Tag Archives: Feminist themes

Dear J. D. Vance,

Dear J. D. Vance,

Hillbilly Elegy

Hillbilly Elegy

Thank you for Hillbilly Elegy. Your writing is so accessible and straightforward that as I read, I felt you were talking to me. But if you had been talking to me, you’d be the first Scots-Irish Rust Belter I’ve ever had the opportunity to converse with. I’m one of those coastally oriented urban liberals who doesn’t know many folks who don’t share her politics. So your book was an opportunity for me to hear from somebody who might help me understand all those angry unemployed white men I heard so much about during the recent presidential campaign. You gave a voice to a group of people I would otherwise never meet.

But I read your best-selling memoir not only to learn about you and others from the Rust Belt. I also read it to learn about memoir writing because I’d like to write one. I was immediately struck by the way you introduce yourself and your story: “My name is J. D. Vance, and I think I should start with a confession. . . .”  You don’t “sound” like a hillbilly. You sound like an extremely reliable and smart narrator who’s taking me into his confidence from the get-go. Your professed openness and your simple vocabulary prepared me to read a memoir that is both credible and unpretentiously written.

Next you assure readers that you’re not telling your life story to chronicle something “extraordinary” that you’ve achieved. This was immediately reassuring to me because my life has not been extraordinary in either achievement or debacle, factors which, separately or together, fuel many memoirs. Instead, you explain that you are using your life story to illustrate how a kid from a poor and very screwed up family in a decaying steel town achieved something “quite ordinary” for many American

Yale Law School Logo

Yale Law School Logo

young people. You went to college, graduated, and got yourself accepted to Yale Law School in spite of obstacles neither I nor most of your classmates faced. You had considerable support from your less than perfect mom, your tough old-time grandparents and your sister. Their love fostered your aspiration to join the white collar work world which meant getting an education. So in that way you differed from many of the other kids in Middletown, Ohio. But even so, your path to college and grad school wasn’t easy.

Vance and Grandmother

Vance and Grandmother

You claim that you were able to accomplish what you did not because you are especially brilliant, but rather because this “handful of loving people rescued” you. These “loving people,” most notably your hillbilly grandparents, were hardly poster people for parenting a homeless teen. But those grandparents saw that you could not flourish in your mom’s care. She was addicted to pain killers and attracted a series of stepfathers each of whom you had to learn to love and then lose. So Mamaw and Papaw, stepped up and did the best they could. And you acknowledge that four years in the marines between college and law school helped too.

U. S. Marine /corps Logo

U. S. Marine /corps Logo

You mention the “spiritual and material poverty” of the community you grew up in. To contextualize this sad state, you trace the history of the Scots-Irish migration from Appalachia to the Midwest and the remarkable persistence of the values they brought with them such as loyalty and patriotism. But there are others, equally persistent. One of these is a historical preference for whiteness. Along with that goes a distrust of outsiders and/or those who appear different from themselves. Introspection is not highly prized, but being tough and willing to fight to defend one’s family is. You point out that a man will battle fiercely to defend the honor of his mom or his sister, and then, after marrying, he’ll cheat on his wife and joke about it with his buddies. At the recent Women’s March in Seattle, I thought of those wives.

Unlike many, you don’t think that having more manufacturing jobs is the silver bullet that will bring back the good times before the local steel mill closed. Rather you show how over the generations various factors, especially drug use and the resulting breakdown of families, contributed to the failure of many Scots-Irish to embrace the work

Closed Steel Mill

Closed Steel Mill

ethic they profess to hold dear. Unaccustomed to self-examination, when they are fired for not doing their jobs, they blame their bosses. “How could he fire me? I have a pregnant girlfriend!” Or they blame “outsiders” or the government. You comment on how a man has energy enough to sire eight kids, but not enough energy to work to support them.

Parents appear oblivious to the effect of their neglect, instability, and poverty on their children. You illustrate through your own story how difficult it is for a youngster to do well in school with no one to make him do his homework, let alone help him with it, with no quiet place in which to study, and with hunger and high level domestic drama as constants. And you note again that there persists also a stubborn refusal to examine one’s own behavior, accept responsibility for it, and try to change it.

