Indiana Jones, Robert Langdon and Jason Bourne all would recognize Evan Sinclair — the rough-and-ready hero of “Foxes in the Vineyard” — as one of their own. In the action-packed work of historical fiction, Sinclair battles Nazis, reconnects with a lost love and participates in a mystical ritual with the Knights Templar in Jerusalem in 1948.
The author who created Sinclair is Dr. Michael Cooper of Lafayette, a pediatric cardiologist at Kaiser hospitals in Vallejo and Walnut Creek. “Foxes in the Vineyard,” his first book, was published in December after Cooper, 63, won the grand prize at the San Francisco Writers Conference Indie Publishing Contest last year. Cooper started writing the book in the mid-1990s (well before Dan Brown’s “The Da Vinci Code” was published in 2003) and was spurred on after the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin in 1995.
“Within the context of the death of the peace process, I wanted to create something popular that appealed to people but that also had a message,” Cooper said in an interview earlier this month. On his blog, Cooper has written that “the novel expresses a longing for a Jerusalem that will no longer be a point of conflict, but rather a capital of coexistence.”
About those Nazis that go after Sinclair — Cooper describes that part of the book as an alternative history, an imagined exploration of covert actions of the Third Reich designed to allow the Nazis to seize Jerusalem. Cooper said the Nazis in the book serve “as metaphor for mystical religious fanaticism, ultra-nationalism, and militarism — a toxic mixture that continues to infect the Middle East conflict.”
To enhance his storytelling skills, Cooper took several writing classes and joined a local writing group. “Every week or two we’d present a chapter, and having that feedback from other people has been valuable,” he said. Cooper’s sister Adrienne Cooper, a renowned Yiddish singer, teacher and music curator who died Dec. 25, also was “a wonderful resource and editor” for him and he dedicated the book to her.
Scenes from the book that take place in the Old City of Jerusalem, passages that evoke crowded streets lined with shops, bakeries and meat sellers, are particularly vivid. That’s because Cooper, a Berkeley native, moved to Israel in 1966 after graduating from Oakland High School. He lived there for 11 years.
“Living in Jerusalem from 1966 to 1969, I found myself enthralled with the quality of life, with the stone, with the atmosphere of the city,” Cooper said. “Jerusalem was much smaller then, a little jewel. It was pleasant, too, without much animosity. My prose is informed by that.”
Cooper attended Hebrew University and then transferred to Tel Aviv University Medical School, where he graduated in 1975. He spent a year as an intern and then completed a one-year cardiology fellowship in Haifa. He returned to the U.S. in 1977. “Writing this book and others about Palestine and Israel is a wonderful escape from work and gives me a sense of joy,” said Cooper. He and his wife, Teri, are members of Congregation B’nai Shalom in Walnut Creek.
Cooper’s prior books include two novels that precede the story told in “Foxes in the Vineyard.” One, titled “The Rabbi’s Knight,” tells the story of a Templar who apprentices himself to a rabbi to learn the secrets of Kabbalah. The second is set in Europe and Palestine in World War I, “when colonial powers redrew the map and created the Middle East as it is today,” Cooper said. He also is working on a mystery.
Twice a year, Cooper makes time to go to the Palestinian territories on volunteer medical missions, serving children with heart defects for whom pediatric specialty care is relatively unavailable.
“We are two people on one plot of real estate and we each deserve a homeland, a two-state solution,” Cooper said. “I have a sense that we are so close to peace in Israel, and in my mind, this needs to happen. We really do need to figure out how to come together.”
Dr. Michael Cooper will discuss “Foxes in the Vineyard” at 1 p.m. June 16, Orinda Books, 276 Village Gate, Orinda; 7 p.m. June 19, Congregation Ner Tamid, 1250 Quintara St., S.F.; 7 p.m. June 21, Temple Sinai, 2808 Summit St., Oakland; 7 p.m. July 24 (following 6 p.m. potluck dinner), Mount Diablo Peace and Justice Center, 55 Eckley Lane, Walnut Creek.
“Foxes in the Vineyard” by Michael Cooper (283 pages, iUniverse, $18.95)