Book Review: The Wren and the Sparrow by J. Patrick Lewis, ill. by Yevgenia Nayberg

wren and sparrowThe Wren and the Sparrow

Written by J. Patrick Lewis and illustrated by Yevgenia Nayberg

32 pages, Kar-Ben, 2015

In this self-professed fable, an old man called the Wren plays his hurdy-gurdy for the last time, and with the help of his student, Sparrow, inspires a small Polish town during the dark times.

The good stuff

  • Simple, yet powerful, lyrical writing
    • “In a dark time, the Old Man lived in shadows”
    • “The day sealed itself into the lockbox of memory”
  • Illustration that shows the reader the time frame is the Holocaust while the text does not mention war or Hitler
    • Barbed wire and crows
    • Nazis shown in over-proportionate size to villagers
  • Memorable imagery
    • A six-year-old’s ten finger cymbals tinkled
    • The loss of music

The not-so-good stuff

  • Not so much a fable as an allegory

Overall rating: 5.0 on 5.0 scale

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Author’s Notebook | Tracy Newman, Uncle Eli’s Wedding

tracy newmanThe Whole Megillah (TWM): What inspired you to write this book?
Tracy Newman (TN): I was inspired to write Uncle Eli’s Wedding after hearing a wonderful presentation by Chris Barash, the Chair of the PJ Library‘s Book Selection Committee, at the Jewish Book Council’s Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators conference in 2011. Not only was Chris’s enthusiasm for discovering new Jewish children’s stories infectious, but she also provided some topics that the PJ Library thought would appeal to their participating families. Hearing that PJ was interested in receiving a wedding story was enough to get me thinking about how a child may feel during the wedding of a beloved family member.

TWM: Bubbe Tillie and Bubbe Millie add vibrance and fun to the action and certainly the rhythm of the text. Can you talk about that?
TN: Thanks very much! The characters and comments by Bubbe Tillie and Bubbe Millie were definitely fun for me to write. To create their dialogue, I tapped into my love for language and my desire to incorporate rhythm and rhyme into my stories. In addition, I consider the marriage (so to speak) of Yiddish into a Jewish-themed story to be natural.

uncle eli weddingTWM: Did you have role models for the two grandmothers? (I have to admit—they were my favorite characters!)
TN: Absolutely! And I’m so glad that you enjoyed the bubbes. To create these characters, I channeled the voice of my own beloved grandmother and cloned her into two adoring bubbes. My Nanny Rose was the quintessential Jewish grandmother, whose first language was Yiddish and which always remained a vital part of her daily vocabulary. I was fortunate that my grandmother informally schooled her grandchildren in her native tongue, while also sharing an abundance of love and home-cooking with us.

TWM: How many drafts did you have to go through to get to the final product?
TN: Many. Without counting, I would say that this story easily went through at least 15 drafts.

TWM: How did you find your agent?
TN: In 2013, I attended the Women Who Write conference and was fortunate to have a manuscript critiqued by Laura Biagi. Laura and I hit it off and I was very happy to sign with her a few months later.

TWM: Do you see yourself primarily as a picture book writer?
TN: For the moment, I do. I am thrilled to have a mixture of six board books and picture books in various stages of publication, so I hope that I can consider myself to be a picture book writer.

TWM: Do you work on one project at a time or multiple projects?
TN: Given the nature of having various projects in different stages of review (by my agent or an editor or with my critique group) at any given moment, I definitely work on several at a time.

shabbat is comingTWM: Are you promoting the book through the Jewish Book Council’s Jewish Author’s Network?
TN: I was delighted to work with the Jewish Book Council’s Jewish Author’s Network for my book, Shabbat Is Coming. By participating in this program, I was able to meet varied Jewish communities across the country and engage with many vibrant Jewish audiences. Since I’ve only just finished these trips, I will wait a bit before continuing with this wonderful program.

