Lev Raphael Answers Some Questions

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1. DID YOU GROW UP IN A FAMILY LIKE PAUL’S? 

Our family was very different, starting with the fact that both my parents were Holocaust survivors.  They spoke more about the war than Paul’s mother did, and unlike Paul, I embraced my legacy as a child of survivors, teaching a course on it in my mid-twenties.  As I met more children of survivors and read more widely about the Holocaust and its aftermath, I was fascinated by silence.  By people who kept silent about what they’d survived, and I was haunted for many years by a line in Virginia Woolf’s first novel “The Voyage Out,” where someone remarks, “I want to write a novel about the things people don’t say.”  In more personal terms, while I did grow up in New York, it was in a different neighborhood than Paul, I don’t have a sister, I’m the younger not the older brother, and we had very little money in our family, unlike Paul. 

2. WAS BEING THE CHILD OF SURVIVORS A FACTOR IN YOUR BECOMING A WRITER?            

Absolutely.  I think every writer is drawn to explore the mysteries of human feeling and experience--and in my case, life presented some black holes.  Most of my parents’ families had been murdered by the Nazis, and so there was a huge void where there should have been continuity, history, anecdote, and most importantly--people.  In my twenties, when I started claiming my Jewish heritage, it was clear that this was a subject I had a special feeling for, and I chose to devote myself to it.  That sense of purpose fueled my first published story and has continued to inspire me, though I’ve written many other kinds of books. 

3. HAS YOUR FAMILY READ YOUR FICTION? HOW HAVE THEY REACTED TO IT? 

My parents had difficulty with my early work because I think they wanted to protect me from the Holocaust and there I was writing about it--albeit at a remove.  My  mother was understandably most able to talk about my non-fiction, but her early inspiration and appreciation for my creativity--and her love of books--was crucial to my becoming a writer.  My father speaks many languages but he’s more of a reader of newspapers than books; however, my brother has said that some of my work as made him cry, and I take that as quite a tribute. 

4. IN YOUR NOVEL, THE PROTAGONIST’S BROTHER HAS A HISTORY OF SEX WITH MEN AND WOMEN, AS WELL AS DRUG USE.  ARE CHILDREN OF SURVIVORS DRIVEN MORE THAN OTHERS TO THESE LIFESTYLES?

Some may rebel as a way of fighting or denying the tragedy that haunts their families.  It’s difficult to generalize, but I think they’re most likely to be driven to hard work and perfectionism, in an attempt to make up for everything their parents lost: family, homes, culture. The problem is, of course, that there’s no way that  even achieving fame, if you’re a child of survivors, can make up for the infamy your parents suffered.   Letting go of that wish is crucial to growing up.  I also think many children of survivors have a strong social conscience, and are alert to threats to liberty and minorities around the world.  Simon is a combination of attitudes--he’s immersed himself in the Holocaust, but he’s also been unmoored by it.  

5. THE SECRETS FINALLY REVEALED IN THIS BOOK EXPLAIN A FAMILY’S INEXPLICABLE SADNESS, AND IN SOME OF YOUR OTHER BOOKS YOU’VE DEALT WITH SECRETS WITHHELD, SECRETS UNEARTHED.   WHAT’S THE FASCINATION FOR YOU? 

Most parents don’t let their children know how they function inside, how they make choices, who they are. In the case of my parents, that basic ‘unknowability’ was heightened by other factors: their European formality and distance; the reality that talking too much about their pre-war lives was dangerous because it too easily led back to memories they couldn’t bear to put into words; the absence of physical connections to that past like photographs.  So both present and past seemed mysterious to me, fraught with the unspoken.  Is it any wonder I’ve been a fan of mysteries and have been writing my own mystery series?   

