A reader calls out to me with the following:
Dear Mr. Engelhard. I notice that gambling and mysticism are a big part of your novels. I wonder why this is so much on your mind.
In Indecent Proposal, your big book that, deservedly, won you millions of fans around the world, including myself here in England, why, in that grand novel, gambling is very much a theme, as we find Ibrahim, your Sultan character, often averring that “Luck is everything.” Thus, he is prepared to gamble for Joshua’s wife. This sends the novel roaring ahead splendidly.
On the other hand, your novel Prince of Dice, is a dud. Forgive me, but let’s be honest. This book never got off the ground. You must know this yourself.
Then we come to your novel Compulsive, and all I can say is Wow, for this book floored me in the best possible way. This book has it all. It so deftly covers gambling as a mirror of life. Please explain what you mean by the mystical refrain, in the book, that “the angels are voting.” I understood it in the novel, but there must be more to make you feel this way.
The mind of a novelist fascinates me. Can you please elaborate?
Dear Reader. Thank you. I’ll take the good with the bad.
Must say, not your praise, but it is your critique on Prince of Dice that will keep me up at night. That too is the mind of a novelist.
The refrain, in Compulsive, goes like this: “The angels are always voting and you want them on your side. You want them voting in your favor. One vote will tip the scales for you or against you.” That sir, or madam, is gambling and it is life. In the game of craps, the player shoots, but he has no say in the outcome.
Fate, the angels, decide which way the dice will fall.
One vote tips the dice between a win or a loss…and we do not know the mystery of it all. Some people are born rich, some people are born poor.
That takes us back to, “Luck is everything.”
My theory is that everything we do is a gamble.
The mind of a novelist fascinates me, too. What was I thinking to arrive at that mysticism?
Was it about something that happened near or far? The subconscious stores it all, and most often the novelist is unaware of what it is that haunts him and prompts him.
For Kafka, it was his father, and the entrapment of constant guilt.
In my case, something did happen that perhaps explains why I feel that often enough our lives depend on the whim of the wheel, or the turn of the cards.
This would be in Toulouse, France, when Hitler arrived, and my parents had to decide whether to stay or leave.
Which was the safe bet?
Many Jews thought it best to stay…wait it out. Things can’t get worse. Well, we know the answer.
How’s that for gambling?
When my parents, in the initial stages of the escape, finally got to the train en route to the Pyrenees, and then hopefully to Spain, the conductor came to collect tickets.
He was immediately replaced by a Gestapo agent who marched along to collect papers…which meant that this family was sunk, finished, kaput.
Father and mother only had false papers.
Next stop, Auschwitz.
The Gestapo drew closer, and just when he demanded papers, at that instant, his partner, down on the platform, demanded his urgent attention.
He marched off and the train left the station.
To Sarah, my sister, her impromptu reaction is that the angel Gabriel intervened.
In my view, the angels voted.
Many of my truly religious readers will say, no, it’s all up to G-d.
To which I say, absolutely and Amen.
But remember, the novels I write are, naturally, works of fiction, and we do take liberties.
For the book that is absolutely true start to finish, read and study Torah. Cleave to it especially at this time of Shavuot.
We can’t all be Moses…and look Who gave him the words.
NEW. Now available, the collection of Jack Engelhard’s op-eds, Writings, here
New York-based bestselling American novelist Jack Engelhard writes regularly for Arutz Sheva.
He wrote the worldwide book-to-movie bestseller “Indecent Proposal,” the gambling thriller, “Compulsive,” plus the authoritative newsroom epic, “The Bathsheba Deadline,” followed by his coming-of-age classics, “The Girls of Cincinnati,” and, the Holocaust-to-Montreal memoir, “Escape from Mount Moriah.” For that and his 1960s epic “The Days of the Bitter End,” contemporaries have hailed him “The last Hemingway, a writer without peer, and the conscience of us all.” Contact: [email protected]