Before I read Hillbilly Elegy, I assumed that many white Midwesterners in the Rust Belt were Evangelical Christians. But the folks you describe have drifted far from organized religion of any kind. You say that the churches they once attended were more judgmental than supportive, so when times got hard, their members turned to drugs or booze. But what unchurched Rust Belters have in common with many fundamentalists of any stripe is the almost inchoate realization that modernity─ globalization, diversity, feminism, technology, new jobs requiring new skills ─ threatens those enduring values they brought with them from Appalachia and which still seem to be the bulk of their belief system. And it is this culture that you expose and yet still identify with. For although you have gotten that education, the white collar position, the lawyer wife and the cherished kids who will never wonder where they are sleeping or who is the daddy of the month, you identify still as a hillbilly.

As a would-be memoirist, I envy you your underexposed background. Perhaps because not too many hillbillies write memoirs, your upbringing seems exotic and makes me almost wish my own tribe, Jews descended from immigrant Eastern European Jews, had not been chronicled quite so extensively. While Scots-Irish avoid self-examination, many of my landsmen (and women) have filled library and bookstore shelves with lengthy accounts of neuroses caused by their overly protective Jewish moms, by poverty or affluence, by immigration, or, of course, by antisemitism. I’ll have to find something unique in my own background or an especially intriguing way of describing it to justify my desire to leave behind yet another story of yet another nice Jewish girl.

J. D. Vance

J. D. Vance

In Hillbilly Elegy you explain why so many American white men feel left behind, forgotten, and frightened by the whirlwind of changes in our country and our world. Since their migration north, they seem incapable of taking any action of their own to adapt. They remind me a little bit of those Jews who refused to believe that the Nazis would invade the countries where these same Jews held respected positions and led gratifying lives. So they ignored the warnings of their relatives abroad and stayed in Europe until it was too late to leave. I hope Hillbilly Elegy inspires many of your friends and relatives to prepare themselves and their children for the world as it really is rather than for the one they would like to revive. This book is a great gift from you to them and to those of us seeking to understand them. It took great love of kin and country as well as great courage to write it.  Thank you.

Sincerely,

Jane Isenberg

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Filed under Memoir, Uncategorized

Dear Geraldine Brooks,

The Secret ChordDear Geraldine Brooks, Thank you for The Secret Chord. Your retelling of the life of King David interested me because I was eager to see how you, a Pulitzer Prize winning novelist http://geraldinebrooks.com, would portray David, already the subject of many bios. My own next project will probably be a memoir, and I suspected that your treatment of David’s life had much to teach me about how to describe my own. I was right. Your use of Natan the prophet as storyteller is a brilliant way of capturing David’s exploits in words. The way you made Natan himself not only a trusted narrator but a full-fledged character in the drama of his king makes the story of David’s life credible and gripping.Natan and David

According to Natan, voicing the future in the name of God is painful and tiring work. When he is about to deliver a message from the deity he experiences crippling nausea and headaches and often loses consciousness. His body and voice are, it would seem, no longer his to control. To keep himself fit to serve his king and his god, Natan lives a life of celibacy, vigilance, and moderation. So our narrator is not a warrior or a lover or an aspiring king but rather a prophet, a teacher, a scholar and a diligent and thorough biographer. David trusts him and so did I. As I read, Natan’s voice was the one I cared about most. It occurred to me that I need a Natan to help me tell my own story! Otherwise how can I make readers heed my voice and care about me and my life which, compared to David’s, was and is uneventful.

King David

The David Natan reports on was not the one I learned about in Sunday school. That David was a sheep-herding boy-poet skilled with a lyre and a slingshot who grew up to be a fearless warrior, a gifted psalmist, and a beloved king. No. Natan tells us of a David, outcast and abused as a child, who becomes a shrewd and ruthless general, and an ambitious and wise but sometimes folly-prone human king not unlike some of the leaders we admire or deplore today.

I keep telling myself that even though I am not a warrior or a queen or a best-selling writer, I too, have lived through tumultuous times, the second half of the Twentieth Charleton Heston as MosesCentury as well as the beginning of the Twenty-first. Natan used David’s epic story to make us see what life was like for women and men in biblical times. The phrase “biblical times” once made me think of robed people in the desert either getting a tablet of instructions from Charlton Heston or being crucified. Likewise I associated the word tribalism with certain outdated cultural practices and the current United States Congress. In David’s era, each tribe was an extended patriarchal family whose men were expected to defend it from attack and attack others to extend its reach. The king’s power was absolute. He inspired rivals including his own children. Thanks to your research, I now understand how and why fratricide, incest, infanticide, rape, murder, adultery, and theft all figured in David’s life.

Such a life should not go undocumented, right? You see to it that Natan convinces David to leave behind a written account of his story and, of course, the king chooses the prophet himself to write it. You also see to it that David gives his biographer the names of people to interview about his early years and grants them permission to speak the truth. Natan takes us on these interviews and so we “see” David’s mother, his oldest brother, and his first wife, through Natan’s eyes and “hear” their stories through his ears.