TWM: What’s next for you?
TN: I am excited to share that my next book scheduled for publication is Hanukkah Is Coming, which will be released in the fall of 2015. After that, I have several more on the way, so please be sure to check my website.


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Author’s Notebook | Tami Lehman-Wilzig, “Shabbat around the World”

promotion-introRecently on LinkedIn, I spotted an update from Tami Lehman-Wilzig about a new digital and lesson plan project entitled, “Shabbat around the World.” I was intrigued, so I requested an interview. Here are the results.

The Whole Megillah (TWM): What motivated you to come up with this project?
Tami Lehman-Wilzig (TLW): Several factors were involved. First of all, over the past eight years I’ve developed an expertise in Jewish holiday customs.  It all began when my publisher—Kar-Ben—and former editor Judye Groner approached me about doing a book on Passover customs from countries across the globe. Living in Israel, I realized that I was residing in the best possible research lab. I contacted people I knew from different Edot—that’s Hebrew for “tribes,” which is on the mark because we are a very tribal people. It was one of the most unbelievable “journeys” I’ve ever taken. The end result was my book Passover Around the World, which went over so well that Kar-Ben asked me to do Hanukkah Around the WorldJoni Sussman also suggested that I do a blog on Passover customs. At first I laughed at the idea. Then I realized she was on to something and took the idea several steps forward by creating a blog on all Jewish holiday customs from around the world, which I have been writing for the past seven years. Along the way I’ve come across unusual Shabbat customs and have a separate Shabbat dedicated file.

So that’s one. Second—after my husband, children, grandchildren and Israel—Shabbat is next in line in terms of what I love most. I am crazy about this day. My late father proved its beauty to me when I was in 7th grade and came home one Friday with a failed math test. He convinced me to put it away for 25 hours, enjoy the togetherness of the Shabbat family meal, get together with friends the next day, read a good book and just relax. When Shabbat was over I was able to look at the test with fresh eyes and understand where I went wrong.  Ever since then, Shabbat has been and continues to be an unbelievable WOW for me.

Which brings me to point three. I have been flying to the States for the past ten years, doing author appearances at Jewish Day Schools and synagogue Hebrew/Religious Schools across the U.S. I’ve come to the conclusion that while some kids get it, many do not value how precious Shabbat is and through it, the  unbelievable gift the Jewish people has given to the world at large by creating the concept of a Day of Rest.  To a very great degree, Shabbat is our natural resource and I wanted to find a way to present this 25-hour window of disconnect in a fun and interesting manner.

TWM: How are you conducting your research for it?
TLW: This has actually been a six-year research project spanning an investigation of texts, going through books dealing with Jewish customs—such as A Mosaic of Israel’s Traditions by Esther Shkalim, books by Daniel Sperber—a professor of Talmud at Bar Ilan University and an expert on Jewish customs, The Jewish People’s Almanac, and more—as well as extensive interviews, many of which were spontaneous, man-on-the-street types, and others that were planned ahead of time. Finally, like all good Israelis, my husband and I travel abroad extensively and wherever we go, we make it our business to find the Jewish community, the main synagogue and talk to the people. I have copious notes.

TWM: Is it available now? How?
TLW: Yes, but only to schools (institutional subscription) and only through my website. At a future date, I might sell only the stories to the public at large. At this point, it’s a digital project that is much more than plain stories. I have hired a wonderful illustrator whose research absolutely floors me. She makes sure that every fully colored, illustrated story has an authentic look and atmosphere so that students can immediately absorb the specific country’s culture. Even more important, I have hired a professional American Jewish educator, who is a teacher, teacher’s coach and lesson plan developer, to create 4 unique, interdisciplinary lesson plans for each story. Together, we discuss ideas and she turns them into out-of-the box lessons on Shabbat, providing all necessary tools.

TWM: Do you plan to look at other holidays?
TLW: Good question. This is a new project that has never been done before by anyone. Like all new products, it will need time to get a firm footing. Once I feel the pieces are in place, then yes, I will definitely look into doing a similar project for other holidays—perhaps as a cluster instead of focusing specifically on one.

