According to ancient Judaic tradition, a great miracle occurred in the month of Tamuz. This Hebrew month corresponds to June and July in the Gregorian calendar and begins with Rosh Chodesh on June 9th. I found it fitting to share this bit of information with you, as it relates to my new book: Celestial Persuasion.
Without going deep into the weeds, let me just say that during this season the ancient Israelites were at battle with the five kings of the Emorite Nation (Book of Yehoshua 10:11-14). As the verse unfolds, we read that “great stones” fell from the heavens, and the sun and the moon did not advance in the sky until the Israelites could claim victory. Today, we can assume that an intense meteor or asteroid shower fell upon the particular place; but according to tradition, it was a celestial miracle. I couldn’t resist sharing this with you because it touches upon a recurring theme in my story. Here is a snippet that speaks to fresh starts and new beginnings:
Dinner was completed with no further discussion of wars, revolution, or immigration to far and distant lands. Abigail noted Mrs. Frankel’s silent approval of the elegant meal, which mainly consisted of fish and poultry and various dishes of accompaniment. While they supped, polite conversation regarding the weather in Devonshire was the rule, much to Abigail’s chagrin, but then at last his lordship introduced a new topic, the extraordinary shape of the crescent moon.
“As tonight is Rosh Chodesh, a celebratory occasion of our faith, I beg you apply to Miss Isaacs for commentary,” Mrs. Frankel offered.
“Indeed? I would be glad to hear of it,” the earl replied. “Pray tell.”
“I would not wish to bore you, my lord, with talk of instruments and calculations,” said she, in an attempt to curtail her natural instincts; “however, if you care to learn about the holiday Mrs. Frankel references, I would share Rabbi Nachman’s compelling words on the subject.”
With his lordship’s approval, Abigail continued. “The moon has been a point of great significance since the time of the ancient Israelites. We use its cycles to calculate the months of the year, which differs from the Gregorian calendar based on the sun. Rabbi Nachman suggests that when even the slightest portion of this heavenly body is spotted, that least sighting—that modicum of hope—is sufficient to proclaim a fresh beginning for every one of us. And this evening, as witnessed by the shape of the moon, we celebrate the head of the new month and wish each other peace.”
“That is truly providential,” the earl stated and raised his glass. “Join me in a toast, won’t you? To Jonathan, the best of men, and to new beginnings!”
“To Jonathan,” Abigail repeated and swallowed hard. “And to new beginnings.”
“L’ chaim,” murmured Mrs. Frankel. “To life.”
Dear readers, you are cordially invited to my upcoming Blog Tour. During the week of June 13-18, several bloggers will be reviewing the book or hosting an author’s interview with yours truly.
Readers of this blog know that I was inspired to write a Jewish historical fiction based on Jane Austen’s Persuasion. I understand some of you have not had the pleasure of reading Austen’s original work or seeing the film adaptations. Never fear! Celestial Persuasion is a stand-alone novel with more than enough to tempt you. But you don’t have to take my word for it. Here are a few early comments from people in the know…
“I’m still shaking my head at how good this was! Even though I knew nothing about the history of this area, I found the story fascinating. The appearance of an Austen character in the story always made me smile.” ~ Jeanne Garrett
“A wonderful and inventive novel that paints a compelling historical tale upon a large canvas background of a culture different from what most are used to seeing in #Austenesque variations. Celestial Persuasion left me contemplating about how destiny is written in the stars.” ~ Don Jacobson, author of The Bennet Wardrobe series
“Devotees of Austen’s work, who never wanted her stories to end, will enjoy Trupp’s writing, and those who have adored Persuasion, will not be disappointed in what could possibly come after.” ~Sherry V Ostroff, author of Caledonia, Mannahatta and The Lucky One
“From a literary perspective, I love the way Jane Austen’s characters are sewn into the book. While Abigail’s Jewishness is certainly a central focus, I must commend the respect offered to several other faiths throughout the story, emphasizing that which we have in common rather than that which separates us. I loved this book!” ~ Debbie Brown
I hope to entice you with this shortest of snippets. Please enjoy!
With her morning correspondence completed, she was at leisure; however, this was not a pleasant interlude and Abigail dreaded such moments. For it was during these quiet times that the gripping claws of sorrow tore at her heart. She required an occupation, as the stillness of her life had become too much to bear. She quitted the morning room and quietly climbed the stairs to find Jonathan’s bedchamber.
