History in a Tin Box


Writing became my way of breathing life into the girl on the cover of The Sweetness, the novel inspired by my family’s complicated history. I learned about her unexpectedly, years ago, on a dark, December afternoon while visiting my elderly aunt in Brooklyn─ where she’d lived for nearly fifty years.

It was on one of these visits when she took an old cookie tin from the hall closet and placed it on the oilcloth. Hoping it contained cookies, I pried open the lid to find it stuffed with tattered documents. I riffled through them as if searching for a crackerjack prize… finally selecting an envelope yellowed from time… a telegram from Riga─ addressed to my grandfather from relatives announcing the birth of their baby… Rosha… in 1931.

A sepia photo slipped out revealing…a child, perhaps five. I stared at that photo for a long time, glancing at my aunt whose eyes welled. There was another of my grandmother in a horse and buggy alongside a woman with that same little girl. My grandmother, spiffy in a large brimmed hat looked like a sophisticated traveler out of her element─ These photos were taken during my grandparents’ last trip to Europe, soon before Hitler came into power. It was on that same trip that my grandfather had urged Rosha’s parents to join the rest of the family, who’d already immigrated to the states and were building a knitwear business in New York. But they never came.

When my aunt asked me to keep the tin with these documents, it felt as though she’d handed over the keys to my family’s legacy and mysterious past. I had so many questions, but to push would have upset her.

What I remember was her saying these words: “I should have stayed. I never should have come here.”

“But if you had,” I answered, “you might have been killed.”

And then she said the strangest thing.

“So what,” she said, “so what!” looking more like a belligerent teen than a 95 year old woman. It was as if her 80 years in America had been nothing more than scattered seed – that never took root. I never forgot how she looked; so much sorrow etched across her face. And soon after she died, I began writing this story. It was Rosha’s story, which I infused with another I'd nearly completed. And it was through the merging of two parallel tales…of two cousins, that a theme became clear:

At the end of her life, once more, my aunt had to face all the choices she’d made, each haunting regret that evolved from merely surviving. And it was through the writing of The Sweetness that I would come to understand why.

The Sweetness was nominated for The Sophie Brody Award by the ALA and is a 2014 Foreward Reviews INDIE FAB Finalist. ad-forward_300x250_new.jpg



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