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Talking with Mendelson

by: Cara Wides - Last updated: 2007-10-11

Charlotte Mendelson

Charlotte Mendelson

Charlotte Mendelson has written three critically acclaimed books, but says her most recent, When We Were Bad was more “Jewish” than the others.

Mendelson recently spoke at Café Philo in Hampstead, about whether she sees herself as a Jewish author, or just an author.

Mendelson began the night by reading humourous sections from When We Were Bad, which is about the troubled family life of reknowned female Rabbi.

She invited the audience to discuss with her why she waited to so long to write a “Jewish book”, as it has more prominent Jewish themes than her other two, daughters of Jerusalem and Love in Idleness.

Mendelson confessed to the crowd that she doesn’t like the way that Jewish authors are expected to write about “Israel and the Holocaust” or “characters who eat all the time, and are obsessed with their mothers.”  She added that she isn’t even that happy with the term “Jewish writer”, saying “it annoys me to be labelled a ‘Jewish writer’ just because I am Jewish and I write – it’s more subtle than that.”

One of her bugbears is when the press lump her together with Naomi Alderman. “She’s Jewish and a woman and I’m Jewish and a woman, that’s why they do it.” She explained that her greatest motivation for writing was to produce books that “people stay up to 3am reading, or miss their tube stop over as they’re so engrossed.”

To find out about future Café Philo events, which include the writer and journalist Nick Cohen on November 25th, visit or phone 020 7794 5229