BathshebaNatan also hears from David’s other wives. According to Batsheva she is not the siren I learned about in Sunday school. She bathed on her roof not to tempt the king but to escape the leers of injured veterans her husband had invited to their home and given work. David sent soldiers for her, repeatedly and brutally raped her, and tossed her aside. She lived in fear of being stoned to death should her first husband, one of David’s generals, discover that she had dishonored him. David goes so far as to have that first husband killed. Batsheva also offers insight into how self-serving Natan’s attempt to defend David is, thus making the prophet human too. After calling David a monster, she tells Natan that “…you choose to look away from the truth. You let your love for him blind you.” So much for our “reliable” narrator!

Because I am considering how to credibly present the significant people and events in my own life, I especially appreciate how you created a seemingly unbiased narrator only to expose his bias in the end and add yet another layer to your rich story. Can I be unbiased in recounting my own life story? Or, better yet, can I devise a different way or voice to reveal it? And is my comparatively mundane life worth documenting in the first place? Will it have meaning to others? Does that matter to me now?

So many questions!

Not so much. Lately scenes from my own life are replaying in my head. I usually put the characters and scenes that persist in my head into books. So now I find myself eager to capture my own memories on the page. Years ago, near the end of my teaching career, I wrote Going by the Book, a memoir about my seven year apprenticeship as a teacher. So now as my seventy-sixth birthday approaches, it seems appropriate to describe my lifelong apprenticeship as a writer. Like David, I need a plausible perspective, narrator, or voice to help me do this. And, Ms Brooks, your story reminds me of that. You made the relationship between David and Natan become part of your narrative and by doing so gave both men the depth they need to be interesting and credible. Thank you.

Pulitzer Price Winner

Pulitzer Prize Winner

Sincerely,

Jane Isenberg

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Filed under Jewish fiction, Uncategorized

Dear Virginia Woolf,

A Room of One's Own

A Room of One’s Own

Thank you for A Room of One’s Own which I read as a freshman in college in 1958 and didn’t fully appreciate. The scaffold on which your brilliant series of lectures on women and fiction balances so solidly is “— a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction . . . .”  Simple, right? What’s not to understand? Even with your witty encapsulation of women’s history and astute critiques of the work of women writers you admire, I still didn’t get it, didn’t see how your edict applied to modern middle-class only-child, eighteen-year-old freshman me. Then I graduated, married a grad student, took a teaching job that paid $4,850 a year, acquired debts, and had kids anyway.

I responded to my students’ papers at a small “ladies” desk in a corner of the dining room in our apartment or, more often, at the kitchen table.

Lady's Desk

Lady’s Desk

When we moved to Hoboken, I continued to teach and did my paperwork on a desk made of a door bridging two metal

Writing at Kitchen Table

Writing at Kitchen Table

file cabinets in a corner of our bedroom. Sitting there listening to a husband’s snores, I recalled your pronouncement. You were right. I didn’t begin writing for publication until my first husband died, leaving life insurance sufficient to send our kids to college and my parents died leaving me enough money to pay debts, stop teaching extra classes, and even contemplate my eventual retirement. By this time I was fifty years old and in grad school myself.

I installed my first computer in the corner of the middle room on the bedroom floor of our row house. This room boasted no windows but offered a lovely view of the bathroom immediately to my left and a front row seat at the practice sessions of my son, who was learning blues guitar in the adjacent bedroom. My nook was also a great spot for overhearing my daughter’s phone conversations and the footsteps of our exuberant upstairs neighbors. It was in this shared space that I wrote Going by the Book.

Woman Writing in Closet

Woman Writing in Closet

Once both of my kids were in college and stopping home only occasionally, I moved my PC into a reconfigured closet in my daughter’s room. Emboldened, I replaced her bed with a pullout sofa bed and an end table and lo! An office! And most of the time it was all mine. Here I wrote the first three Bel Barrett Mysteries. And here I came to truly understand and appreciate your marvelous insights into women and fiction. We need money and rooms of our own, yes indeed.

Mrs. Dalloway

Mrs. Dalloway

In grad school, I elected to take a course focused entirely on your fiction and met the memorable British matron Mrs. Dalloway, protagonist of your novel named for her. After reading just a paragraph, I felt Clarissa’s experiences and her inner life resembled my own. We shared a zest for hostessing and for morning air. Like me she reflected on the friends and suitors of her long-gone youth. But our ruminations are not all about the past. From her window she sees her own grim future in the bedtime routine of the very old lady across the street just as I had read my future in the lines of my late mother’s face.