Opening the door, Abigail was met with the familiar scent of old books and leather. Mrs. Frankel had seen to the room being kept tidy. The clean linen upon his bed added to the crispness in the air. Jonathan’s wardrobe contained most of his clothes, as he took only the essentials when he went off to sea. His shelves were lined with an eclectic combination of writings. Books of Kabbalah and astrology were placed side by side with authoritative treatises on astronomy, physics, and physiology. There were novels of the sea that spoke of great battles of yore, and there were books of poetry and psalms. Abigail ran her fingers across their delicate bindings and cried over the senseless loss of such a kind and gentle man. She would have to pack his belongings, as she had done with her father’s things. Some things would be given to charity, clothes and the like, but the books would not be forsaken.
Abigail reached for an ancient tome; it had once belonged to her maternal great-grandfather and had been passed down throughout the generations. Jonathan had shown her this very book when she was yet a child of five years of age and their mother had left their world. The Sefer Yetzirah, Jonathan had explained, was devoted to speculations concerning God’s creation of the world. He had shown her drawings of the constellations that formed the galgal hamazalot, the wheel of the Zodiac, which exerted influence on Man’s traits and tendencies and on the natural course of things. Abigail recalled his gentle voice as he proposed that they study the celestial spheres together and learn of their characteristics. In her innocence, she had asked if their mama had become one of the heavenly formations watching them from above.
“Dearest, you may still speak to Mama,” Jonathan had said. “Ask her to guard you and guide you from her heavenly home. You may look upon the shining stars and imagine one of them is our own mama sending her love to us here on earth. But Avi, the stars and the moon, and all the wondrous celestial creations, are only a manifestation of God’s will. We must always remember to place our faith and trust in our Creator.”
Abigail closed the book and returned it to its rightful place on the shelf. There would be time enough to reminisce in the days to come. She was not compelled to act with much alacrity; her brother’s belongings would remain as he left them, and Abigail did not look back as she closed the door.
Dear readers: the preorder link for the eBook can be found here
A few weeks ago, I wrote about my Work in Progress: Celestial Persuasion. You can read about it here.
I’m getting closer to Publishing Day and I can’t wait to share it with you. In the mean time, please take a minute to watch this short trailer. The painting of Mariquita Sanchez de Thompson was the inspiration for the entire project. Please enjoy!
Coming soon! Celestial Persuasion on Amazon.
Abigail Isaacs fears ever again falling under the power of love and dedicates her life to studying the heavens. However, upon her father’s demise she finds herself in reduced circumstances and must write to her brother, who has long been away at sea. When instead Captain Wentworth of the HMS Laconia sends a tragic reply, Abigail is asked to set aside her own ambitions and fulfill her brother’s dreams in the Viceroyalty of Río de la Plata.
In his relentless pursuit for justice, Lieutenant Raphael Gabay lends his sword to the Spanish American cause. But as he prepares to set sail with the others, he is entrusted with the care of a young woman. She is quite unlike anyone he has ever known, and Raphael wonders whether the brilliant astronomer will see beyond his frivolous façade and recognize his true nature.
Their destinies have been plotted beyond the celestial veil; their charts foretell of adventure. Can these two troubled souls be persuaded to heed the stars and find love—and their purpose—in this fledgling nation?
How many of you have seen the film, My Big Fat Greek Wedding? Swap out “Greek” and insert “Argentine” and you would have a clear picture of my family. Every character reminded me of a relative; every embarrassing scenario was relatable and every corny saying sounded familiar. The movie had my family in stitches. We laughed, we cried, and we pointed fingers at each other, saying: That is so you! This movie, in fact, was one of three impactful works that played a part in my writing (the other two were I Remember Mama and Fiddler on the Roof). I aspired to accomplish something in that same vein and wrote my first book, With Love, The Argentina Family~ Memories of Tango and Kugel, Mate with Knishes.
Interestingly enough, I came across a blog post that spoke of the similarities in between Pride andPrejudice and Fiddler on the Roof. Both stories feature five daughters, three of which are married by the end of the piece.
Both showcase awkward scenes of rejected marriage proposals. The mother and father relationship in Fiddler shares similar characteristics with those in P & P. Both stories have forbidden love and worries of losing one’s home. In short, this author spoke to my love of meshing the world of Period Dramas and Jewish Historical Fiction.
Last week, I binged on the third season of Shtisel. Have you heard about it? It is a hit show on Netflix. I devoured the entire season in two days. No doubt, you’re wondering why I’m writing about a modern-day series that evolves around a Haredi family living in Israel. You’re rolling your eyes at this point thinking: I signed up for a historical fiction blog—why is she writing about Shtisel-mania? Good question; but before I answer, I have a question for you…
How many Jane Austen variations are there in the Fan Fiction world? I couldn’t even begin to tell you, but I know this: Keep her storyline and exchange the Anglican family with a Hindu family, a Black family, a Jewish family; or even a family of Zombies, you still get an Austenesque novel. Austen’s work centered around her commentary about the human condition. She used humor and irony to make her point. She wrote about heartaches, financial concerns, and dysfunctional families. Her stories are still relevant to millions of people around the world who are not necessarily English, Anglican, or actually living in the Regency era. 😉
Shtisel has taken the world by storm and it has many people scratching their heads in wonder. How is it possible that in today’s society, where everything goes and everything is permissible, a story about an ultra-orthodox Jewish family is a Number One hit? They dress modestly. They have strict dietary restrictions. The roles for women and men are clearly defined. But, take away all the trappings, the clothes, the language, the seemingly archaic rules, and exchange them with any other culture or religion and you still get the very essence of the show. The humanity remains. The power of the emotions expressed and experienced by these characters are universal.
