Review – Eliza Hamilton: The Extraordinary Life and Times of the Wife of Alexander Hamilton by Tilar J. Mazzeo

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Eliza Hamilton: The Extraordinary Life and Times of the Wife of Alexander Hamilton
by Tilar J. Mazzeo

Genre: Biography, History

Length: 352 Pages

Release date: September 18, 2018

Blurb via GoodReads: 

From the New York Times bestselling author of Irena’s Children comes a comprehensive and riveting biography of the extraordinary life and times of Eliza Hamilton, the wife of founding father Alexander Hamilton, and a powerful, unsung hero in America’s early days. 

Fans fell in love with Eliza Hamilton—Alexander Hamilton’s devoted wife—in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s phenomenal musical Hamilton. But they don’t know her full story. A strong pioneer woman, a loving sister, a caring mother, and in her later years, a generous philanthropist, Eliza had many sides—and this fascinating biography brings her multi-faceted personality to vivid life.

Eliza Hamilton: The Extraordinary Life and Times of The Wife of Alexander Hamilton follows Eliza through her early years in New York, into the ups and downs of her married life with Alexander, beyond the aftermath of his tragic murder, and finally to her involvement in many projects that cemented her legacy as one of the unsung heroes of our nation’s early days. Featuring Mazzeo’s “impeccable research and crafting” (Library Journal), and perfect for fans of the richly detailed historical books by Ron Chernow and Erik Larson, Eliza Hamilton is the captivating account of the woman behind the famous man.

rating

five

“Best of wives and best of women.”

This was an immensely readable biography. Mazzeo’s writing style creates the immersive reading experience of a good novel. While this at times requires her to take certain liberties and to speculate (the book opens, for example, with Eliza blushing in response to a letter she received from Alexander Hamilton), she does seem to draw from what is known as much as possible. Eliza’s thoughts and feelings, while not always documented, can often be inferred from letters she exchanged with Alexander and others. All in all, some speculation, within reason, can certainly be forgiven in the service of crafting a fleshed-out image of a woman so long lost to history.

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Portrait of Eliza Hamilton by Ralph Earl. Earl was in debtors’ prison when Eliza sat for this portrait and persuaded other ladies to do the same. The income generated from this allowed Earl to earn enough money to repay his debts and regain his freedom.

Perhaps the most intriguing part of the biography is Mazzeo’s treatment of the Maria Reynolds incident, wherein she questions the commonly accepted version of events, made famous once again by the musical Hamilton. The affair is often treated as fact, but Alexander and Eliza’s contemporaries were far from in agreement as to the truth of the matter. Was Alexander simply a cheating husband or was the whole affair a cleverly crafted ruse to cover up the illegal financial activities of which he was suspected at the time?

Mazzeo argues for the latter. I won’t go into detail, as the book will surely handle the material more elegantly than I could here, but one interesting question raised is this: If Alexander had love letters from Mrs. Reynolds to substantiate the affair, as he claimed he did, why would he not produce them? He printed transcriptions of the supposed letters in his pamphlets on the matter, but refused to produce the original documents. Mrs. Reynolds, who vehemently denied the affair, was willing to submit to a handwriting comparison in an attempt to clear her name. Alexander refused. This is just one piece of the puzzle which leads Mazzeo to conclude that Alexander’s real crimes were financial, not romantic.

If I had to name a weakness in this book it would be this: Alexander looms quite large in Mazzeo’s recounting of Eliza’s life. Yes, he was her husband, but Eliza lived to a ripe old age and had half of her life ahead of her at the time of his death, years which were filled with joy, sadness, and endless public works. Eliza was so much more than Alexander’s wife.

However, her accomplishments are by no means completely ignored. The book goes into detail about Eliza’s involvement in founding New York’s first private orphanage, as well as her involvement in public education. Children were Eliza’s passion, particularly orphans, a focus likely sparked by Alexander’s humble origins. Mazzeo paints a portrait of a strong and compassionate woman.

This is a beautiful and well-researched piece of work which shines a well-deserved spotlight on one of US history’s most interesting women. The flowing prose makes this an excellent read for fans of biographies as well as historical fiction, and, of course, fans of Hamilton. 

I received an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own and not influenced by the publisher. 