Woman's Lined face

Woman’s Lined face

Clarissa and I both enjoyed walking in our respective cities. In London on her oh-so-genteel errand, buying flowers for her party, Clarissa confronts the sounds, smells, and sights of a metropolis full of folks recovering, or not, from World War I while I, walking  the streets of Hoboken and Manhattan, came face to face with the homeless and dislocated. Clarissa and I are distressed by our confrontations with present realities as well as by thoughts of the future.  Clarissa’s daughter’s liaison with a foreign female tutor as well as Clarissa’s own recollection of her attraction to a childhood girlfriend, remind her that, for better or worse, it is the Twentieth Century and all the frocks, good crystal, and obedient servants will not stop Big Ben from inexorably marking the passing of time.

Big Ben

Big Ben

            Into Clarissa’s day of reunions, reminiscences, and party preparations you weave the day of Septimus Warren, a misdiagnosed veteran of the War suffering from what we have come to know too well as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. While Clarissa muses on her old boyfriend, her choice of husband, and her penchant for party-giving, Septimus hears terrible voices which evoke nightmarish visions of bloody battle scenes and irreparable loss. To your credit, news of Septimus’s death intertwines seamlessly with Clarissa’s life when, to her dismay, a party guest mentions it. “Always her body went through it first . . . ; her dress flamed, her body burnt. . . .”  At the time I read Mrs. Dalloway, a member of my writing group was working on her dissertation, a study of PTSD experienced by nurses who had served in Viet Nam, and like Clarissa, I was moved by their war-caused suffering.

Virginia Woolf

Virginia Woolf

Like Joyce’s Leopold Bloom and Faulkner’s Benjy Compson, Clarissa Dalloway lets the reader into her head, makes this reader privy to her feelings and the thoughts they inspire, half-formed, fleeting, and unedited. But unlike Leopold Bloom and Benjy Compson, Clarissa Dalloway is a woman, a full-grown upper-class female whose reflections on love, aging, marriage, motherhood, patriotism, and war moved me while also adding to my understanding of women of her time and place. And, as you taught me, understanding women who came before us enables us to figure out our own place in the world and, if necessary, to work to change it.

Sincerely,

Jane Isenberg

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Dear Myla Goldberg,

The False Friend

The False Friend

Thank you for your stunning novel, The False Friend.  I read it while I was in a neck brace recovering from cervical fractures and craving distraction from my initial failure to sleep very long sitting up. The delayed reaction of thirty-one-year-old Celia to her part in the death of her childhood friend Djuna back in the eighties drew me in at once. Djuna and Celia, leaders of their clique of five eleven-year-old girls, mercilessly criticize and/or exclude the other three

Little Red Riding Hood

Little Red Riding Hood

until the afternoon when Djuna disappears. On the way home from school, all five girls take a forbidden road bordered by a woods, a forest primeval right out of Grimm. In the heat of one of her stormy fights with Celia, Djuna stomps off the road into the thicket. Infuriated, Celia follows while the others wait. Celia returns alone. Djuna is never seen again. Has Djuna gotten into a stranger’s brown car as all the girls, including Celia, attest to the police and parents at the time? Or has she fallen down an abandoned well where Celia left her to die as Celia insists after a kind of epiphany two decades later?

Celia’s shocking revelation took me right back to my own long ago girlhood. Were any surprises lurking there? Had I, like Celia and Djuna, once been

Mean Girls

Mean Girls

what today we think of as a “mean girl?” Had I been a victim of mean girls? Had I been part of a close but volatile best friendship like Celia and Djuna’s when I was eleven? I honestly don’t recall ever picking on another kid, but I do recall being ridiculed one endless summer in sleepover camp. The very first night when I stripped down to my undershirt, I learned that my busty bra-wearing bunkmates had no compassion for late bloomers. They taunted me mercilessly. Somehow, I survived even though, in addition to being flat chested, I was neither pretty nor athletic nor adventuresome like Celia. These traits made her a leader in spite of her mean streak. By eleven I had friends, but none close enough to fight with. Besides, my parents fought so much that I became a chronic peace maker.