Three or four families in a country village is the very thing to work on. Those three or four families are the mind we knew intimately – the landed gentry, the upper classes, the lower classes, not only the industrial masses, but also the agricultural laborers.”
Jane Austen- in a letter to her niece
Jane Austen’s trademark was her knack for realism. She didn’t write about the Napoleonic Wars or earth-shattering catastrophes. She wrote about the world around her, knowing that life’s every-day “little dramas” were sufficient fodder to get her point across. Her work has been inspirational and Shtisel is working the same magic. Its triumph is in sharing a common story, focusing on Universal Truths to which we all can relate. How could I not aspire to do the same?
This is a monthly event, bringing together those who cover Jewish literature online to “meet, read, and comment on each other’s posts.” Organized by the Association of Jewish Libraries (AJL), the Carnival is hosted by a different participant’s site on the 15th of every month.
As you can see, I have prepared a lovely tea to celebrate the occasion. Join me, won’t you?
This month on gilagreenwrites, Gila interviews author Sharon Kirsch on her new book The Smallest Objective. According to Kirsch, the book is categorized as a memoir but it is a “hybrid of genres.”
This month, I will have the great honor of hosting the Jewish Book Carnival on this site. If you are not familiar with the event, let me tell you a little bit about it. Each month, a host welcomes links and posts from a myriad of other bloggers who are promoting works of Jewish content. It is an incredible format that allows us to share in rich and varied topics ranging from Children’s literature to Adult fiction and everything in between.
Barbara and I met like many people do these days; that is to say, we met online. In preparing for the Carnival, Barbara contributed a link (don’t forget to visit this site on April 15th!) and also shared some information with regard to her new book. I had the pleasure of reading her latest work; and while it is not a subject that I normally lean towards, it is an important topic and is sure to have a long-lasting impact. Without further ado, please join me in welcoming today’s guest, Barbara Krasner~ author, blogger, and historian extraordinaire!
Host: Barbara, I thoroughly enjoyed reading your book. I found the format unique and unexpected. It pulled on my heartstrings; but more importantly, it brings up a subject that often is neglected. I don’t want to give anything away, so I’ll stop now and allow you to tell the audience about your newest release.
Guest: Thanks, Mirta, for having me. I’m always interested in talking about Jewish historical fiction! My new book, 37 Days at Sea: Aboard the MS St. Louis, 1939, is a middle-grade novel in verse. It’s the story of twelve-year-old Ruthie Arons, traveling with her parents and nearly 1,000 other German-Jewish refugees bound for Cuba. But the ship is not allowed to land, and the captain receives orders to return the ship to Germany. Ruthie and her friend, Wolfie, take action to help minimize the despair.
Host: From reading your blog page, I see that you are a historian, linguist and an author. Your list of accomplishments speaks to the love for your heritage and dedication to your craft. Tell us what intrigued you about this particular period in time?
Guest: My mother told me something about the St. Louis growing up. I decided to explore it in 2010 and read Scott Miller and Sarah Ogilvie’s Refuge Denied, which determined the fate the passengers after the ship landed in Antwerp in June 1939. I contacted Scott and he gave me the names of survivors who lived in the New Jersey-Pennsylvania-New York area. One by one I contacted them and interviewed them in their homes during 2010. The narrative actually started as nonfiction, then transformed to poetry for adults, then poetry for kids, ultimately fictionalized.
There are many time periods I’m interested in: Jews in early America, the mass immigration period, the postwar period (Displaced Persons). The Holocaust period, for me, takes precedence because these stories must be told to remember and honor those who perished and to keep warning the world about the loss of human rights and genocide.
Host: I understand that you are specializing in Holocaust & Genocide Studies. The scope of such a curriculum must be daunting, to say the least. Have you always been a great reader? Do you remember your first Jewish fiction that was non-Holocaust related?
Guest: I am currently a doctoral candidate in Holocaust & Genocide Studies at Gratz College outside Philadelphia. I’ve always been attracted to historical fiction even as a young reader and loved Sydney Taylor’s All-of-a-Kind Family series about a Jewish family in the early 1900s in New York City.