6. NEW YORK CITY IS ALMOST A CHARACTER IN THE BOOK, AS IS MICHIGAN’S OLD MISSION PENINSULA.  WHAT DO THEY REPRESENT? 

For Paul, the city is like a lover he’s spurned.  He fled the city and its claims on him just as much as he fled Valerie.  He wound up in a college town that, for all its charm, is a cocoon, a place where it’s easier not to grow up.  The challenge for him is whether he can learn to love New York again.  Old Mission Peninsula, one of the most beautiful spots in a state where tourism is a billion-dollar industry, is Paul’s fantasy of freedom.  He has no connections there with people, but with the water, the sky, the vineyards, the views.  It offers him the haven he never had growing up, which is why he keeps thinking about it while he’s in New York.   The challenge here is can he make it real. 

7. YOU’VE  REVERSED THE USUAL TRAJECTORY OF ARTISTS BY MOVING FROM  NEW YORK TO THE MIDWEST.  WHAT’S YOUR TAKE ON LIFE IN AND OUT OF THE BIG APPLE? 

I miss the cultural wealth and diversity of New York, but I don’t miss the pace, the noise, the pressure.   Each time I go back, whether to see family, on business, or for fun, I’m confirmed in my decision of leaving.  I’ve found my home in Michigan a wonderful calm place   to write and to be a writer.  The craziness in the publishing world doesn’t affect me as strongly, nor does the kind of jealousy many writers experience when surrounded by others whom they perceive as more successful.  All that is a distraction from the work.   Moving to Michigan is what helped me see my subject and my audience much more clearly than I ever did in New York, and it’s also a place where my career doesn’t feel all-consuming.  

8. YOU’RE PROBABLY BEST KNOWN FOR THE AWARD-WINNING COLLECTION DANCING ON TISHA B’AV.   HOW IS WRITING A SHORT STORY DIFFERENT THAN WRITING A NOVEL?  WHICH DO YOU ENJOY MOST?  

A short story is like a weekend guest, a novel is like a divorced relative staying with you until figuring out what to do next.  When will you have your home to yourself again?  Beyond the time involved, with a story I often feel I can “see” it in my head, see it completely.   But a novel is too large and complex for me to have that clear a sense of the whole at any given stage.  A story comes to me initially as something very specific like a situation, a scene, or a character, whereas a novel always feels like it was several different starting points and inspirations.  I enjoy everything I write--or I wouldn’t write it.  I couldn’t write it. 

9. YOU HAVE A FLOURISHING CAREER AS A PRINT AND RADIO REVIEWER.  DOES WRITING BOOKS CHANGE HOW YOU PERCEIVE REVIEWING THEM? 

Every time I pick up a book that’s been sent to me by a publisher, I’m keenly aware that there’s a human being at the other end, someone who’s poured a lot into it, and has hopes and dreams attached.  But once I start the book that awareness fades and the deeper I’m into it, the more I’m concentrating on the story or the writing itself, on how well the book follows through on its aims.   The sense of the author involved returns when I’m writing a review, and especially when I have something negative to say.  I try not to be mean-spirited, but that doesn’t prevent me from being honest. 

10. YOU’VE WRITTEN NOVELS, SHORT STORIES, ESSAYS, MEMOIRS, LITERARY CRITICISM, MYSTERIES AND EVEN PSYCHOLOGY FOR ADULTS AND CHILDREN.  WHY SO MANY DIFFERENT GENRES? 

Back in grade school, I read across genres--history, natural science, biography, fiction, science fiction--and it’s probably that early diversity that’s led me down so many paths.  I like the challenge of  trying something new, and when I finish writing a book, the last thing I want to do is write another just like it, so I’ve often deliberately chosen something in another genre to keep myself fresh.  Even with my mystery series which has continuing characters, I’ve tried to make each book significantly different from the previous installment.  Each genre has unique challenges, as I found when I was asked to write a memoir for an anthology and found myself thinking, “I could do this as fiction, but telling the truth is going to be hard!”

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The German Money
PUB DATE: September, 2003
CATEGORY: Fiction
PAGES: 208
TRIM: 6 x 9
ISBN: 0-9679520-0-X
PRICE: $14.95/ Trade Paperback Original

 
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