Purchase links
amazon
bambarnes and nobleindie bound

Thank you for reading! What are your thoughts on biographies? Do you prefer a more formal, fact-focused tone, or does speculation on thoughts and feelings of the people involved make for a better reading experience?

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Review – Ghosted, by Rosie Walsh

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Ghosted
by Rosie Walsh

Genre: Fiction

Length: 337 Pages

Release date: July 24, 2018

Publisher: Pamela Dorman Books

Synopsis: 

Seven perfect days. Then he disappeared. A love story with a secret at its heart.

When Sarah meets Eddie, they connect instantly and fall in love. To Sarah, it seems as though her life has finally begun. And it’s mutual: It’s as though Eddie has been waiting for her, too. Sarah has never been so certain of anything. So when Eddie leaves for a long-booked vacation and promises to call from the airport, she has no cause to doubt him. But he doesn’t call.

Sarah’s friends tell her to forget about him, but she can’t. She knows something’s happened–there must be an explanation.

Minutes, days, weeks go by as Sarah becomes increasingly worried. But then she discovers she’s right. There is a reason for Eddie’s disappearance, and it’s the one thing they didn’t share with each other: the truth.

rating

three

I wondered how it was that you could spend weeks, months—years, even—just chugging on, nothing really changing, and then, in the space of a few hours, the script of your life could be completely rewritten.

Ghosted is essentially part mystery, part romance. The story alternates between scenes from the week Sarah and Eddie met and scenes after she has been… well… ghosted. The latter takes up a much smaller portion of the book than the former, so we spend more time wondering why Eddie has dropped off the map than we do figuring out why Sarah cares so much. As I prefer mystery to romance, this shouldn’t have been an issue for me, but the lack of development of the romance makes it difficult to care about the mystery. The reader isn’t really given a compelling reason to root for Eddie and Sarah to be together.

The intense insta-love aspect of this novel felt better suited to a YA novel with a protagonist in high school. When you’re young and inexperienced, that burst of infatuation can feel like the be-all end-all. Sarah is written to be around forty years old, but she doesn’t feel like it. I found her tunnel vision obsession with a man she barely knows to be a bit alienating, personally.

However, despite my issues with Sarah and the under-developed romance, there was something rather compulsively readable about Ghosted. The pace feels lightning fast, and there was more to the mystery than just a spurned lover. At the risk of getting into spoilers, I won’t go into detail, but suffice it to say that the later revelations make for the best bits of character development in the story. For a good chunk of the early section of the novel, it felt like there wasn’t much more to Sarah than pining after a man; thankfully, later sections rectify that.

Nobody warns you that life continues to be complicated after you’ve Done the Right Thing. That there is no reward, beyond some intangible sense of moral fortitude.

Overall, this was a fun book with a lot of potential, but it definitely felt like it was lacking something. This appears to be Walsh’s debut novel, so I’ll be interested to see how she grows as a writer from here.

Purchase links

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository | IndieBound

Thanks for reading! How do you feel about romance in fiction? Do you prefer it to be the focus of the story or more like a side plot? Discuss in the comments!

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On The Handmaid’s Tale & Continuing Adaptations Beyond the Source Material

Spoilers for The Handmaid’s Tale (both the book and the TV show) are ahead, friends. Continue at your own risk.

The van waits in the driveway, its double doors stand open. The two of them, one on either side now, take me by the elbows to help me in. Whether this is my end or a new beginning I have no way of knowing: I have given myself over into the hands of strangers, because it can’t be helped.

And so I step up, into the darkness within; or else the light.

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Full disclosure: one of my favorite things about the novel The Handmaid’s Tale is the ending. Perhaps this impacts my perception of the television adaptation negatively. I love the ambiguity of book Offred’s fate, followed by the jarring shift to the “Twelfth Symposium on Gileadean Studies,” where we are treated to a transcript of Professor Pieixoto’s speech. We have spent around 300 pages immersed in Offred’s story, feeling her pain and simmering resentment, hoping against all hope that she will escape. We are denied the closure of knowing what became of her.

