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Who are the Bene Israel Jews of India? Where did they come from? How did they survive in India? SWEET MALIDA is a moving, multi-layered, richly sensory and informative collection of poems and short prose inspired by this ancient community to which the poet herself belongs. Using various poetic forms, the poet launches on an imaginative journey, delving into the history, especially the food and culinary customs of this small community of Indian Jews, explores its special connection to the Prophet Elijah, while seamlessly weaving in memories, bringing to life the past and lost loved ones as well.
Poetry. Asian & Asian American Studies. Jewish Studies.
“In an era of globalization that encourages homogeneity, Zilka Joseph’s SWEET MALIDA is a timely reminder of the importance of preserving one’s unique identity. For displaced communities everywhere, survival takes precedence as they reinvent themselves to gain acceptance in unfamiliar lands—often at the cost of losing sight of their roots. In these evocative and skillfully crafted poems, Zilka reclaims the legacy of the dwindling Bene Israel Jewish community through its culture, cuisine, customs, and her own personal journeys. In doing so, she pushes back against the prejudice that stains societies across the globe and celebrates the fact that it is possible to live in harmony with other communities even while safeguarding one’s own rich heritage. Like Draksha-cha Sharbath, these poems offer sweetness on the tongue.”
—Menka Shivdasani (co-founder of Poetry Circle, and Co-Chair, Asia Pacific Writers and Translators)
“Zilka’s poems are an invitation into the Bene Israel kitchen of her youth. Come sit at the table as her mother and her grandmother spice their dishes with history, nostalgia, and longing that will leave you hungry for more. A hybrid of form and structure takes the reader from the origin story of the Bene Israel to the origin story of Zilka herself. Each poem is a taste of turmeric, coconut, coriander, and chili, sweet, but also savory, heavy with memory. 'Who knew heaven could be like this.'”
—Erica Lyons, National Jewish Book Awards finalist, Founder of Asian Jewish Life, Chair of the Hong Kong Jewish Historical Society
Zilka Joseph was born in Mumbai, lived in Kolkata, and now lives in Michigan. Her work is influenced by Indian and Western cultures, and her Bene Israel roots. Her poems have appeared in journals such as Poetry Magazine and The Bombay Literary Magazine, as well as in international anthologies. She was nominated for awards, has participated in festivals, been featured on NPR/Michigan Radio, and podcasts like Rattlecast and Culturico. Her chapbook SPARROWS AND DUST (The Ridgeway Press, 2021) won a Notable Best Indie Book award and was a Notable Asian American Poetry Book. Two of her books, Sharp Blue Search of Flame (Wayne State University Press, 2016) and IN OUR BEAUTIFUL BONES, were Foreword INDIES Prize finalists. The University of Michigan awarded her a Zell Fellowship, the Michael Gutterman award, and the Elsie Choy Lee Scholarship. She is a creative writing coach and manuscript advisor.