Sadness Is a White Bird: A Novel

National Book Foundation ‘5 Under 35’ Honoree

Dayton Literary Peace Prize Finalist

Ohioana Book Award Winner

National Jewish Book Award Finalist

Center for Fiction First Novel Prize Longlist

Books by the Banks Author Award Winner

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Watch ‘5 Under 35’ selector Bill Clegg’s remarks about why he chose Sadness Is a White Bird, and Moriel’s brief reading at the ceremony here: 

Bill Clegg’s full remarks

“There’s so many reasons why I love Moriel Rothman-Zecher’s novel, so many reasons why he deserves the ‘5 Under 35’ citation. First of all, the book’s gorgeous, alliteratively audacious opening lines: ‘Everything was salt and sweat, summertime and sharpened swords.’ Its beautiful yellow book jacket. The matter-of-fact, never sweated-over sexual fluidity of its young male protagonist. Its devastating love story. Its authentic depiction of youth on the verge of adulthood, the intensity and openness, the wild swings between agonizing doubt and hubris and clarity. Its significant plot twist, which I, for one, did not see coming. But mostly, for the way that it braves to illuminate not only the unique perspective of Israeli Jews and Palestinian Muslims, the very particular histories and experiences that shape them, but also, and somewhat anomalously, the ones that they share, the shattering grief and injustice, the fierce loyalty and anger, and the love. I can’t think of a book that has caused me to remember, and embodied with as much compassion and beauty, the words of activist and poet Rachel Corrie, words that lately I’ve been grateful to be reminded of, ‘They are us, and we are them.’ Congratulations.”


Read more about the award in the Washington Post article by Ron Charles, September 24, 2018: The National Book Foundation singles out the five best young writers in America. 

lit hub 5 under 35

Some thoughts on writing a first draft, from an interview with Literary Hub at the 2018 National Book Foundation’s ‘5 Under 35’ Ceremony.


Finalist for the Dayton Literary Peace Prize.

Winner of the Ohioana Book Award for Fiction.

Longlisted for the Center for Fiction’s First Novel Prize.

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Winner of the Books by the Banks 2018 Author Award for Best Adult Fiction.

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Finalist for the National Jewish Book Award in Debut Fiction. Read more here.

Other Lists:

Goodreads’ “24 of the Season’s Highest-Rated Debuts” | Jewish Book Council’s10 Books to Look Forward To in 2018″ | Bustle’s19 Debut Novels Coming Out in 2018 That You Definitely Won’t Want to Miss” | Huffington Post’s60 Books We Can’t Wait to Read in 2018” | Working Mother’s 10 of the Most Anticipated Books to Make Time for in 2018″ | PureWow’s 20 Books We Can’t Wait to Read in 2018” | Book Riot’s101 Books Coming Out in 2018 That You Should Mark Down Now” | BookBub’s 25 Debut Novels We Can’t Wait to Read in 2018” | POPSUGAR’s20 Best New Books to Read in February” | The Nerd Daily’s Books to Look Forward to in 2018” | San Diego Magazine’s 5 Books to Read in February” | The Jewish Daily Forward’sTo Read, To Watch and To Do This Weekend” | Loan Stars’ Top Ten Books – February 2018 | The New York Post’sThis Week’s Must-Read Books” | The Washington Post’s We Missed These Books – But You Shouldn’t” | Bustle’s 15 Books by Young Jewish Authors to Read This Hannukah | The Washington Independent Review of Book’s 50 Favorite Books of 2018 | Etaf Rum’s ‘A Year in Reading,’ in The Millions | Morning News’ 2019 Tournament of Books Longlist| Book Browse’sDebut Novels for Book Clubs in 2019” | Get Literary’s Escape The Cold with New February Fiction | Ezvid Wiki’s 11 Poignant Books from Exceptional Voices in Modern Fiction|

Interviews, Excerpts and Essays:

The Washington Post | “The National Book Foundation singles out the five best young writers in America,” (By Ron Charles, September 24, 2018). Read Here. 

The Paris Review | “Writing Fiction in the Shadow of Jerusalem.” (January 18, 2018). Read Here.

ABC News | “Israeli-American Novelist Laments Gaza Deaths, Sees Hope in Resistance.” (By Evan McMurry, May 22, 2018). Read Here.

