Newcomers in an Ancient Land


by Paula Wagner

An excerpt from “Newcomers in an Ancient Land”

“I crept along a dirt road under a black dome studded with stars on my way to my job as a volunteer in the vineyards of Kibbutz Dan. At four in the morning, only the chirping of crickets and the crunch of my work boots broke the peace along this deserted stretch of the pre-1967 border between Israel and Syria. Until the rest of the work crew arrived at six I would be alone. Or would I?”

At eighteen, Paula is already a seasoned traveler, having begun life in England, crisscrossed the US as a young child, and survived a year in a London boarding school absorbing her mother’s heritage. But when she leaves home for Israel in search of her enigmatic father’s Jewish roots, her quest will change her life forever.

Seduced by the land, the language, and a man, she learns Hebrew on a kibbutz ulpan (a work/study program on a collective farm), then leaves for France, yet yearns to return to Israel. Navigating her odyssey from vision to reality, she will learn much more than two new languages―and realize that if she is ever to forge her own path and identity as an individual, she must also separate from her twin sister.

Newcomers in an Ancient Land is one of the most beautifully written memoirs I’ve come across in a long time. Paula Wagner draws upon her poetic language and storytelling magic to transport us to a place and time that no longer exists: Israel in the early ‘60s.

In this coming-of-age memoir, we follow her on an inner journey to define herself, and through her eyes we discover the treasures of a place etched by time and the people and eras that have left their mark. I was dazzled by descriptions of sunrises and sea journeys, ruins and castles, and the inner workings of a kibbutz. You too will journey in ways that might surprise you as you read this enchanting memoir.

Linda Joy Myers

Author of "Don't Call Me Mother", "Song of the Plains" and "The Power of Memoir", founder of the National Association of Memoir Writers (NAMW)

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About Paula Wagner

I was born in London to an English mother and Jewish American father. Together with my identical twin sister, I spent my first years crisscrossing the US as our parents searched for a place to call home. The ten-year road-trip was an exhilarating adventure of encountering new places and faces punctuated by inevitable grief of farewell. But those tumbleweed years must also have kindled my wanderlust.

Although I grew up in the US with English as my first language, I always knew I was from “somewhere else.” Spending most of my twenties as a new immigrant in Israel, as well as living in the French immigrant Jewish community reinforced my identity as a newcomer at heart. I’m still learning the lessons of my own search for home and belonging which has come to mean not so much a place on a map, as the enduring relationships formed on the journey.

I hold a BA in women’s studies, an MA in career development, along with languages studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.  As the principal of LifeWork Careers for over twenty years, I have enjoyed helping hundreds of diverse clients pursue their own passions in life and work.

My husband and I share a blended family of four grown children, eight grandkids, and a far flung extended family beyond our current home in Albany, California.  When I’m not practicing the art and craft of creative writing, I enjoy swimming, river rafting, yoga, singing, cooking, and traveling.


I’m so excited to share the mockup cover for Outsiders in France, the long awaited sequel to my first book. Like Newcomers in an Ancient Land, it’s part travelog and part self-exploration, but this time set France – with side trips to Algeria, Europe, the Balkans, and back to England where my twin sister and I were born. Though very different, my love of language, search for home, and quest for identity, animate both books.

Join me as I embrace the hardscrabble immigrant Jewish community of post-WWII Lyon, immersing myself yet again in a new language, culture, and cuisine. And (spoiler alert), narrowly avoid a harrowing brush with kidnapping. I’m hoping to post chapters as I pound them out in the coming months. Stay tuned!

Other published works:

The Magic of Memoir is a memoirist’s companion for when the going gets tough. Editors Linda Joy Myers and Brooke Warner have taught and coached hundreds of memoirists to the completion of their memoirs, and they know that the journey is fraught with belittling messages from both the inner critic and naysayers, voices that make it hard to stay on course with the writing and completion of a book.  Paula Wagner is one of 40 contributors in this book published on November 2016.