Love, obsession, faith, desire and redemption: ‘Jerusalem Ablaze’ is a collection of stories which burn with hunger.

Today I’m welcoming Orlando Ortega-Medina to Buried Under Books as part of his blog tour to celebrate the recent publication of ‘Jerusalem Ablaze’, his debut collection of darkly humorous and strangely sensual short stories. Want to know more? Here’s the blurb:

In Jerusalem’s Old City a priest and a dominatrix converse in the dying light; on Oregon’s windswept coast a fragile woman discovers a body washed up on the beach after a storm; and in Postwar Japan a young protégé watches his master’s corpse burn, with bitter thoughts blazing in his mind.

Jerusalem Ablaze: Stories of Love and Other Obsessions collects thirteen eclectic works of dark fiction, taking the reader from Los Angeles to the eastern townships of Quebec, and from Tokyo to Jerusalem. Ortega-Medina’s characters are flawed, broken individuals, trying their best to make sense of their lives as they struggle with sexuality, death, obsession, and religion.

Gripping and intriguing, the stories are sometimes bleak, occasionally violent, and often possessed of a dark humour. This major debut explores the imperfections of life and the unpredictability of death.

A review will be forthcoming (half-term with three children running around at home is lovely but not conducive to review writing!) but in the meantime I’m hosting a guest post from Orlando which explores his inspirations. Over to him:

The author, looking suitably brooding.

The author, looking suitably brooding.

Buried Under Books asked…

… Who were your inspirations for Jerusalem Ablaze? Which other authors do you admire?

Orlando Ortega-Medina answered:

At university, I read quite a lot of Japanese fiction in translation, as my minor was in East Asian Studies.  My reading list included everything from medieval classics such as The Tale of Genji and Chikamatsu’s Love Suicides (both 1600s) to 20th-century novelists, such as Shimazaki Toson, Tayama Katai, and Yasunari Kawabata. But my absolute favourite Japanese novelist and greatest early influence is Yukio Mishima.  His explorations of the opposing themes of youth versus age, beauty versus ugliness, love versus hate, idealism versus cynicism, and callousness versus vulnerability influenced several of the stories in Jerusalem Ablaze.

I also found early inspiration in the works of Philip Roth, particularly Portnoy’s Complaint, Goodbye, Columbus, and the Zuckerman Unbound novels.  I was fascinated by the unflinching, semi-autobiographical aspect of Roth’s work, which strangely echoed what I had read in the Japanese “I-Novel” form, but in a much more humorous and self-effacing style. Roth’s explicit and candid treatment of sexuality was the icing on the cake for me. I think some of Roth’s influence comes across in Jerusalem Ablaze, such as in “Invitation to the Dominant Culture” and its companion piece “Cactuses”.

Many of the characters that populate Jerusalem Ablaze are conflicted: culturally, sexually, and religiously.  Whilst much of that arises out of my own personal experience as the product of a multicultural, multi-faith household – a child of immigrants, who themselves were children of immigrants, who likewise were children of immigrants (ad infinitum) – conflicted characters abound in the works of my idols Salman Rushdie, Zadie Smith, and especially Shalom Auslander, and my work is certainly influenced by these.

Regarding the latter, one reviewer of an Auslander collection observed that he writes ‘like Philip Roth’s angry nephew.’ I like to think that in Jerusalem Ablaze I take a step beyond Auslander—a darker, angrier step—that engages readers and takes them captive.

Many thanks to Orlando for taking the time to respond to my request. This is a powerful collection of stories and I look forward to seeing more from this author.

Orlando Ortega-Medina was born in California and is of Judeo-Spanish descent via Cuba. He studied English Literature at UCLA and has a Juris Doctor law degree from Southwestern University School of Law. At university he won The National Society of Arts and Letters award for Short Stories. Jerusalem Ablaze: Stories of Love and Other Obsessions is his first published collection. Orlando is now a British citizen and currently resides in London with his life partner, where he practices US immigration law. Find him on Twitter: @OOrtegaMedina

Want to know more? Why not follow the tour:

Blog Tour Jerusalem Ablaze

Jerusalem Ablaze ( Cloud Lodge Books) by Orlando Ortega-Medina was released on Thursday 16th February.