NPR Weekend Edition | “Israel’s Shin Bet Detains High Profile Figures.” (Interview with Jennifer Ludden, August 18, 2018). Listen Here. 

Middlebury Magazine | “Moriel Rothman-Zecher Has Something to Say.” (Profile by Kevin Charles Fleming, November 1, 2018). Read Here.

Times of Israel | “A conscientious objector to the IDF, this Israeli-American says he’s a patriot,” (Interview by Marshall Weiss, December 29, 2018). Read Here.

Christian Science Monitor | “Novel perspectives on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.” (By John Colin Marston, December 4, 2018). Read Here.

Jewish Currents | “Hitchhikers” (An Excerpt from Sadness Is a White Bird, May 22, 2018). Read Here.

Nueva Sion | “La empatía es un músculo,” (Spanish Interview with Ines Dunstan. January 1, 2019). Read Here. 

Haaretz | “Conscientious Objector Puts Himself in an Israeli Soldier’s Books in New Book” (By Andrew Esensten, Feb 13, 2018). Read Here.

Jewish Book Council | Interview: Moriel Rothman-Zecher (By Ranen Omer-Sherman, March 20, 2018): Read Here.

Electric Literature | “5 Book Pairings to Help You Understand Historical Conflicts” (Feb 15, 2018). Read Here.

Kirkus Reviews | Interview with Moriel Rothman-Zecher (By James McDonald, Feb 15, 2018). Read Here.

The Prosen People | “On Poetry Swallowed by Prose.” (Feb 13, 2018). Read Here.

Shelf Awareness | “Reading With… Moriel Rothman-Zecher.” (March 2, 2018). Read Here.

WYSO Public Radio | Interview: Book Nook, with Vick Mikunas. (March 29, 2018). Listen Here.

Praise for Sadness Is a White Bird:

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“Rarely does one come across a debut novel as artistically accomplished, politically unsettling, and emotionally unflinching as Moriel Rothman-Zecher’s Sadness Is A White Bird. A richly empathic story of Israel and Palestine, history and memory, explored through the intimate bonds between young Jewish and Muslim Israelis, it offers all that one could wish for in a coming-of-age story. . . At once a celebration of youth and love, and a lamentation for the daunting odds of sustaining either in the tragic circumstances of the Middle East, this novel of inconvenient truths is a triumph of the aesthetic and moral imagination, one that will likely leave its readers (one can only hope that many Israelis and Palestinians will be among them) feeling unsettled and perhaps utterly transformed.” —Ranen Omer-Sherman, Jewish Book Council

“Nuanced, sharp, and beautifully written, Sadness Is a White Bird manages, with seeming effortlessness, to find something fresh and surprising and poignant in the classic coming-of-age, love-triangle narrative, something starker, more heartbreaking: something new.” —Michael Chabon, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel THE AMAZING ADVENTURES OF KAVALIER & CLAY

“A passionate, poetic coming-of-age story set in a mine field, brilliantly capturing the intensity of feeling on both sides of the conflict.”Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

Searing in its beauty, devastating in its emotional power, and dazzling in its insights, Moriel Rothman-Zecher’s debut novel, Sadness Is a White Bird, is, I promise you, like nothing you’ve ever read… I have only praise for this poetic, distressingly original book.” — Philip K. Jason, Washington Independent Review of Books

“I loved Sadness Is a White Bird for its profound meditation on how we each strive to hold ourselves morally and politically to account, an individual resistance to a world of walls and violence, in defiance of the belief that ‘Each man has limited space in his heart, for sadness and for sorrow and for regret.’” —Madeleine Thien, author of the Man Booker Prize Finalist DO NOT SAY WE HAVE NOTHING

“While offering an unusually political coming-of-age novel, Rothman-Zecher frames the conflict in human terms. Passionate, topical, and thoughtful, this heartbreaking tale is vital reading for anyone who cares about the future of this part of the world.” —Library Journal (starred review)

“Conveys the complexities of Israeli and Palestinian life with passion, nuance and tenderness… Rothman-Zecher is an incredibly talented young writer… He has shown a fearlessness and vulnerability on these pages that speak to his ability to explore difficult terrain without feeling the need to draw any neat or concise conclusions. That is the gray matter of great fiction. It shuns certainty and is open, nuanced, inconclusive and often contradictory. Just like Israeli reality.” —Elaine Margolin, The Jerusalem Post