TWM: How can people find the project and more information about it?
TLW: I hope everyone clicks to it, starting with this page:
and ending with the order form for a monthly subscription. Thanks so much Barbara for letting me visit your readers.

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Children’s Literary Salon | Continuing the Conversation about Jewish Children’s Books

On April 12, I participated in a panel discussion about Jewish children’s books, hosted by Betsy Bird of the New York Public Library. The discussion was the latest in the library’s series of literary salons. Joining me on the stage were Joanna Sussman of Kar-Ben and Marjorie Ingall of Tablet magazine. I was representing the Sydney Taylor Book Award Committee.

6144566982_2a3a46a96c_m (2)I thought it might be fruitful to continue the conversation we started on the gorgeous Sunday afternoon on The Whole Megillah. I’ll post a couple of the questions Betsy posed to us, as best as I can remember them.

1. What makes a children’s (or YA) book Jewish?

2. At what age should children be introduced to the Holocaust?

Chime in by using the comment box.

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Reserve Your Seat! New Online Classes from The Whole Megillah

At The Whole Megillah,  we know you’re busy. That’s why we’re offering four online classes that proceed around the pace of your life, no matter where you are in the writing process. Reserve your seat now in one (or more!) of the following:

  • Online Fiction Class I
  • Online Fiction Class II
  • Online Memoir Class I
  • Online Memoir Class II

The fiction classes start May 10, so now’s the time to register. Just contact Barbara at the email address below.

FictionOnline Fiction Class I

Whether you’ve been writing fiction for a while, want to reconnect with your fiction, or are just starting out, the Online Fiction Class I can help.

Using a combination of Google Drive and a private Facebook page, students engage in a six-week writing experience covering:

  • Imagery
  • Characterization
  • Setting
  • Plot
  • Point of view
  • Revision

There is one short story to read for each class (from an online source, so no purchases required) and visual and other prompts to spur your writing.

Cost: $300, including a 15-page manuscript critique

Start date: May 10, 2015

Reviews from January 2015 participants

“I had never taken an online class before taking this fiction class, and I was hesitant. But I enjoyed it and learned a lot, and will be open to taking other online classes. Barbara Krasner’s lessons were interesting, clear, and easy to follow. The writing exercises were appropriate and increased understanding of the ideas emphasized in each lesson. Posting the writings online allowed participants to read and learn from Barbara’s feedback on each person’s writings. Overall, the class was both challenging and fun. I’m sure what I’ve learned has already improved my writing.”—Diane Khoury, New Jersey

“Barbara challenged me to create outside of my comfort zone. The exercises encouraged me to stretch stories that I had, and reach for new stories to fulfill the writing styles and concepts. I look forward to continuing to grow my writing through this helpful process.”—Drora Arussy, New Jersey

“Barbara Krasner’s online fiction course provides a thorough and clear description of the elements of a good story. She provides helpful, detailed commentary that gets straight to the point. The reading assignments made me focus on the techniques of excellent writers who employ a variety of styles. The writing exercises helped me to uncover a new way of thinking and provided an opening to a whole new way of writing for me, one that is both inspiring and exhilarating.”—Madelyn Hoffman, New Jersey

“This course was profoundly rewarding. I’d been a nonfiction writer who wanted to explore some of the more fanciful aspects of writing. Now I’ve learned that the elements of fictional craft can also enhance my narrative nonfiction. I’ve taken many workshops before, but the online experience gave me the inspiration to take risks and gain nurturing feedback from Barbara and my classmates. All within the comfort of my home.”—Barbara Walsh, New Jersey and Florida

Online Fiction Class II

Targeted at those who have already completed Online Fiction Class I or have the permission of the instructor, this six-week online class allows to you work on a manuscript of your choice and bring it further along. Through a series of exercises on a private Facebook page, you’ll learn more advanced techniques to:

  • Drive your protagonist’s emotional journey and transformation
  • Heighten conflict
  • Deepen characterization and sharpen dialogue

Cost: $300

Start date: May 10, 2015

Your StoryMemoir Class I

Similar in fashion to Online Fiction Class I, memoir writing students will learn elements of craft in a five-week class using a private Facebook page:

  • Imagery
  • Theme
  • Plot
  • Selectivity
  • Voice

We will read an excerpt of memoirs from Tobias Wolff, Joan Didion, Sue William Silverman, Augusten Burroughs, and others for each class.

Cost: $250

Start Date: May 24, 2015

Memoir Class II

Targeted to students I’ve worked with before, we’ll engage in a five-week course where you’ll work on a single manuscript. You’ll engage in exercises using a private Facebook page to:

  • Hone your selective use of plot and character
  • Heighten dramatic moments
  • Track your emotional journey
  • Find and use metaphors to sharpen meaning

We’ll also read excerpts from published memoirs.

Cost: $275

Start Date: May 24, 2015

About the instructor

Barbara Krasner is the award-winning author of several hundred articles, books, short fiction, and poetry. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Lilith, Jewish Women’s Literary Annual,, Nimrod, Paterson Literary Review, and other journals. Her debut children’s book, Goldie Takes a Stand! Golda Meir’s First Crusade, was named a 2015 Sydney Taylor Honor Book. Barbara teaches creative writing at William Paterson University and works one-on-one with writers to shape their fiction and nonfiction manuscripts.

For more information, contact Barbara at barbarakrasner(at)att(dot)net or reply to this post with a comment.

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Two-in-One Notebook Special: Spinoza: the Outcast Thinker with Author Devra Lehmann and Editor Karen Klockner

spinozaThe Whole Megillah (TWM): Why Spinoza? How did you come to this subject?
Devra Lehmann (DL): Spinoza had hovered in my mind ever since high school, when my Jewish history teacher briefly mentioned Spinoza as a Jew tragically gone off the path. We quickly moved on to the next topic, and our textbook, which had been written for Orthodox Jewish schools like mine, provided no additional information. It seemed fairly clear that Spinoza and his ideas were off limits. I can think of no better way to get a kid interested in a subject!

For one reason or another I didn’t follow up until many years later, when a friend recommended that I read Jonathan Israel’s Radical Enlightenment, a book whose central thesis is Spinoza’s importance in shaping the modern secular world. I quickly realized that I needed to understand more about Spinoza, so I began reading Spinoza’s writings along with a lot of secondary literature. I was hooked. Bertrand Russell famously called Spinoza “the noblest and most lovable of the great philosophers.” Those superlatives are right on the mark. Spinoza devoted his life to an uncompromising search for truth, which meant that he questioned a lot of traditional ideas and made himself lots of enemies. But he stood firm, and he left us a priceless legacy. He was one of the first and most influential proponents of freedom of religion, freedom of thought, and freedom of expression. And he was such a kind and modest man that even his detractors found themselves praising his personality despite their outspoken horror at his ideas.

TWM: How did you bring the manuscript to the attention of namelos?
DL: I found namelos listed in the Market Survey of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. Let’s face it: a book about a philosopher will never be a major seller in the young adult market. So I knew that only a small, idealistic publisher would be interested in my project, and I began to research my options. I was immediately taken by what I saw on the namelos website—although the first thing that caught my attention had nothing directly to do with books. It was shortly after Sandy Hook, and the site featured an achingly beautiful drawing of an angel collapsed in sorrow over a school building, alongside the name and age of each precious individual killed in that terrible tragedy.