The sudden shift to Pieixoto’s speech, where he discusses “the manuscript,” i.e., The Handmaid’s Tale, as a historical document, is unsettling. Offred’s story is personal to the reader by this time. Pieixoto discusses her in a detached manner, even cracking jokes at times. Then comes this:

If I may be permitted an editorial aside, allow me to say that in my opinion we must be cautious about passing moral judgment upon the Gileadean. Surely we have learned by now that such judgments are of necessity culture-specific. Also, Gileadean society was under a good deal of pressure, demographic and otherwise, and was subject to factors from which we ourselves are happily more free. Our job is not to censure but to understand.

(Applause.)

This endorsement of moral relativism is, in context, quite absurd. It makes the assumption that the people of Gilead made the decisions they did because they had no better options, or simply didn’t know any better. Offred’s words painted a very different picture over the course of the book, however. Gilead was an anomaly on a worldwide scale. Other countries, we are forced to assume, found a better way, without resorting to the horrors that befell Offred. Pieixoto’s own speech makes reference to another country banning birth control (a human rights issue, to be sure, but not on the scale of Gilead’s crimes) and providing financial incentives for giving birth. This bears the question: What is Gilead’s excuse?

More generally, both in The Handmaid’s Tale and in real life, historical instances of one group standing with their boot on another’s group’s neck are often met with empty platitudes about how “people didn’t know any better back then.” I think it is quite obvious that the group with someone’s boot on their neck was always quite aware of the moral injustice; they always knew better. It is disingenuous to assume that the dominant group was incapable of the same.

So, how does all of this tie into the Hulu adaptation?

By continuing past the first season, the TV version of The Handmaid’s Tale has removed some of the ambiguity. While the existence of the journal entry recording those final moments with Offred means it is safe to assume that Offred wasn’t immediately killed by Gilead agents, even if she spent time rotting in prison before being executed, one cannot rule out the possibility that she managed to pass on her final entry to a sympathetic person in the hopes that her story would survive.

So the reader can never learn whether or not Offred was betrayed by Nick. The viewer, on the other hand, follows Offred’s story past this point, and learns that she lives at least a while longer. Nick did not betray her. He no longer brings into focus the ambivalent feelings that necessarily come with romantic attachment for women in extremely male-dominated societies. This continuation also means that the show cuts out the historical symposium bit at the end of the novel. (Perhaps something analogous will be added at the very end of the TV series, but thus far it appears to have been cut.)

Offred, despite the academic dissection of her words, was ultimately lost to history. The lack of knowledge of her fate was thematically important to the story, in part because Offred could represent so much more than herself. She was treated as a cog in the machine by Gilead, interchangeable with any and every other Handmaid. Offred’s story is personal to us because we have been allowed access to her individual experience. There was nothing inherently more special or tragic about her compared to any of the other Handmaids.

Ultimately, the ambiguity in Offred’s fate makes a point: it doesn’t matter whether Offred lived or died, when countless Handmaids died in silence, their stories forever snuffed out by the brutality of Gilead. Offred may well have made it out of Gilead alive, but we know that many Handmaids did not. Each of them would have had a history and inner life as vivid as Offred’s. Atwood’s Gilead is, of course, fiction, but as she has stressed over and over in interviews, she didn’t truly make any of it up. All of the things which happen to women in Gilead are based on things that have been done to women throughout history. Offred is, in a way, a voice for all of them, whether they survived or not.

But who can remember pain, once it’s over? All that remains of it is a shadow, not in the mind even, in the flesh. Pain marks you, but too deep to see. Out of sight, out of mind.

Endings tend to be one of the most thematically rich moments of a story. Where the author chooses to end things can speak volumes about everything that came before. When an adaptation chooses to continue a story past the moment the author originally said it was done, something is inevitably lost.

However, perhaps The Handmaid’s Tale is less guilty than other adaptations; after all, Atwood works as a consulting producer for the show. She is, of course, the ultimate master of Offred’s fate. And as much as I loved the ending of the novel, now more than ever, we need to see stories about women surviving… and fighting back. And I’m grateful to Offred June for that.

Thanks for reading! Please feel free to share your thoughts on this topic in the comments! Let’s discuss!
Nolite te bastardes carborundorum, bitches.

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Review – VOX, by Christina Dalcher

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VOX
by Christina Dalcher

Genre: Dystopian

Length: 326 Pages

Release date: August 21, 2018

Publisher: Berkley

Synopsis:

Set in an America where half the population has been silenced, VOX is the harrowing, unforgettable story of what one woman will do to protect herself and her daughter.

