Saturday, March 30, 2024

Q&A with Daniel Victor




Daniel Victor is the author of the novel The Evil Inclination. Also a lawyer, he lives in New York City.


Q: What inspired you to write The Evil Inclination, and how did you create your characters Lev and Angela?

A: I chose to write a novel about interfaith star-crossed lovers because I wanted to explore the challenges of living a religious, observant Jewish life in the modern world.


I’ve noticed over the years that many highly educated Jewish young men and women fall away from Jewish observance as they become independent young adults. The novel refers to this phenomenon as “falling off the derech,” a term which loosely translates as “leaving the path.”


I wanted to examine in depth what it means to fall off the derech—what motivates it; how it affects those who experience it; and how it resolves itself, if it ever does.


The male protagonist, Lev Livitski, starts to drift away from his Orthodox Jewish orientation when confronted by the allure of the secular world—as personified in the female protagonist, Angela Pizatto.


Angela, a feisty, sexy, and headstrong Italian Catholic, not only introduces a chaste Lev to sex, she relentlessly challenges the assumptions and platitudes of Lev’s religious beliefs, as well.


Both Angela and Lev are pure products of my imagination invented to enable exploration of the above themes.


Q: Without giving anything away, did you know how the novel would end before you started writing it, or did you make many changes along the way?


A: I knew from the outset that the two protagonists of the novel had embarked on different paths to self-discovery and spirituality, and that their paths would diverge at the end of the story.


I am not, however, a writer who outlines the plot of the book before setting pen to paper. Accordingly, much of the story unfurled intuitively as I followed the characters deeper into their passionate relationship.


The end of the book attempts to tie all the various strands of the narrative together, but the final scenes were driven by the characters and the choices and mistakes that they made in the course of the novel.

Q: How was the novel’s title chosen, and what does it signify for you?

A: The novel’s title, The Evil Inclination, is a term taken from the Babylonian Talmud, a Jewish text of more that 5,000 pages that is roughly 2,000 years old. The Talmud serves as the primary source of Jewish law and thought that is observed today.


The term “Evil Inclination” in the Talmud describes forbidden erotic desire. The Rabbis of antiquity understood the pervasiveness of erotic desire, although they struggled to understand why sexual attraction exercised such powerful influence over human behavior.


The romance between Lev and Angela is fueled by their erotic infatuation for one another, and because the novel is punctuated by quotations from the Talmud about sexual attraction, the title was a natural fit for this love story.


Consequently, the Rabbinic conception of the Evil Inclination is not only the title of the book but serves as the narrative and conceptual framework for the novel.


Q: The writer Judith Shulevitz called the book “a captivating love story pitting passion against faith.” What do you think of that description, and can you say more about the relationship between your characters?

A: Both Lev and Angela are the products of insular and clannish upbringings in two ethnic Brooklyn enclaves, one from Jewish Flatbush; the other from Italian Bensonhurst.


Lev is steadfast in his devotion to faith, observance, and family—at least until he encounters Angela at Brooklyn College. Sultry, seductive Angela knocks Lev of his axis. What’s more, she leads prudish and sexually inexperienced Lev into an erotically charged, passionate romance.


As their illicit affair progresses, Lev and Angela begin to wrestle with the question of whether they can transcend their very different backgrounds and faiths and find a path forward together.


Judith Shulevitz’s characterization of the novel is right on target because the novel is first and foremost a tale about the struggle of these young lovers to reconcile the burdens of their respective traditions against the power of the passion they feel for one another.


Q: What are you working on now?

A: I have just finished a sequel to The Evil Inclination, which follows Lev and Angela into the future, and I hope to publish it within the next 12 months.


Unlike many writers, before publishing my first novel, I wrote three other novels, plus two novellas and a collection of short fiction. I hope to turn my attention to preparing my other works for publication, but only after the sequel comes out.


Q: Anything else we should know?

A: One of the unique aspects of The Evil Inclination is its use of Talmudic texts. The novel is divided into nine parts, each introduced by a quote from the Talmud about the Evil Inclination that foreshadows what occurs in the ensuing chapters.


Lev also engages in sporadic dialogue with the Sages of the Talmud throughout the novel, particularly at times when he is engaged in distinctly inappropriate and “un-Talmudic” behavior. There are few novels that so thoroughly integrate traditional texts into the story.


Despite the fact that the novel is steeped in Jewish sources and concepts, I have [heard] from Christian readers who identify with Lev’s struggle to come to terms with his loss of faith. The positive reaction of non-Jewish readers has been a wonderful surprise.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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