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A novel approach Montco author visiting 100 book clubs to promote her latest work. Elkins Park author Nomi Eve visits 100 book clubs - and counting

"I have just one ground rule when I visit book clubs," novelist Nomi Eve said. "My standard phrase is, 'I have a thick skin, but it's not that thick, so please be nice to me.' "

Nomi Eve. (CLEM MURRAY / Staff Photographer)
Nomi Eve. (CLEM MURRAY / Staff Photographer)Read more

"I have just one ground rule when I visit book clubs," novelist Nomi Eve said. "My standard phrase is, 'I have a thick skin, but it's not that thick, so please be nice to me.' "

It's just as well that Eve's fans take her words to heart. Over the last six months, the lifelong Elkins Park resident has visited 90 book clubs to discuss her latest novel, Henna House.

"I go into so many people's living rooms, and if they beat up on me, I'll come home every night crying," said Eve, who turned 47 last month.

Published in August, Eve's second novel mixes history with the intensely personal to tell the story of a young Yemenite Jewish woman born in 1918, a time when the Arab nation was divided in two. Adela Damari, who also serves as the novel's narrator, grows up in a tiny mountainous village in the Mutawakkilite Kingdom of Yemen, a tyrannical Islamic monarchy that imposes severely restrictive laws on its Jewish minority.

That includes the Orphan's Decree, which holds that any underage Jewish child whose father dies must be taken away and raised - as a Muslim - by the state.

"The law was [part of] a misguided sense of social welfare," Eve said in a recent interview. "If your dad dies, then no one can provide for you, so it becomes the government's responsibility." Adela, whose father is sickly, is always terrified of being taken away by the Confiscator.

To help publicize Henna House, Eve came up with a "100 Book Club Challenge," a race to visit 100 book clubs in a year. She is scheduled to make her 100th appearance May 14 at Open Book Bookstore in Elkins Park.

But she isn't stopping there.

"I have 125 scheduled so far," said Eve, who has visited book clubs all across the Eastern seaboard. "Though as of now I'm only accepting Skype visits."

Eve, whose novel has been chosen for this year's One Book, One Jewish Community literary outreach program, said the book club challenge made sense in an age when authors themselves are in charge of publicizing their books.

"I wanted to know if I could accomplish something on my own to get the book in people's hands," she said, "so I posted something on Facebook asking people if they'd have me [visit their clubs], and I was pleasantly surprised that all my Facebook friends said yes."

She issued the challenge on her website ( in September and went to her first club, at a friend's house in Elkins Park, in October.

The friend, Ellen Tillman, said Eve's book was perfect for her club.

"Our [11] members all are Jewish, and we knew nothing about Yemenite Jews," she said, "so it was a natural choice for us. And we all loved it."

Eve came armed with several handouts, including a selection of Yemenite recipes. "We passed it around," Tillman said, "and she told us her favorite dishes."

Another club, from Spring Lake in Monmouth County, drove en masse to Eve's home, bringing food and drinks for the event. "Nomi had a scheduling conflict and said, 'Hey, maybe you can all come up here,' " said Spring Lake librarian Andrea Craig. Eve may have meant it as a joke; Craig and her friends did not. "We all jumped up and said, 'Yes.' "

Eve, who is in charge of a new writing program at Drexel University called Storylab, said that despite her writing, book club visits, and teaching, she manages to cook every night for her family - biochemist husband Aleister Saunders and their three children, age 10 to 14.

So how does a busy Jewish woman from Elkins Park come to write about Yemen, a country she's never visited?

Eve said she was inspired to write the story when she began researching the life of her great uncle, Chaim Rusak, a Holocaust survivor from Belarus who moved to British-controlled Palestine in the 1940s.

There, Rusak met and fell in love with a Yemenite named Ahoova. Born on the Arab Peninsula, she had been airlifted from Yemen to Israel in 1950 in an Israeli program called Operation on Wings of Eagles.

Henna House is named after the tradition of applying designs in henna on women's hands and feet on the eve of special occasions such as weddings, a tradition that women such as Ahoova brought to Israel.

In the novel, Adela and her lover, Yussef, communicate through messages secretly encoded in henna.

As Eve explained during a Skype visit to a book club in Houston, such henna designs are a tradition shared by Muslims and Jews alike. Both religions forbid tattooing, but allow henna designs, because they wear off after three weeks.

"Different styles predominate in different areas," Eve told the Houston group. "Moroccan henna is more geometric, Indian is sinuous. Yemenite is a combination, with a lot of floral tendrils."

One club member asked a question Eve encounters at every club: Is the Orphan's Decree real?

"Oh, yes," Eve told her.

Where does Eve go from here?

"Henna House will be the first book in a trilogy that will tell a unified story" about her uncle, said Eve, who is hard at work on the second volume, which follows Rusak's exploits fighting Nazis during World War II.

There's also the book about book clubs.

You didn't think an author would go to 100 book clubs and not be inspired to write a book about the experience?

"In between chapters about my book club journey, I will be folding in interesting chapters about the social history of book clubs, and tidbits about the modern phenomenon of book clubs in America," Eve said.

She plans to explore certain questions, such as why, at all the clubs she's visited, Eve has encountered a total of "probably less than 10" men - "and all those were members of synagogue book clubs."

"It's clearly a women's phenomenon," Eve said. "That's just a fact. I think it speaks to the nature of how women socialize as opposed to men."


For information about Eve and the book club challenge, visit