On the day the government decrees that women are no longer allowed more than 100 words daily, Dr. Jean McClellan is in denial—this can’t happen here. Not in America. Not to her.

This is just the beginning.

Soon women can no longer hold jobs. Girls are no longer taught to read or write. Females no longer have a voice. Before, the average person spoke sixteen thousand words a day, but now women only have one hundred to make themselves heard.

But this is not the end.

For herself, her daughter, and every woman silenced, Jean will reclaim her voice

rating

five

I wonder what the other women do. How they cope. Do they still find something to enjoy? Do they love their husbands in the same way? Do they hate them, just a little bit?

VOX is a dystopian novel in the vein of The Handmaid’s Tale which expertly blends the personal and the political. Set in an America which has been taken over by hyper-conservative extremists, women are no longer allowed to work, and they are forced to wear word counters which administer painful electric shocks if they go over their allotted 100 daily words.

One of the highlights of the novel is Jean’s strained relationship with her husband. Prior to the political shift which left Jean as a second class citizen, she viewed her husband as gentle; now, she views him as meek and cowardly. He privately disagrees with the direction the country has taken, but feels unable to push for change in his professional life, where he works closely with the president. The slow, simmering resentment is palpable.

Jean makes a really intriguing protagonist for a novel like this, as she was a highly respected scientist before losing her rights. She was a neuroscientist specializing in Wernicke’s Aphasia and working to develop a cure. Wernicke’s Aphasia leaves sufferers unable to produce meaningful speech; words come to them freely and perhaps even in a grammatically correct sequence, but their sentences are gibberish, utterly lacking in meaning. (An example from the book: “Cookie for your thoughts and when the Red Sox gossiping and galloping, I don’t know. There’s going to be hyper-tension!”) Jean’s life’s work was to help give people back the ability to communicate, and she has now been robbed of that herself.

If I have any criticism of VOX, it’s this: I would have liked to see more of the novel devoted to exploring how American society ended up in that state. For example, in The Handmaid’s Tale, Atwood makes a big point of emphasizing how far-right groups pounced on the panic induced by plummeting birth rates. In VOX, it doesn’t feel like quite enough time is devoted to exploring how social mores shifted enough to allow such a drastic change. The America portrayed in VOX is essentially identical to our own… until it isn’t anymore. In retrospect, perhaps this is more ominous than The Handmaid’s Tale.

Purchase links

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository | IndieBound

Thank you for reading! Have you read VOX? Please share your thoughts in the comment section.
What’s your favorite novel with feminist themes? Let’s discuss!

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Review – Silent All These Years, by T. A. Massa

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Silent All These Years 
by T. A. Massa

Genre: Thriller

Length: 203 Pages

Release date: September 11, 2018

Synopsis: 

A broken daughter’s search for the truth unwinds a spiraling journey of panic, lust, and murder in this manipulative thriller from debut author T. A. Massa.

Melanie Stewart has just been left ten million dollars by a man she never knew. Should she accept the money? What if it means her mother, Marilyn, who died when she was only three years old, was murdered by the man who left it to her?

Melanie is trapped with crippling anxiety after the loss of her mother at a young age and the fatal stabbing of her fiancé on the night of their engagement.

When she discovers she has been written into the will of Roger Andrews, a name linked to the mysterious death of her mother, Melanie must trudge down a path of buried memories, reliving painful heartache, all while attempting to restart her life and trust a new admirer.

Told from the alternating perspectives of Melanie’s investigation and Marilyn’s last weeks leading up to her death, the clues unravel one by one, leaving you guessing until the final climax. Who should Melanie trust? What happened to Marilyn all those years ago?

rating

twoI received an ARC of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review. Many thanks to T. A. Massa. All opinions are my own and not influenced by the author. 

Silent All These Years has one of my biggest pet peeves for a thriller: the whole plot depends on the protagonist being ridiculously, unbearably gullible. The villain is painfully obvious from the moment they appear in the story, and Melanie ignores red flag after giant, waving red flag as she walks blissfully into danger. When the threat is so obvious (not just from the reader’s perspective, mind you, but when there are countless things that should truly give the protagonist pause) and the protagonist remains so oblivious, it becomes difficult to get invested in the character.