Host: Yes! That was one of my childhood favorites as well. As an immigrant myself, I found it to be highly relatable in so many ways. The focus on identity, assimilation, and pride in heritage was powerful for this young Argentine Jewish girl, trying to understand her place in the world.
With regard to the MS St. Louis, and the general understanding of America’s position towards Jewish refugees at the time, I feel that the history has been downplayed to the detriment of our society. Given your professional experience in this genre, I would assume you are accustomed to the grim and the tragic aspects attributed to the subject matter. What did you learn, while doing your research, that particular affected you?
Guest: I spent days researching the St. Louis at the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee headquarters in New York City as well as several days at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC. I interviewed about eight survivors who had been aboard the St. Louis as kids. What struck me most was the resilience of these people. I noticed in one survivor’s home all the Judaica that hung on the walls. He said, “Hitler did not survive. We did.”
Host: That, indeed, is a poignant statement. Resilient. The word is applicable to Ruthie Arons. Her innocence, hope, and courage touched my heart. How did this character resonate with you?
Guest: Ruthie’s character is a composite of people I interviewed and then some. Writing in verse helped me better understand her character and how she would respond to situations.
Host: I found the verse format to be compelling. It painted a singular picture of the situation; and though the story is told through a child’s eyes, it is not childish. I was completely engaged. Barbara, tell us a little about some of the places you have visited and their connection to your books.
Guest: In 2008 I traveled to my grandparents’ “shtetlekh” in northeastern Poland to research a historical novel. While that manuscript is still in the drawer, standing on the same ground as my grandparents was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. My grandmother’s hometown of Ostrow Mazowiecka felt like my hometown.
Host: I had a similar experience when I traveled to Argentina and visited the Jewish colonies in the pampas~ the land that adopted my Russian grandparents. I felt like a time traveler. Talk about research! I would love to hear more about this manuscript, stashed away in the drawer. Will it come out soon or are you working on something else?
Guest: I have a few projects I’m working on now that I guess one could characterize as Jewish historical fiction. Too soon to talk about them in detail, but both take place in America during the Cold War.
Host: I can relate…Stories take on a life of their own; and sometimes, books understand timing better than we do! Even so, I wish you all the best with this project and in your future endeavors. It is important work. Kol hakavod! Before we sign off, is there anything else you’d like to add?
The last few months have been awfully busy. Having recently finished a rough draft of my next novel, I’ve been focused on working with my alpha readers and trying to revise, restructure and basically reinvent my ever-evolving storyline. All this is done in stolen moments in between a 10-hour work day and household responsibilities… laundry, grocery shopping, etc. Life seems but a quick succession of busy nothings when all I want to do is write. And before I knew it, Passover was upon us and I was not prepared.
Being empty-nesters, the holidays are just not the same any more, especially because my children, and family in general, are spread out across the world. But I still wanted to celebrate the occasion and preserve the traditions, so out came the cookbooks and beloved recipes. I’m not a particularly talented cook, nor am I overly ambitious. And as our diets are restricted throughout the week, I sometimes am at a loss to create things without the prohibited chometz. Or as our family haggadah indicates, we are to avoid anything that “puffs up.” As a side note—or maybe not—I think this haggadah is spot on with regard to a spiritual cleansing of pride and self-importance. Leavened breads, cakes and other yeast or flour products inflate and thicken our bodies. All year long, we are full of chometz, full of ourselves, with no room for God or anything else. For one week, we are told to eat matzah, which is flat and bland, and contemplate our lives and our freedoms. It is the complete opposite of haughtiness and puffiness.
OK, if I haven’t lost you yet, let me get back to my post…
In looking at the family favorites, I noticed how I have tweaked recipes here and there. Ingredients have been swapped out, preparations have been revised. In other words, the recipes evolved, much like my latest novel, depending on whose voice had taken the lead. Depending on which grandmother, aunt, or cousin passed it along, or from which country, culture and timeframe, the difference was notable.
Are you still with me?
I had previously written about Lady Judith Montefiore, and the impact of her cookbook on Anglo-Jewry, but started to think about food in relation to our identity. I am ethnically a Russian Jew who was born in Argentina. But I am also a (proud) naturalized citizen of the United States of America and have been highly influenced by the culture in my adopted land.
“Tell me what you eat: I will tell you what you are.”
That statement was published by Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin in 1825; and I think, it still holds true! Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver recently stated that “Dishes evolve, impacted by trade, war, famine and a hundred other forces.” I find it all fascinating and here is just one example of how recipes evolve and cultures intermingle.