That picture brought me to tears, and I knew already that I’d want to work with the people behind it. But the namelos list featured nothing even close to my project. Their books looked fascinating and important, but the focus was definitely fiction; the closest thing to my manuscript seemed to be a collection of poems about the life of George Washington Carver. Just on the off-chance that namelos might be interested, I used the “contact us” link on their website to send in my first few pages. I was thrilled to hear from Karen Klockner, editor extraordinaire, a couple of weeks later. Apparently namelos had been harboring plans to expand into nonfiction, and my project caught their interest.

TWM: Karen, what attracted namelos to Devra’s manuscript?
Karen Klockner (KK): Devra sent us a very organized  and professional proposal. She conveyed not only a clear sense of the book as a whole but why it should be published and who the market would be. We were intrigued by the topic, and there was something in her writing voice, even in her proposal letter, that spoke to us.  Devra is a wonderful writer with a passionate, engaging intellectual curiosity.  She is a true teacher with an inspirational desire to share and exchange ideas.

TWM: Do you do much nonfiction?
KK: I have always published a great deal of nonfiction, but this is our first nonfiction at namelos.

TWM: How do you characterize the market for this book?
KK: The market for this book is teen readers and above—maybe eighth graders and up. I also have adult friends who have read the book as an introduction to Spinoza and found it richly engaging.  This is a natural book for the school and library market, for use in classes on European or world history, on philosophy, the history of religion, politics…for anyone with an interest in religion and philosophy. In her proposal Devra wrote: “I envision my audience as inquisitive young people independently curious about philosophy or as high school students assigned outside reading by teachers of philosophy, history, or literature. And given the intense curiosity and trepidation about philosophy that I have encountered among adults, I would venture to say that even some older readers might appreciate philosophy books at the level at which I am writing.”

TWM: Devra, what was your previous writing background?
DL: Well, as a teacher I spend a lot of time thinking about good writing and commenting on my students’ papers, but I’m afraid I don’t have much of a pedigree in producing my own work for young adults. When I was in high school, I wrote a play about religious censorship that won an award from The New York Times. In graduate school I wrote a master’s thesis about the relationship between literary theory and rabbinic approaches to textual analysis. And eventually I completed a doctoral dissertation about the secular and religious discourses—essentially whole ways of thinking, being, and speaking—that I observed in an Orthodox Jewish high school. Based on my doctoral research, I wrote three articles that were published in academic journals.

It may not be obvious, but this is all related to a young adult biography of Spinoza. A lot of what I’ve written has focused on the interplay between secular and religious worldviews, and that interplay figured prominently in Spinoza’s life. But what I consider more relevant is something that my daughter once said about my dissertation. She was reading over my shoulder as I was typing up one of my chapters, and suddenly she exclaimed, “Hey, Mommy, even I can understand this!” She was twelve years old at the time, and I took it as a great compliment that I could take complicated ideas and make them clear to a young person.

TWM: What did you like to read growing up?
DL: It’s probably ill-advised to confess that as a child I never read nonfiction for pleasure, but the truth is that back then I found fiction much more engaging. I’ll add, though, that as a teacher I’m amazed to see how many of my students are just the opposite—they’ll read loads of nonfiction on their own but will never pick up any fiction unless it’s been assigned.

In terms of the specific works I liked as a young adult, I guess you could say either that I was born at the wrong time or that it was already obvious I’d turn into a stodgy old English teacher. I loved Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, O.E. Rolvaag, and Hendrik Ibsen. Before my high school years, I loved C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. I really don’t know if there is much of a pattern here.

TWM: What authors inspire you?
DL: That depends a lot on the mood I’m in. In general, though, I love authors with the breadth of imagination to create entire, believable worlds—authors like William Faulkner, who interwove huge numbers of complex characters to create an entire history of the fictitious Yoknapatawpha County; A.S. Byatt, who in Possession presented such convincing diaries, poems, and letters by Randolph Henry Ash and Christabel LaMotte that I was absolutely sure they were real Victorian poets—and ashamed of myself for not having heard of them before; J.R.R. Tolkien, whose Middle Earth comes complete with its own intricate history, languages, and mythology; and Louis de Bernières, who masterfully balances hilarity and tenderness in his offbeat trilogy about a mythical South American country.

