Hesh Kestin was for two decades a foreign correspondent, reporting from Europe, the Middle East, and Africa on war, international security, terrorism, arms dealing, espionage, and often equally shadowy global business.
Formerly the London-based European correspondent for Forbes, he is a veteran of the Israel Defense Forces. As a citizen of both the US and Israel, for eighteen years it was common for Hesh to come home to his family from active duty in the IDF, then change into civilian clothes to return to the same battlefields as a correspondent. “You never stop being afraid,” he says today. “But having grown up in a Brooklyn neighborhood where every day was a war, I had a unique advantage: I was used to it.”
After hanging up his trenchcoat, Hesh published four works of fiction and, most recently, one of controversial faction.
The father of five, Hesh lives close to New York City in a very quiet village where, he reports, gunfire is blessedly rare.
In Lisa Peet’s profile of “recovering journalist” Hesh Kestin, he was generously forthcoming about growing up in Brooklyn, 20 years as a foreign correspondent, and his philosophy of writing. Below are a few more thoughts from Kestin, rounding out a portrait of a life well lived, and a writer with a strong sense of where he came from. Unless otherwise identified, quotes are from personal correspondence with the author.
LP: What crime novel would you most like to have written?
HK: ‘Exodus’, and not the one by Leon Uris. In this shrewdly penned thriller, an Egyptian nobleman takes it on the lam after knocking off one of Pharaoh’s brutal overseers. Then, after having discovered the secret of his birth, he blackmails the bossman himself by hitting him with plague after plague until the big hood finally relents: In history’s greatest heist, the newly minted but fast-thinking yid walks off with the equivalent of a couple billion quid [figuring the average slave was a cool thou] plus livestock and uncounted treasure. And that’s only the caper. What happens next would make a hell of a movie. Wait a minute, they may have already done it.
Very often at a reading I am asked about Jewish criminals. The very idea seems at once perverse and nonsensical, like gay plumbers or red-haired Japanese. These days very few people cross to the other side of the street when faced with an oncoming trio of Jewish accountants. Those who think this funny never faced an oncoming Buddy the Body Builder.
For years I’ve had the extreme displeasure of throwing new fiction across the room and seeing it fall apart. Launched just right, the spine splits and signatures or – if they’re paperbacks – pages shake out like, well, like bad fiction: unconnected, insubstantial, rank. Most new writing suffers from what can only be called peanuts envy, a wish to emulate the classic New Yorker story about uninteresting people with irritating little problems doing little or nothing about them but bumping into similarly boring people doing, if possible, less – and all of it slowly.
From the time I could walk I accompanied my father on his visits to the Brooklyn Public Library branch a mile from our home. The old man loved libraries, had worked in one at the University of Warsaw during his bohemian days when, in the months before the Nazi onslaught –he escaped on the last ship out of the free port of Danzig—he wrote poetry and tried to get on at one of the Polish capital’s Yiddish papers. Though he was fluent in half a dozen languages, literary English was not one of them. Our Saturday morning jaunts to this particular library branch –another was closer— were no escape from my father’s linguistic ghetto. The branch at Glenmore and Watkins held one of the largest collections of Yiddish books in the city, possibly the country.
Hesh Kestin reads from his acclaimed Sopranos- meets-The Chosen novel, The Iron Will of Shoeshine Cats, and discusses writing, reading and the state of American literature with Richard D. Heffner, host of TV's Open Mind and author of A Documentary History of the United States. Questions from the audience and Hesh's spirited replies round out the evening.