Almond sweets were all the rage in Sicily; but by 1552, they had gained popularity and became known to the rest of modern-day Italy, Spain, France, and England. And across the pond, in a hand-written cookbook published by the first lady, Martha Washington’s Booke of Cookery contained a recipe for almond cookies. So, by the 17th century, we have the word macaron in French or macaroon in English. At this time, the world was also introduced to the Sicilian word maccarruni. In English, of course, we know it as macaroni.
To complicate things a bit, a fad developed in the United States in the late 1800s with the importation of coconut from India. Coconut cream pies, ambrosia and custards were very popular— as was the coconut macaroon, which suddenly began appearing in Jewish cookbooks. In 1871, Esther Levy’s Jewish Cookery Book included a recipe for this new dessert; and because they didn’t contain flour, they soon became an American Passover tradition.
Never let it be said that the French were left behind in the world of baking! Soon after coconut macaroons first appeared, bakers Gerbet and Desfontaines created a sandwich cookie by putting almond paste or ganache between two individual macarons. The new cookie was called “le macaron Parisien.” In the United States, the word macaron now referred to the French ganache cookie, leaving macaroon to describe the coconut confection we eat all throughout this holiday week.
Don’t forget the word macaroni. We think of it as elbow pasta. Right? Au contraire! In 18th century England, macaroni had an altogether different meaning. Wealthy gentlemen, who sported outlandish hairstyles and pretentious fashions, were called Macaronis. Why? Because while they did the Grand Tour across the Continent, they acquired a taste for Italian pasta, which was considered an exotic food sensation. For those of us who grew up singing “Yankee Doodle,” this explanation helps to make sense of the song. The chorus makes fun of a disheveled Yankee soldier who attempts to look fashionable. Remember? “…stuck a feather in his cap and called it macaroni.”
At this point, you may be asking yourself: How is she going to tie all these ponderings together? Don’t worry. I’ll tell you.
This year for Passover, I couldn’t find a nice brisket in my grocery store, so I chose to make an American-style pot roast. And because my husband doesn’t care for chicken soup, we ate our kneidalach (matzah balls) in Argentine-style tuco (similar to a Pomodoro sauce). I wonder what Lady Judith might have opined of my international Pesach menu. And what of our beloved, Jane Austen? Did she have an interest in food? In one of her many letters to her sister, Cassandra, she wrote:
“My mother desires me to tell you that I am a very good housekeeper, which I have no reluctance in doing, because I really think it my peculiar excellence, and for this reason – I always take care to provide such things as please my own appetite, which I consider as the chief merit in housekeeping. I have had some ragout veal, and I mean to have some haricot mutton to-morrow.”
Both of these entrées stem from French cuisine. I wonder if Jane ever dined on anything quite so exotic as pasta? I know for a fact she was acquainted with a few Macaronis—at the very least she wrote about them! I can think of a few Austen dandies, can’t you? But then again, our Miss Jane was never at a loss for words about pride…
“Vanity and pride are different things, though the words are often used synonymously. A person may be proud without being vain. Pride relates more to our opinion of ourselves; vanity, to what we would have others think of us.”
I wonder what she would have to say about Pharaoh? Talk about being “puffed up”!
Chag Pesach sameach! A good Passover to you all. Talk about timely…I began preparing this post on the same day the world heard of a new discovery by Israeli archaeologists. Do you read about it? The Israel Antiquities Authority announced that dozens of new Dead Sea Scroll fragments were found in a desert cave and, apparently, they date back to the second century A.D. The team went on to find 2,000-year-old coins, a skeleton of a child and a basket of woven reeds—very likely the oldest of its kind. Do you recall what was going on during this time period in Jerusalem? Does the Bar Kochba Revolt sound familiar? If you answered: the Jewish uprising against Rome between 132 and 136 A.D., you are correct! That brings me to today’s guest.
As soon as this author learned of the discovery of the first-century tombstone that inspired this book, Lori Banov Kaufmann wanted to know more. She was captivated by the ancient love story the stone revealed and resolved to bring it back to life.
Before becoming a full-time writer, Lori was a strategy consultant for high-tech companies. She has an AB from Princeton University and an MBA from the Harvard Business School. She lives in Israel with her husband and four adult children
Host: Lori, this latest discovery must have thrilled you beyond belief! More fodder for a sequel, perhaps? But I’m getting ahead of myself. Welcome to the blog and my series of author interviews. I understand that your book took ten years of research and diligent care, before your dream of publishing came to fruition. Please tell us all about it.
Guest: Hi Mirta. Thanks so much for having me. I’m excited to tell your readers about my new historical novel, Rebel Daughter. It’s based on the true story of a young woman in first-century Jerusalem who survives the Jewish revolt against Rome. I don’t want to reveal spoilers but let’s just say, a lot happens! It’s a tale of family, love and courage set in one of the most important periods of human history.
