Ellis Shuman

Review of Iddo Gefen’s ‘Mrs. Lilienblum’s Cloud Factory’

Just three months ago, Israeli author Iddo Gefen won the $100,000 2023 Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature for his debut short story collection Jerusalem Beach (Astra House, August 2021). Daniella Zamir was recognized for her translation, for which she received a quarter of the prize money.

This talented author has outdone himself with his debut novel, Mrs. Lilienblum’s Cloud Factory (Kinneret Zmora-Bitan Dvir, July 2023). The book is due to be published by Astra House in 2024, but I couldn’t wait for the English edition and just finished reading it in its original Hebrew.

The book opens with Sarai Lilienblum sitting in the middle of the Big Crater in Israel’s south, wearing a Bordeaux bathrobe and drinking a martini. She had been missing for days and no one in her family knew where she was, or how she got to the crater. And Sarai isn’t explaining anything.

We soon learn about Sarai’s latest invention, a machine that can manufacture clouds and intense rainfall and possibly solve the climate crisis. That possibility depends not only on the interactions between Sarai and her family, but on the very nature of Israel’s startup culture.

The novel is very witty, with fully developed characters and an amazing plot.

“When you read Gefen’s stories,” I wrote in my review of Jerusalem Beach, “with their diverse characters, and cross-genre themes of memories and dreams, you never know what you’re going to get. But one thing you do know. Each story is going to be very enjoyable to read.”

The same is true for Mrs. Lilienblum’s Cloud Factory, a tour de force by a very talented author whose mark on the Israeli literary scene is just getting started. The book is a pleasure to read and highly recommended.

Iddo Gefen is an author and neurocognitive researcher at the Virtual and Augmented Reality Lab at the Sagol Brain Institute. He leads an innovative study to diagnose aspects of Parkinson’s disease using storytelling and augmented reality. Jerusalem Beach, his first book, received the Israeli Minister of Culture’s Award in 2017, and the 2023 Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature.

About the Author
Ellis Shuman made aliya to Jerusalem as a teenager, served in the IDF, was a founding member of a kibbutz, and now lives on Moshav Neve Ilan. Ellis is the author of ‘The Burgas Affair’ – a crime thriller set in Israel and Bulgaria; ‘Valley of Thracians’ - a suspense novel set in Bulgaria; and 'The Virtual Kibbutz' - a collection of short stories. His writing has appeared in The Times of Israel, The Huffington Post, The Jerusalem Post, Israel Insider, and on a wide range of Internet websites. Ellis lived with his wife for two years in Bulgaria, and blogs regularly about Israel, Bulgaria, books, and writing.
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