It’s not always easy to identify the origin of a book, but I can precisely locate the birth of my forthcoming novel River.
I was sitting with my ten-year-old daughter in the kitchen of our Brooklyn apartment, watching her draw. Her lips were pursed with concentration as she arced her pencil over the page. The late afternoon sun broke through the cloud just as a gentle rain started to fall; suddenly, around my daughter’s blonde hair, I saw a pulsing of color — faint pink and then around that, yellow, and then, pale blue. The ripples of color proliferated out into the room; time slowed and seemed almost to come to a standstill. It is the past—the words came to me, almost as a voice—she has no idea of all the women who have come before her, who are pouring into her right here, right now, who make her who she is. I held my breath; I didn’t want the moment to end. The sun slid back behind the cloud, and the colors that had mystically touched my daughter’s face faded to nothing. Something, though, had changed.
That night, lying in bed, a rush of words came at me. I reached for my notebook as images flashed — a picture first of me, aged about fourteen. Then of my mother, same age, from one of the few photos she has from her childhood in a dusty, South African country town; she was the last of ten children born to Jewish parents who had fled the persecution of Eastern Europe in the early years of the twentieth century. Behind these, other images flashed but would not come into focus — other girls, also aged fourteen, stretching back through the ages; my grandmother, my great-grandmother, and pictures that didn’t exist, faces I could never know. And yet, that afternoon, the resonances of all these young girls had somehow been here in my own kitchen, I was sure of it, alive in the ripples of colorful aura around my daughter.
Read full post: Writing River at the Jewish Book Council