Host: Lori, as you may have perceived by taking a look around my site, I am drawn to the Regency, Victorian and Edwardian eras. My books strive to incorporate Jewish characters into these typically Anglican backgrounds. Tell us why you chose this particular time period, right before the destruction of the Second Temple.
Guest: That’s a great question. I was never drawn to this time period before. I’ve always loved historical fiction but for me that meant WWII or at the very latest, the Civil War! I decided to write this story after hearing about the discovery of a young woman’s two-thousand-year-old gravestone, an exciting and important archaeological find. It was the mystery behind the stone that drew me in and made me want to know more. Who was she? How did a girl from Jerusalem become a Roman woman buried in Italy? In many ways, I feel that I didn’t choose this story. It chose me.
Host: I’m still struck by the amount of work that went into this project. Tell us about your research. I’m sure that fascinating doesn’t even come close to describing your findings.
Guest: I felt an obligation to my real-life characters to tell their story as accurately as possible. I knew that there was a lot I had to imagine but I wanted everything that happened in the book to be historically plausible. So I went to a lot of archaeological sites and consulted with some of the world’s experts on this period. I remember one visit with an archaeologist to a recently excavated site in the Old City of Jerusalem. The archaeologist showed me where the stones of the road were broken. Underneath, you could see the sewage tunnels where the Jews had fled when the Romans destroyed the Temple. He and his team had found cooking pots, coins and other valuables in the tunnels. That gave me chills.
Host: I understand that sense of obligation to one’s characters. You spend so much time contemplating their thoughts and their feelings, they became like family. Did any particular character resonate with you?
Guest: My main character Esther. Even though she lived thousands of years ago, she wants what we all do – to protect our families, live our lives in freedom and dignity, and find love! Plus, she has her faults. I definitely relate to those!
Host: Do you have a favorite scene or event in the book?
Guest: That’s an interesting question. Many events in the book were quite difficult to bring to life. I wanted the the scenes to be not only historically accurate, but also emotionally true. Some of those scenes, especially of the destruction of Jerusalem, are still hard for me to read but I’m proud of them. I feel that I captured the characters’ passions, loves and fears.
Host: As you have been at work on this project for so long, dare I ask? When did you first consider yourself an author?
Guest: A better question would be how long have I wanted to write! I thought about writing for decades but then, as many of your readers know, life gets in the way. I’m not counting the little starts and stops through the years. But I only made a real commitment to myself when I turned 50. I said, “it’s now or never.” Little did I know that I would be a debut author at 61! So now I say, “better late than never!”
Host: Absolutely! I was a late bloomer as well! My empty nest turned into a writer’s haven, so to speak. Tell me about your writing process. Are you a panster or a plotter? I know it’s the catch phrase of the day, but it does fit the bill, doesn’t it?
Guest: I tried both ways and what I learned is that there is no right answer. Every one has to find what works for them. For me, it’s a combo approach. I need a general roadmap but then enough flexibility to take side-trips along the way. But I only discovered this through trial and error. Actually, many errors!
Host: And are you working on something now?
Guest: I’m working on a novel set in Charleston, South Carolina at the turn of the 20th Century. It’s loosely based on the life of my grandmother and her sisters. It’s fiction because no one would believe the real version! I grew up there and always knew I wanted to write a story set in the South. Charleston is another one of those magical cities – like Jerusalem and Rome – that takes hold of your heart and won’t let go no matter how far away you run or how long you stay away.
Host: Oh! That sounds intriguing, too! We certainly need more diversity in Jewish historical fiction. I look forward to reading your work, Lori. Before we sign off, is there anything else you’d like to add?
Guest: Thanks again for inviting me, Mirta. Here are my social media links:
Hello again! Today, we are in for a special treat. Renown Israeli author, Sara Aharoni joins us in this series of Authors’ Interviews. Sara has been a teacher, an educator and has worked as a school principal for 20 years. She also spent four years in Lima, Peru as an educational envoy of the Jewish Agency.
Together with her husband, Meir Aharoni, Sara wrote, edited and published a series of books about Israel, including six in English. She has also published six children’s books. Her third novel, Mrs. Rothschild’s Love (the English title is The First Mrs. Rothschild), went instantly to the top of the Israeli bestseller list. Aharoni received the Steimatzky Prize for Best-Selling Book of the Year.
I have read this work and found it inspiring and thought-provoking. As you all know by now, I am fascinated with this time period. The Rothschilds, the Montefiores…what these family were able to accomplish under that level of persecution and oppression is mind boggling! Let’s find out more.
Host: Welcome Sara. You have done a remarkable job bringing this family to life for me. Kol hakavod! Please set the stage for this project. How did it all come about?