In nonfiction, I’m a big fan of Edmund Morgan, who was also one of my professors in college. Morgan was one of the greatest scholars of early American history, but his style is so lucid and unpretentious—like the man himself was—that my children were able to enjoy some of his work even before they got to high school.

Other favorites are ancient writers who show me the amazing continuity of the human experience, despite vast differences in culture. It is a thrill to read Thucydides, whose keen observations about human nature are just as timely now as they were almost 2500 years ago, and even Beowulf, whose misty fens and monsters seem so alien today, contains one of the most piercing descriptions I have ever read of a parent’s grief over the death of a child.

And finally, I love authors who help me understand the lifelong endeavor to be true to oneself. E.M. Forster ranks high in that category.

TWM: Congratulations on the National Jewish Book Award win. What does the win mean to you?
DL: Thank you. I see the award mostly as a heartening vote of confidence. I encountered a lot of skepticism about my project, both from friends and from professional contacts, and as a teacher I found that skepticism infuriating. In any thoughtful classroom, kids encounter and debate important questions all the time—and they genuinely love to do so. The biggest problem is figuring out how to end the heated give and take so that kids can get to their next class on time. So to me a young adult book about an important philosopher seemed perfectly natural. I found a wonderful partner in namelos, and I’m delighted for them and for myself that we’ve received this kind of validation from the Jewish Book Council. The publicity helps, too!

KK: We were very gratified by the award from the Jewish Book Council.  The book focuses on the life of one man who was born into the Jewish community of seventeenth-century Amsterdam and who tried to live a thoughtful, honest life—asking probing questions about the nature of existence.  The dramatic historical setting in which he lived and worked is part of the portrait Devra paints.

TWM: Are there more books in your future?
DL: I certainly hope so. I’m now in the middle of a young adult biography of Socrates, and I’m hoping to tackle Saint Augustine next. I’d also like to backtrack one day to write a play about Spinoza’s life after his excommunication. I’d originally undertaken Spinoza: The Outcast Thinker as a warm-up exercise to help me prepare myself for that play—I’d naively thought the biography would take only a couple of months!—but, as you see, my project of bringing great thinkers to young people has taken on a life of its own.

TWM: Are there other nonfiction books coming from namelos?
KK: We make acquisition decisions on a book-by-book basis.  We are considering other nonfiction projects, and especially look forward to seeing Devra’s proposal for her work-in-progress on Socrates.

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Author’s Notebook | Morris Dickstein, Why Not Say What Happened: A Sentimental Education

Why Not Say_r2.inddProfessor, critic, and author Morris Dickstein, author of Gates of Eden (1977) and Dancing in the Dark: A Cultural History of the Great Depression (2009), recently published a new memoir, Why Not Say What Happened: A Sentimental Education (Liveright Publishing, 2015). In this book he addresses his coming-of-age and his struggles with what he viewed as the confines of his Orthodox upbringing, among other themes.

As a graduate student of history now studying the culture of the Great Depression, I took the bull by the horn and reached out to Dr. Dickstein. He was gracious enough to grant me an interview.

The Whole Megillah (TWM): Why a memoir and why now?
Morris Dickstein (MD): Well, I’ve reached a certain age and can’t help noticing that I’ve put on some mileage. There are worlds I wanted to revisit and recapture. Also, after quite a lot of critical and historical writing I wanted to do something more personal, to tap into a different part of the brain and write in a different voice—more evocative and less analytical,  more narrative and less argumentative. And why not, since I’ve always thought of myself as a writer, not strictly a critic?