Peace Maker

Peace Maker

Like many of my classmates at a Passaic High School reunion I once attended, Celia has changed. As an adult it is her kindness and generosity that make it so hard for her loved ones to believe she might have ever harbored a mean let alone murderous impulse. So at thirty-one, her efforts to confirm her new insight into her role in Djuna’s death drive her to reexamine her relationship with not only her childhood friends, but also with Huck, her boyfriend of ten years, her parents and her brother. Inevitably these efforts change her relationship with her adult self and with those she loves. When she dares to face the implications and repercussions of her actions, even belatedly, she can better appreciate and understand who she has become and that may free her to change. Some of us turn to therapists to help us develop fresh insights into ourselves and bring about changes, but Celia does it pretty much alone in one harrowing week, and your account of it is filled with the suspense of a good mystery or adventure story.

Your novel is so rewarding not only because your story of a woman at a turning point in her life is inherently interesting but because you are a superb writer, reconfiguring

No Bully Zone

No Bully Zone

potent archetypes, themes, and settings to keep us pasted to each page. Like that earlier little girl in the woods en route to grandma’s, Celia and her girlfriends are both vulnerable and powerful, their eleven-year-old bodies suddenly playing host to hormones their tween brains have yet to understand. Without once using the word “bully,” you shed light on that age-old archetype too, making readers see it as complex and often subconscious behavior that it is possible to outgrow. I so appreciate your avoidance of psychobabble!

Instead, your prose approaches the poetic, making us experience with Celia the busy urban intersection where, looking at the curb, she has her revelation: “Downtown Chicago streamed around Celia in a blur of wingtips and pumps.” When you want to make clear the appeal Djuna and Celia had for the girls who sought them out, you tell us: “At any given moment Djuna and Celia were a party the others were desperate to attend, or a traffic accident too spectacular to avoid.” Your novel includes many lengthy descriptive passages detailing Celia’s hometown and the house where she grew up and where her folks still live. Had you not described these so brilliantly that they somehow conjure up the reader’s origins as well, many editors would have insisted that you shorten them. But that would have been a travesty. Celia’s relationship with her past is rooted in remembering and these specifics help her and your readers to understand what she recalls. Your use of description as a memory aid will inspire me as I tackle my next book.

Thank you for another superb novel!

Sincerely,

Jane Isenberg

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Filed under Coming of age story, feminist fiction, mystery, Uncategorized

Dear Henry James,

The Turn of the Screw

The Turn of the Screw

Now I’m grateful to you for writing The Turn of the Screw, but I didn’t really understand it the first time I read your short scary novel.  That was way back in

Haunted Manor House

Haunted Manor House

1959 when I was a freshman at Vassar taking English 105 and your creepy ghost story was on the syllabus. I remember reading of an aging governess who recounts how, when young, she was charged with the care and education of Dora and Miles, two adorable orphaned children living in a manor house in rural England. This desolate place makes Thornfield where Jane Eyre was posted seem a hotbed of mirth and festivity.

In 1959 I immediately identified with the governess who, like me, was young, inexperienced, and away from home. She is also under-appreciated by her handsome, wealthy, sophisticated employer. To her dismay, he literally wants nothing to do with her or her charges and refuses to reveal how their previous governess died. So when the new governess claims to see malevolent ghosts of former servants, I felt really sorry for her. Even though I didn’t believe in ghosts, I trusted her, so I assumed the former caregiver and her consort had returned and wished to frighten away the replacement nanny so they could be alone once again with the children. In other words, like most of my classmates, I was fully convinced that the narrator saw what she said she did.

Ghosts

Ghosts

I’ve always been credulous. When I was six, my father, who usually ranted against all things sugary, told me we were making a visit to a candy factory, and I believed him. I still remember how I screamed and struggled when I found myself in our doctor’s office with an ether-soaked cloth over my face. I awakened at home, my throat sore and my tonsils gone. Two decades later when someone phoned alleging to be a doctoral student in Yale’s school of Psychology surveying people about their sex lives for his dissertation, I carefully and fully answered his many questions.  Only after my husband informed me that there was no Yale School of Psychology and chastised me for my gullibility did I realize I’d been hoodwinked.

I swallowed whole just about everything I read, including the governess’s recollections as recounted in The Turn of the Screw. But when my class met, our professor introduced us to the possibility that the narrator, the governess herself, was unreliable, was maybe even crazy. Who knew? What a revelation! The idea that you, a highly respected author, would deliberately devise a narrator who twisted the truth shocked me as had my realization of my father’s perfidy and the lies of the “doctoral student” asking all those personal questions. After class I hurried back to the dorm and reread your book, noting the clues Professor McGrew mentioned and finding a few on my own. Reading so actively engaged my imagination in a new way. I felt I was inside the novel, not merely observing it unfold. Suddenly your “ghost story” became a psychological thriller and/or a case study of a disturbed young woman living in a time not overly kind to lovelorn working class girls.