Guest: Thank you for inviting me, Mirta. I’m excited to be here. As an Israeli, born and living in Israel, I write my historical novels in Hebrew, and I am happy that my book, The First Mrs. Rothschild, has been translated into English and distributed by Amazon Crossing. It presents the life story of the Rothschild family in the Judengasse (the Alley of the Jews) in Frankfurt, who rose from extreme poverty to a global economic empire. The story takes place between the years of 1770 to 1849; from the marriage of Gutle to Meir Amschel Rothschild, until her death at the age of 96. The idea of writing this book was born from my visit to the agricultural settlements in Israel under the patronage of Baron Edmond de Rothschild, the well-known philanthropist. The visit was intense and aroused in me the desire to get to know him more deeply. I started to read books about Rothschild, and the more I read, the more I felt like writing a novel about him. I continued reading and reached the roots of the Baron, his grandfather, Meir Amschel (or Mayer Anshel, it’s the same) Rothschild, who lived in the Jewish ghetto in Frankfurt and raised the family from a state of dire poverty to a great wealth. This inspired me to write the novel about the founder of the Rothschild family.
Host: I certainly can understand being intrigued by the family’s founder; however, your book is written through the eyes of his wife, Gutle. Correct?
Guest: Right. I wanted to place the wife in the center of the scene. During my research I discovered that historians wrote a lot about the founder and his five children, and very little about his wife, Gutle, and her daughters. I regretted that. I was curious to know Gutle’s character. So, I continued to read and find details about Gutle. Every piece of information I found was like a diamond. I collected all the details into a chart which turned into a puzzle I could piece together to discover her character. I found a very special woman: a modest, intelligent woman with a big heart, giving, helping each person. Her kitchen was a shelter. Anyone who wanted to pour out his heart to someone, would come to her kitchen. She knew her place as a woman (it was the 18th century), knew when to keep quiet and when to say what she thinks. She had a wise heart and great understanding. For example, she used to send shirts from Judengasse to her son Nathan in London. She knew that Nathan was a very rich man and could buy expensive shirts in London, so why did she send him shirts? Because she was worried her son was changed. He made contact with the high society and showed signs of vanity. She didn’t want him to forget where he came from. She knew that when a shirt from Judengasse would touch his skin–he would never forget where he came from.
Her modesty is self-evident. She never left the ghetto even though her children were already living in palaces and offered her rooms there. Gutle loved Meir Amshel and supported him all along. Despite his strength and energy, he needed his wife behind him. This woman captivated me, and I decided to give her a stage and pass on the family story through her.
Host: That was what had me glued to the page — Gutle’s story and her views on life, family and their place in the world. Why do you think Jewish Historical Fiction is an important, stand-alone, genre?
Guest: As an ancient people thousands of years old that spread across the globe, we have become rich in a wide range of Jewish cultures – each diaspora and its Jewish culture: culture, language and creativity. Our Jewish history is rich in events, figures, upheavals, ups and downs – great achievements in the face of terrible tragedies. All of these are immortalized in the books of history, the first of which is of course the Bible that unfolds the history of our people and is a central focus of Jewish culture for generations. I see the historical novel as an important means of combining literary fiction with historical reality, which gives the reader an opportunity to become acquainted with the world of the Jews in a fascinating way. I sometimes hear history teachers say that the historical novel can bring students closer to history lessons. I consider it important that future generations become acquainted with Jewish history, and the historical novel is an integral part of the means of realizing this.
Host: And how would you differentiate a history book from a historical novel?
Guest: The fiction in the historical novel is adapted to the historical facts and fills in the gaps, the same gaps that the history books skip over, such as the moves of the mind, descriptions of emotions and thoughts, and the influence of these on the chain of events. For example, regarding my book, The First Mrs. Rothschild, historical sources indicate that Gutle, the wife of the founder, Meir Amshel Rothschild, gave birth to 19 children, of whom 10 survived. I must not change this basic fact. But I think as a woman, as a mother, as a writer – a mother who loses one baby feels she has lost her world. Gutle lost 9 children. The historian does not dwell on the mental state of the grieving mother. His role is to describe the sequence of events. In the historical novel I was given the opportunity to fill in the blanks and give a broad canvas to the loss. The historical novel develops in the reader an interest in the character and period. In The First Mrs. Rothschild, the historical background is woven throughout the novel: the Napoleonic Wars, the French Revolution, the Industrial Revolution, the Damascus plot. Quite a few readers turn after reading the historical novel to other sources to enrich their knowledge of the period.
Host: As an Israeli author, do you have any thoughts on what the Diaspora considers a Jewish book? By that I mean, Israel and the Jewish community at large, is a diverse and unique culture, yet—here in America—we tend to focus on two narratives: The Holocaust and Fiddler on the Roof-type themes. There is obviously so much more to talk (and read) about.