“In a sense, one must travel to Palestine in order to experience the grief and the rage of life under occupation. What can go too often ignored is the complexity and the humanity: the love, lies, lust alive in the same. Rothman-Zecher’s brilliant debut eschews political polemic in favor of nuanced narrative, giving us a love triangle to rival Bertolucci’s The Dreamers, set against the backdrop of the most heartbreaking conflict of our time. Intelligent, sexy, dazzlingly beautiful—no less for being utterly heartwrenching.”  —Taiye Selasi, author of GHANA MUST GO

“In a political, ideological, social and deeply personal conflict that continues to defy treaties and agreements, love might seem difficult to come by. Yet Sadness Is a White Bird is brimming with it. Rothman-Zecher digs deep into his country’s past and present, through difficult truths and beautiful stories, illustrating one boy’s journey of finding himself and his history, finding peace in a state of war, finding love in a world of hate.” –Rebecca Gerny, The Daily Californian

“Rothman-Zecher… addresses complex, urgent issues through his vital and memorable characters.” —Booklist

“So much of this book features laughter, with almost hyperfocus, that it belies the title. Personally, I can account for the particular sound of laughter here that stands out in stark contrast to the way laughter sounds in English, and that may be why Rothman-Zecher gives it such priority.” –Anthony Michael Morena, Full Stop Magazine

“This fast-paced and subtle novel carries the bitter-sweet fragrance of truth.” —David Shulman, Israel Prize-winner and author of DARK HOPE.

“Every now and then we are lucky to pick up a book that touches us deeply. For us, it was Sadness Is a White Bird, a beautifully written novel about a complex subject: Jewish and Arab relations in Israel. The author gives us an intimate viewpoint using three friends, two Palestinians, one Israeli, narrated in the form of a letter. Powerful and intense. Heartbreaking, lyrical, and honest. This book is a must read.” —Etaf Rum, Books and Beans

“A lyrical debut by a rising literary star… informed by author Moriel Rothman-Zecher’s background in Arabic literature and social activism, both of which add passion and integrity to the story, Sadness Is a White Bird is part coming-of-age tale and part unblinking observation of a political situation that continues to defy solutions, treaties or agreements.” —BookPage

“While the premise may be rooted in the traditional, Sadness Is a White Bird packages… beloved themes into a stunningly written poetic narrative that will sweep you through the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in a modern-day Middle Eastern setting.” —Nisha Tuli, Winnipeg Free Press

Sadness Is a White Bird is gorgeously written. The author has a lyrical gift… What a pleasure to encounter a young writer with so much potential.” —Vic Mickunas, The Dayton Daily News

“Much of Sadness Is a White Bird is an exploration into cultural identity and how even newer generations of optimistic, progressive, humanistic youths are unable to shake off the historical shackles that pull them back into a never-ending cycle of conflict. Rothman-Zecher has an exquisite ability to vocalize the historical contexts that shape personal identity.” —Dean Muscat, BookBrowse

“[An] outstanding debut… Rothman-Zecher has an unusual way with words, giving lovely, fresh descriptions of desire, violence, and injustice.”Publishers Weekly

“Unflinching in its honesty, unyielding in its moral complexity, Sadness Is a White Bird offers thoroughly original insights into the holy and the broken place that is modern Israel. Moriel Rothman-Zecher is a piercing observer and a relentless interrogator who peels back layers of pain to lay bare the difficult truths of his homeland, and the heavy price paid by those for whom love trumps hatred.” —Geraldine Brooks, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel MARCH

“Rich and complicated… Sadness Is a White Bird is a bold debut.” –Laura Farmer, The Gazette

“[Sadness Is a White Bird]… is the most honest look at the complicated work of loving and struggling with the state of Israel that we’ve seen, maybe ever. In “Sadness Is A White Bird,” Rothman-Zecher does the impossible — he writes a novel about Israel and Palestine that comes from a place of such empathy and yearning for peace that it can’t be called prejudiced against any group.” —Jenny Singer, The Jewish Daily Forward


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