Bookshop Benicia will be hosting another Author Event, Nov. 15, with special guest Michael Cooper. He will be promoting his new historical fiction thriller “The Rabbi’s Knight.”
“The Rabbi’s Knight” is set in Israel in 1290, right as the Crusades are winding down. The protagonist, Knight Templar Jonathan St. Clair, is stationed in the port city of Acre where he comes across a cryptic ancient scroll. After he learns that the inscription holds the key to unlock the secrets of Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, St. Clair works to learn Kabbalah- especially as the only person who can decipher it is being targeted for assassination.
Currently a resident of Lafayette, Cooper has had a longtime connection with Israel, having emigrated there in 1966- the year before the Six-Day War that resulted in hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fleeing Israel- and continuing to live in the region for the next 11 years.
“It was a country that was very different than anything i’d experienced in the United States,” he said. “At the time before the technology explosion worldwide incorporated into Israel, it was a very pastoral country”
Cooper also recalled the excitement of being able to become immersed in Hebrew.
“I had always been exposed to attempts to learn Hebrew without really being able to carry on conversations,” he said. “I was going to be able to immerse myself in the language and the culture in a wonderful country.”
Cooper graduated from the Tel Aviv University Medical School and subsequently returned to the U.S., where he worked at Kaiser Permanente in Vallejo for 30 years as a consultant for children in the North Bay and East Bay. He currently works part time at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital, where he says he still sees patients from the Benicia/Vallejo area.
In the mid ‘90s, he said, two events inspired him to start writing.
“I developed a desire to express myself beyond medical records and peer-reviewed journal articles,” he said. “Also, the assassination of (Israeli Prime Minister) Yitzhak Rabin in 1995 struck me very hard, as it did for many people in regards to what it meant for the peace process. I wanted to figure out a way to have some catharsis and expression in regards to that without being too literal.”
Cooper published his first novel, “Foxes in the Vineyard,” in 2011. The book tells the story of a Boston University professor named Evan Sinclair who travels to Palestine on the eve of the Arab-Israeli War in 1948 to find his missing father. The book won the Grand Prize in the 2011 Indie Publishing Contest.
Cooper said that “The Rabbi’s Knight” is actually a prequel to “Foxes in the Vineyard.” Jonathan St. Clair is even an ancestor of Evan St. Clair.
“I wanted to create this historical fiction narrative that begins with ‘The Rabbi’s Knight’ and ends with ‘Foxes in the Vineyard,’” he said.
Bookshop Benicia owner Christine Mayall said that after having hosted an Author Event with Cooper in 2012, he approached the store again after finishing his latest book.
“He always said another book was coming, and he finally got it finished,” she said. “He told us, and we were glad to host him again.”
Mayall said she was impressed by the historical aspect of his books.
“He pulls in a lot of different elements and really does his research, makes it very interesting,” she said. “They’re very exciting tales.”
Cooper is working on a third book that centers around Palestine in World War I in the waning years of the Ottoman Empire. He says the book, tentatively titled “Sins of the Father,” will complete the Israeli historical fiction trilogy.
In addition to being a good read, Cooper also hopes “The Rabbi’s Knight” can provide some insight on the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the Middle East.
“Ultimately, I would hope that putting forth these examples of coexistence between Muslims, Jews and Christians would lead to a sense that there has to be another way apart from listening to the extreme edges of the conflict,” he said. “That conversation has to take place for people who plan to bridge the gap, and it’s that yearning and hope that I would love the reader to come away with the idea that there can be an end to the violence and a reconciliation of peace.”
The Author’s Event with Michael Cooper will take place at 4 p.m., Nov. 15, at Bookshop Benicia, located at 636 First Street.