Monday, March 2, 2015

On Not Reading a Book

I didn't read the book for the December meeting of the Memoir Workshop I teach at StoryStudio Chicago. If the instructor doesn't read the assigned book, that's pretty bad, right? Of course I felt guilty; I'm usually conscientious about reading the books for my workshops and the books I review or whose authors I interview (this apparently isn't a given). But I also felt oddly proud.

{Read the rest of my essay in the Washington Independent Review of Books.} And let me know if you've ever abandoned a book you were supposed to read and how you felt about that.


Thursday, February 26, 2015

Dreaming of a Turkish Bath House



Blame it on the cold winter we are having in Chicago, but I am dreaming of the Turkish Bath House in Akko, Israel. The place itself is a dream, because it is not a functioning bath house anymore, but rather one of the sites you can visit on a tour of historic Akko. A bodiless voice guides you through this 18th century Ottoman hamam, pretending to belong to the last bath house attendant, a hereditary position.



 

In the first room, people would gather to socialize, smoke, trade gossip, and acclimatize to the steamy heat. Belongings would be placed in these "lockers" before moving on to the actual baths and steam rooms.



The light dims and doors open magically to usher you from one room to the next.




Life size statues populate the bath house, as if frozen mid-action by some magical power.



 


Light streams in through a sieve-like dome roof.




Time for a rub down.



The ultra green lime tree in the bath house courtyard. Yes, dreams of green, too!



Today's bath house attendant...


PS: These photos were taken during my July 2014 trip to Israel, when the bath house was cooler inside than the arid heat outside.


Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Interview with Sarah Wildman


In December I interviewed Sarah Wildman about her book Paper Love. This was a particular privilege because Paper Love is my kind of story: figuring out what happened in a family's past to see how those events and memories influenced the future. You can read the interview here.

Wildman went to amazing lengths to piece together what happened to her grandfather's first love after finding her letters after her grandfather's (and her grandmother's) death. While I have been on a similar quest myself (traveling to Europe to retrace the steps of family members during WWII), it nevertheless fascinates me that writers should go to so much trouble to reconstruct the past. So I was glad that I could ask her why she did this.

You will find most of our conversation in the interview, but I'll share one question here that I had to cut from the published version due to word count limits:

AG: In the movie Charlotte Gray, the protagonist, a British spy in Vichy France, states, as one of her Jewish benefactors is carted away, “there must be something to be set against all this.” She types a letter and makes it out to be from the already deported parents of two children who are with him and pushes it through the door slits of the moving freight train. Do you feel Paper Love is something to set against all this? A way to pull at least one Jew from the obliteration the Nazis sought?

Sarah Wildman: Well, not to sound grandiose, but this was in no small part a major motivation for this book: To push back against the obliteration. To take one woman and tell her story as fully as I possibly could. To rescue – without sounding grand – one person from obscurity, and let her story tell us something about what so many experienced, without completely universalizing her path, by allowing her back, for one small moment, the dignity of her own individuality.  I hope I have achieved that.