I'm thrilled to share my interview with Annette Gendler today. I had the privilege of meeting Annette and sharing an author evening with her in Jerusalem. I had a great time and hope to see Annette back in Israel for more events.
Moreover, I had the opportunity to purchase Annette's intimate memoir: Jumping over Shadows in which the author's life is changed when as a German woman, she falls in love with a Jewish man. This book offers an honest glimpse into living with the consequences of our choices.
Welcome Annette Gendler!
Annette Gendler is the author of Jumping Over Shadows, the memoir of a German-Jewish love that overcame the legacy of the Holocaust. She has served as the writer-in-residence at the Hemingway Birthplace Home in Oak Park, Illinois, and has been teaching memoir writing at StoryStudio Chicago since 2006. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Queens University of Charlotte and lives in Chicago with her husband and three children.
GILA GREEN (GG) What brought you to write this memoir? An inspiration? An experience?
AG: My first trip to my grandparents' hometown in the Czech Republic in 2002 is the origin of Jumping Over Shadows. I felt so many undercurrents (shadows!) there that I had to write about them. What had happened there in the 1930s and '40s had profoundly affected my life. While I knew most of the stories, I didn't know them well enough to reconstruct the sequence of events, so I dug into my grandfather's one-inch thick onion-skin memoir manuscript. From that grew a collection of essays on the family's past, which became my MFA thesis in 2007. However, when I discussed my thesis with one of my advisors, a fiction writer, he told me that the past was only interesting in terms of how it affected the present. In order for this project to matter, I had to tell my own story in juxtaposition to the story of the past.
GG: What themes are you exploring in this memoir?
AG:On the surface, it is a love story—the story of love against all odds. On a deeper level it is about how history repeats itself in a family, and how what happened to our ancestors influences who we become.
GG: What sort of experience can readers expect from this book? Is it humorous? dark? entertaining?
AG: Many readers have found it "hard to put down," an accolade I am very happy about. Don't ask me, however, how I did that. My sister claims the back and forth between the two story threads creates some of the tension, so that might be one clue.
GG: Has anything been added or deleted from the memoir that has surprised you?
AG: No. I worked closely with my publisher and I knew what the final manuscript would be. I have only been surprised how well received the epilogue has been as that was a last-minute addition on my part. Goes to show that you can't go wrong as a writer when you follow your gut!
GG: Do you hide any secrets in your books that only a few people will find?
AG: The book reveals a possible secret that might explain a family taboo, but I am confident every reader finds it. Several readers have asked me subsequently whether I have been able to verify it, but sadly there is no way to do so for sure. Some things will remain mysteries, even when we have written about them. Which, I think, is the point of a secret. By the way, "The Benefit of Secrets" was one of the titles we considered for the book. I do believe that secrets are not necessarily a bad thing. In my family at least, if this secret is indeed true, it saved lives. And keeping our own relationship secret for so long avoided a lot of bad blood and made it possible for me to have a wonderful relationship with my in-laws later on.