Guest: Within the Jewish story, Jewish culture is intertwined with the holidays and customs, such as Shabbat. It is not there as a title and is not dominant in the story, but is a natural part of the characters’ lifestyle and general atmosphere. It is a culture that accompanies us throughout history, it has created for us the special identity as a people, and it must be given expression. It is part of the respect for the faith and the Jewish people.
Host: Sara, tell us about your first book, Saltanat’s Love. I understand this was the impetus for your career as a historical fiction novelist.
Guest: My first novel was based on my mother’s life as a Jewish girl growing up in Iran. Through the story the reader is introduced to the lives and culture of Iranian Jews in the 30’s and 40’s of the 20th century. How did it happen? On a trip together with my mother in Europe, she told me the story of her life. I’ve already heard her story with my brothers when we were little, but in those days, it was as if my mother took a strainer with small holes and only part of reality was heard. That is, we were spared all sensitive parts. During that trip in Europe, I was already an adult and myself a mother of children. Mother allowed herself to throw away the sieve and tell me the whole story. I heard the story and remembered that when we were little, Mother used to say: ” All I went through would make a book.” And now, when I hear the whole story, including the sensitive parts, I understand that this is a story to be written. I decided to write the book as a novel. The great and unexpected success of my debut novel made me decide to continue writing novels, or rather, historical novels.
Host: Have you visited any of the locations you have written about?
Guest: After reading so much books, letters and documents, I felt a need to physically get to the places where the Rothschilds lived. The first place I wanted to reach was Judengasse. But I knew I had no chance, because at the end of the World War II, the United States bombed Frankfurt, and the street was completely destroyed. But where the Rothschilds’ house once stood, they set up a museum – the Judengasse Museum. The visit to the museum left a strong impression on me. I saw the miniature structure of the street with the wooden houses, the reconstruction of a section of the street, including a ritual bath, the attire and the accessories they used, and the large pictures hanging on the walls. I will describe to you one of the pictures called “The Jewish Sow.” It was a relief placed above the gate of the city of Frankfurt and was in front of the passers-by every day. The picture shows a large sow on which a rabbi is riding. The rebbe raises the tail of the sow so that another rabbi will eat from its feces. There are Jewish children sucking from her nipples, and on the side, the devil stands and watches with pleasure.
I saw this picture in many books I read. But in the museum, I stood frozen in front of the big picture for a long time that I cannot measure, but long enough for me, to express the novel in this picture. On the journey to the Rothschilds I also reached London and Paris.
Host: I can well imagine being paralyzed standing in front of such an atrocity. The cruelty of being forced to live under such conditions, of being constantly reminded of what the outside world thought of you and your people…it is a testament to their faith and perseverance that the Rothschilds, and others of that generation, were able to overcome such prejudice and persecution. You describe these daily events so well. I was transported. I love this quote: “Dignity is a powerful thing. We shall use it to break through the walls of the ghetto and set ourselves free.” Do you have a favorite scene from the book?
Guest: My favorite scene is Gutle’s visit with her mother in the Forbidden Public Park. Every leaf, butterfly, branch and shrub is a world in its entirety for someone who has dreamed of coming to the garden all her life but the garden was on the list of prohibitions imposed on her and the Jews of Frankfurt. This scene makes it possible to raise the difficult reflections regarding the injustice done to the Jews. Here is excerpt:
“Look, Gutaleh, how pretty this garden is.”
Mama tightened her grip. Her eyes sparkled. I looked at the glory of the garden. A carpet of beauty spread before me, as if to say, “Here I am! And where have you been this whole time?” My eyes took in the sights. All the wonders of the world could not compare to the splendor of this place. I felt I had to hurry up and drink in this luscious view.
Suddenly, I felt sad. The thought of all we had been deprived of until now filled me, pushing away the brilliance before me, threatening to take hold of my mind. Our people’s cruel fate was knocking on the door to my heart. I watched my mother, her burning eyes. She was living the moment, leaving the past behind. I must be like her, enjoy these moments to capacity. I mustn’t wallow in darkness. I must regain my senses. At that moment, I recognized that other smell. It was the aroma of freedom. Freedom smells intoxicating, superior to all other scents. I would always remember my first whiff of freedom.
Host: That was a powerful scene! Tell us, are you working on something now?
Guest: I am in an advanced stage of writing the next historical novel, about a Jewish historical figure. I hope it will also be translated into English.
Host: Thank you for joining us today, Sara. It was such a treat! Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Guest: Thank you very much for interviewing me. I’ve enjoyed sharing this time with you. If you want more information about me or my book, here is the link to Amazon: