I'm always excited to share author Q&A articles with you and I'm particularly interested in letting you know more about fellow Canadian, Jewish writers. I heard about Sharon from a mutual friend from Toronto and, as often happens, she suddenly appeared on my Linked-In and we connected right away.
Sharon Hart-Green is a Canadian writer and academic whose debut novel Come Back for Me (New Jewish Press/ University of Toronto Press) is a gripping story of trauma, loss, and the redemptive power of love. Come Back for Me was chosen as an Editors' Choice Book by the Historical Novel Society and was recently shortlisted for the Goethe Award for Historical Fiction. Dr. Green holds a Ph.D. in Judaic Studies from Brandeis University and has served as an Associate Professor of Hebrew and Yiddish literature at the University of Toronto for many years. She is the author of two previous non-fiction works: a book on the fiction of Hebrew writer S.Y. Agnon; and a volume of original translations of the Hebrew poetry of Hava Pinhas-Cohen. In addition, her short stories, poems, translations, and reviews have appeared in numerous publications, including The Jewish Review of Books and The Jewish Quarterly.
Please welcome Sharon Hart-Green!
GILA GREEN (GG): What brought you to write this new novel? An inspiration? An experience?
SHARON HART-GREEN (SHG): I'm not sure if I set out with a distinct plan to write a particular story, at least not on a conscious level. The novel just seemed to "emerge" from a place deep within me. However, on reflection, I believe that in writing Come Back for Me, I was trying to understand the lingering effects of historical trauma, and how it travels through the generations. Although I am not the child of Holocaust survivors, it seems that from the youngest age I was drawn to stories about survival. Perhaps it was because as a child, my best friend was the daughter of Holocaust survivors, and I spent an enormous amount of time with her and her family.That family, battered by loss and trauma, was so different than mine. Yet I sensed the commonality between our Jewish families despite the stark disparity of historical experience.
As I grew older and the details about that dark period of history came into sharper focus, there was something else that mystified me. I was baffled by the uncanny fact that many of the survivors I encountered had gone on to live relatively happy and productive lives (at least on the surface). How was it that some individuals were able to transcend their own suffering? What was the secret of their resilience?
GG: What themes are you exploring in this novel?
SHG: Human resilience in the post-war period is clearly one of the major themes of the novel.Yet, on a more subtle level, I think that the novel also shows the insidious consequences of anti-Semitism, especially as it affects the behaviour of modern Jews. The novel depicts some of the ways in which Jews try to deny or hide their Jewish identity. In fact, I tend to wonder whether the fear of victimization is at the root of this phenomenon. Has it been internalized by most Jews, even those who were not directly affected by the Holocaust? After all, it wasn't that many years ago that being Jewish meant being targeted for death. It would make sense then that even those who are not Holocaust survivors might feel that being a Jew is too risky and therefore feel the need to escape. This is one of the sub-layers of the book that I hope will stimulate discussion among my readers.
GG: What sort of experience can readers expect from this novel? Is it humorous? dark? entertaining?
SHG: I think that the novel is made up of both darkness and light. It depicts trauma and tragedy, as well as healing and recovery. It also offers a certain degree of guarded hopefulness for the future. The fact that the two interwoven stories in the novel culminate in Israel is surely significant. It points to the place where the heart of the book beats most strongly.
GG: Has anything been added or deleted from the novel so far that has surprised you?SHG: Most of the novel has been a surprise. When I write, I don't plan out where I am going.I prefer the story to unfold as I write. That said, I do have a general idea of my destination. It's just that I'm not exactly sure how I am going to get there. That is the fun of it!
I actually restructured the novel three times in the course of writing it. What was that like? Agonizing. Dispiriting. Yet ultimately uplifting. I think that most writers know how gruelling it is to take your precious work and tear it apart, often discarding large chunks of it in the process. At many points during the editing process, I really did not know whether or not I could go through with it. In the end, however, I definitely surprised myself that I was able to do it (and survive!)
GG: Do you hide any secrets in your books that only a few people will find?
SHG: I think all authors hide some secrets in their books—they may even hide them from themselves! Most readers ask me if the characters are based on people I have known—direct family members or close relatives. I always answer that it is a composite of many people I have known.The two main characters—Artur Mandelkorn and Suzy Kohn—are not based on any particular individuals in my life.However, I have known many people who share some of their characteristics.
GG: Anything in the works you want to tell us about?
SHG: I am writing a second novel right now about completely new characters. One of the characters from Come Back for Me might make a cameo appearance. But that's all I will reveal for now!
GG: Thank you so much, Sharon. I'm sure many readers will agree with you about the effects of past anti-Semitism on modern Jews and learn something new in the process.
You can follow Sharon Hart-Green at the following links:
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Love the LinkedIn connection! Thanks so much for sharing with this month's Jewish Book Carnival