The ghost of your governess haunts me still, so I decided to include an unreliable narrator in The Bones and the Book.  Aliza, a long-dead diarist writes her own story in her diary and Rachel Mazursky translates it from Yiddish to English. When she finds missing pages and realizes that Aliza hoped her children would one day read what she wrote, Rachel wonders exactly how honest Aliza’s account of her life really is. This adds a whole other layer to the characters of both the diarist and the translator.

It doesn’t surprise me that The Turn of the Screw has been made into a play, movies, TV dramas, and an opera and that it retains its place on syllabi. It’s a winner and

Turn of the Screw Movie

Turn of the Screw Movie

reading it changed the way I read everything else. Now when I begin to read a new book, I ask myself, “Who’s telling the story? Can I trust her/him?”  Not all readers agree that the governess is delusional and has gone over to the dark side herself, but this interpretation satisfies me and fills me with admiration for your layering and complex characterization. You gave new life to the ghost story. Thank you.

Sincerely,

Jane Isenberg

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Filed under American classic, British mystery, feminist fiction, mystery, Uncategorized

Dear Bharati Mukherjee,

I wasn’t prepared to enjoy your novel Jasmine because it’s an immigrant saga and I’d tired of them even before I learned to read. My paternal grandparents were part of that “wretched refuse” washed up on America’s shores to sweat and slave so that my dad and his siblings could either become lawyers and optometrists or marry them. Even though those long-suffering Old World ancestors worked themselves to death years before I was born, my parents fed me their stories of sacrifice and struggle along with my Pabulum and formula. Every time I heard the words, “When she was your age, your grandma . . .” I longed to stick my fingers in my ears and my nose in the pages of a book about those all-American March sisters or that lucky little girl who lived with her normal parents in their cozy sod cottage out west.

Dan Short

But Jasmine is an imaginary immigrant, a fairy tale survivor with looks and chutzpah. Her equally imaginary grandchildren will hear how a gutsy teenager from an impoverished Punjabi village made the proverbial “better life” for herself in an America that was ripping the welcome mat right out from under the latest generations of huddled masses. Jasmine’s children will brag to their kids about how their mother, destined to be widowed and exiled, defied that grim forecast to become an American woman who determines her own fate. The instant I finished the novel, I added it to the syllabus of a course called Cultures and Values I was teaching at a community college in Jersey City, New Jersey.

International Art and Culture Agency

As an English prof, you surely know the risks inherent in rereading a much-loved book with students. For me it was like having a non-Jewish friend at our Seder table. I hope her enjoyment of the familiar chicken soup will inspire her to try the gefilte fish or at least to refrain from gagging audibly when I serve it. To my immigrant students in the Nineties, the quick-witted and lovely Jasmine was chicken soup, a superwoman sister. Her struggles were epic versions of their own and her conquests nourished their souls. But they had trouble understanding why the young widow fled the familiar but constraining comforts of the Punjabi community in Queens to seek out the real America.

Google Images

For my students the America that Jasmine explores was foreign, as much puzzle as Promised Land, more gefilte fish than chicken soup. It’s a place where many people, even women, routinely take fate into their own hands. One teenager in my class, promised to a man she’d never met still in Pakistan, asked, “Why would Jasmine’s employer, a successful career woman, divorce her husband, the father of her child, just because she fell in love with someone else?” A young male classmate from Kenya was astounded when Jasmine encounters a childless woman undergoing treatments to remedy her infertility. “The doctor can heal this woman so she can have a son? For sure?” I kept your moving and evocative book in the syllabus, and every time I reread it, I was struck by the appeal a well-crafted immigrant narrative has for all of us.

Meanwhile, I was conflicted about my own Jewish roots, and I resolved that someday I would write a novel about a Jewish immigrant girl who, like Jasmine, and unlike my grandparents, breaks with the constrictions and comforts of her culture to shape her own life. But it wasn’t until years later when I found myself out of my own comfort zone─ hundreds of miles from a good Jewish deli and often the only Jew in the room─ that I actually did. And your fictional Jasmine  helped me dream up Feigele Lindner, one of the protagonists of The Bones and the Book. So thank you for creating Jasmine and for your gifted telling of her story.

Sincerely,

Jane Isenberg

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Filed under Coming of age story, feminist fiction, Immigrant story, unpublished