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In February, I received a call from my father one day, “The president of the United States just mispronounced your name on national television.” With a little digging, I soon learned that at the end of an interview with C-SPAN the president was asked what he had read lately, and he said the following:
Well, I just finished a book called “Abraham,” by a guy named Feiler. And it’s a really interesting book that studies the prophet Abraham from the Christian, Jewish, and Muslim perspective. And the lesson is, is that if you — you can look at Abraham as a unifying factor. In other words, all three of our — all three of those religions started from the same source, which means it’s possible to reconcile differences. And I was impressed by his writing. I really enjoyed the amount of study he did on the subject. And I appreciated his lessons that sometimes as each religion appropriated Abraham to suit their own needs, but, ultimately, we could view Abraham as a way to find a common God. [To hear a clip of the quotes, click here.]
The president made the not uncommon mistake of pronouncing my name “Feeler” instead of “Filer.” Also, it should be said that this occurred at a time when he was particulary under the gun for the war in Iraq and his pending decision whether to talk with Iran. Sill, the Leader of the World had read my book, and, more to the point, had gotten it. I was impressed by how dead-on his summary was. It was better than my flap copy. No matter your politics, this is a dream every writer shares.
And speaking of dreams. Through a series of events I don’t entirely understand, I got a call last week inviting me to come to the Oval Office this Friday. This news managed to make it onto the front page of the Savannah paper on Friday. It was the talk of the beach on Tybee Island this weekend, where I had taken my twin daughters, Eden and Tybee, for the weekend. And my mother and wife are frantically discussing what they will wear (and what I will wear).
But I’ve also been getting a lot of advice about what I should say to the president, in the event I get the chance. One friend quipped of the oval office: “You should ask where the corner is?” The reporter from the Savannah News-Press, picking up on the theme of pronunciation, said I should needle him on the way he says “nuclear” (though Georgia had its own recent president, who did the same). A friend of my father’s sent along a 15-page ancestral chart for the president showing he has multiple relatives from Savannah. Are we related? One of his ancestors, I know from work on my new book, was a Hebrew scholar in New York in the early 19th century. There’s also the matter of Iraq, specifically the damage to the archaeological heritage. Having traveled there during the war and written widely about its biblical sites in WHERE GOD WAS BORN, I feel the American government can do more. But then there’s the opportunity to talk about interfaith relations, which is the theme of the book in question and something I’ve devoted a lot of my recent life to.
(The above photo, which is posted on the White House website, shows the George W. Bush Oval office in December 2001, exactly the time I was in the Middle East researching ABRAHAM.)