TWM: How much do you think your yeshiva upbringing factors into your writing style?
MD: I doubt it affected my writing style but it certainly affected the life I’ve lived, with one foot in the Jewish tradition and another in the secular world–exactly how my day was split when I was a yeshiva student. My yeshiva training also affected me as a critic: I became very comfortable not only with the whole process of commentary and interpretation but also with a certain reverence for the written tradition, even as secular texts, themselves hallowed by time but ripe for reinterpretation, gradually took the place of religious texts—scripture, Mishneh, the whole nine yards.

TWM: Can you comment on how you applied the “voice of innocence” and the “voice of experience” in your memoir?
MD: As a coming-of-age story it’s partly about getting wised up, taking on a wider range of experience while at the same time looking back in wonderment at where you came from and how much distance you’ve traveled. When I first learned (rather late) what actually happens between men and women I was  incredulous but then angry at how such vital facts of life had been withheld from me. Of course I continued to remain innocent for a long time to come, though at times, laughably, I took on a swaggering air of knowingness.

TWM: What authors inspire you now? Why?
MD: I go back often to the 19th-century poets, especially Wordsworth, Blake and Keats in England, Whitman and Dickinson in America. The latter two never fail to knock me off my feet—in opposite ways, Whitman with his prosey inclusiveness, seemingly swallowing the world, Dickinson with her laser-like intelligence. Among modern poets I’ve come to like Frost more and more—I go back to him frequently—and my early passion for Eliot has been reviving. Fitzgerald has gradually become my favorite novelist—his stories, Gatsby, and Tender Is the Night especially—but I had a wonderful time teaching short fiction by Tolstoy and Chekhov a few years ago. Among modern American novelists, along with Fitzgerald, I’m very partial to Willa Cather, Theodore Dreiser, Henry James, Edith Wharton, Henry Roth, Nella Larsen, and too many others. I won’t even go into the postwar writers I frequently reread. The common denominator among them is their emotional intelligence, a rich and complicated sense of how people interact, relationships they explore with a strong moral compass.

TWM: The book includes so many wonderful revelations. (My favorite is your comment on living through the Cold War: “Over the years students have asked me about the level of anxiety for people living under the shadow of annihilation during the cold war years. I’ve told then that we lived bifocally, in compartments, casually going about our daily lives while remaining under the gun, never quite forgetting that a cold peace, occasionally punctuated by hot wars, was built on the threat of mutual destruction.”)

Did you recognize these insights at the time, did they come later, and/or through the writing process?
MD: This is something I understood only later on, under the prodding of students, after the cold war ended. It’s remarkable in retrospect, how we all managed to go about our business and live ordinary lives while a sword of mutual and total destruction hung over our heads. Not everyone in other parts of the world was so lucky. As Americans we’ve mostly lived privileged lives in a sea of tranquility and prosperity, and as American Jews in a free society we’ve lived lives without any precedent in Jewish history.

TWM: Why did you decide to structure the memoir as you did?
MD: It actually began with the incident described in the prologue, showing me literally trespassing on the past, barging into the apartment in New Haven where I’d once lived. Abruptly, it established how much the past meant to me. From there it seemed inevitable to evoke my mostly unhappy but productive first years at Yale, in part because I was on my own for the first time and it was when I began writing for publication and fell in love. From there it seemed natural to swoop back to my childhood, my extended immigrant family, and to proceed more chronologically. So you might say I began in medias res. Following its own course, the book seemed to round itself off when I turned thirty and left Columbia, which transformed it unexpectedly from a family memoir to a Sixties memoir, and above all the history of an education in the broadest sense.

TWM: Had you kept a journal?
MD: I kept some travel journals but only during a later period. But I did have lots of very detailed letters, especially from the time I spent in England.

TWM: What advice would you have for aspiring memoirists?
MD: I can repeat the advice a friend gave me: “Follow the emotion.” If you delve deeply into what really matters to you, it will matter to your readers as well. Also, though it’s a cliche, try to stay in the moment, to evoke the the feeling of the time you’re writing about without slighting the rush of feelings at the moment you’re actually writing. But never let hindsight distort what you richly remember.

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