit a very painful and emotional time in their lives. This was a hard book for me to write. It took me more than two years of research and various drafts before I had a decent manuscript.
What are some highlights of the book for you that you would want others to know and pay attention to?
One of my favorite scenes to write was when Sara’s brother suddenly appeared at their house. That scene was inspired by something one of my interviewees told me, about how difficult it was to keep track of soldiers, the swirling rumors, the lack of contact. You ended up with these incredible stories of families who had given up all hope, who had been told their loved one was killed in action, screaming in disbelief when this disheveled, stinky stranger opened the door to their home and it was their son, alive and well. It’s hard to imagine not hearing from someone for two, three, four months but this time period predates cell phones, emails, texts, and the only way most deployed soldiers had to keep in touch was writing post cards, which wasn’t always feasible.
The scene in the Haifa hotel ballroom where dozens of mothers shifted through published newspaper photos looking for their sons was based on true events as well. The military really did collect multiple editions of newspapers who published articles about the conflict and let citizens comb through them, hoping to identify Israeli POWs.