You know that moment in a bad horror movie where the person being chased runs up the stairs instead of out of the house to call for help? That’s what this whole book felt like this for me. What are you doing, Melanie? What is going through your head? Do you want to get murdered, Melanie? Because this is how you get murdered . 

I also had a difficult time empathizing with the trauma that has left Melanie with PTSD, mainly because the deceased fiancé never feels like a fleshed-out character. There are a few sparse flashbacks to when Nathan was alive in Melanie’s chapters, but never enough to give the reader any kind of an idea who he was as a person. Nathan exists in the story solely as a means to explain Melanie’s fragile state. The problem is that without a clear picture of Nathan and his relationship with Melanie, it feels very hollow. The readers are not made to feel Melanie’s pain, we are simply told that she is in pain.

I did enjoy some of the chapters which were written from Melanie’s mother’s perspective, however. Marilyn’s love for her daughter is palpable and tender. Her last days aren’t spent mourning her own impeding death, but the realization that she won’t be there for her young daughter anymore.

The story is fast-paced and does have some unexpected twists in regards to the mystery of the mother’s death. Fans of Riley Sager or Mary Kubika may find this an entertaining read.

You can purchase the Kindle edition of Silent All These Years here. 

Thank you for reading! Have you read Silent All These Years? Please share your thoughts in the comments!
What’s most important for you in a thriller?

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WWW Wednesday 09/12/2018

Welcome to another WWW Wednesday! This meme is hosted by Taking on a World of Words. To participate, just answer the following three questions:
What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

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I’m currently reading…

Where the Line Bleeds by Jesmyn Ward and The Rule of One, by Ashley & Leslie Saunders, both feature sets of twins for main characters, so I’m suffering from twin overload right now.

I picked up Where the Line Bleeds recently after finishing Sing, Unburied, Sing for my book club. I’m liking this one well enough, but I do think Sing, Unburied, Sing is the stronger novel. It felt very atmospheric and lyrical, whereas Where the Line Bleeds just feels… overly descriptive at times.

How to Fracture a Fairy Tale is one of my latest NetGalley ARCs. I adore fairy tales, especially fractured fairy tales, but this one isn’t grabbing me as much as I’d hoped. Hopefully it gets better as I get further into it.

The Rule of One was originally on my August TBR when I got an email back in July that I was on its way to me. Then it finally arrived in the mail two days ago. I’m already about halfway through this. It’s a young adult sci-fi/dystopian novel, and it’s super fast-paced and fun.

I recently finished reading…

Force of Nature by Jane Harper is a continuation of Harper’s first novel, The Dry, but also works as a standalone book. When a woman goes missing in the Australian wilderness during a work retreat, Detective Aaron Falk is desperate to solve the case. Did her position as an informant regarding her employer’s shady business dealings put her in danger, or is there another suspect?

VOX, by Christina Dalcher is a sci-fi/dystopian novel in the vein of The Handmaid’s Tale. I have a review for this scheduled to go up on Friday.

Silent All These Years is T. A. Massa’s debut novel, and was just released yesterday. The protagonist, Melanie, learns that she has inherited a large sum of money… from her deceased mother’s former employer. Her mother died under mysterious circumstances while under his employment, and Melanie worries that guilt is the motivation for the bequeathment. Can she accept the money without knowing the truth? Will searching for the truth put her in danger? Look for my review tomorrow!

Up next…

36896898I am forever trying to catch up on my Book of the Month selections. Spinning Silver, by Naomi Novik is up next!

“Miryem is the daughter and granddaughter of moneylenders… but her father isn’t a very good one. Free to lend and reluctant to collect, he has loaned out most of his wife’s dowry and left the family on the edge of poverty–until Miryem steps in. Hardening her heart against her fellow villagers’ pleas, she sets out to collect what is owed–and finds herself more than up to the task. When her grandfather loans her a pouch of silver pennies, she brings it back full of gold.

But having the reputation of being able to change silver to gold can be more trouble than it’s worth–especially when her fate becomes tangled with the cold creatures that haunt the wood, and whose king has learned of her reputation and wants to exploit it for reasons Miryem cannot understand.”

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What are you reading this week? Any thoughts on the books listed in this post?  Please feel free to discuss or share WWW links in the comments!

 

Author Interview – Tara Lynn Masih (Author of My Real Name is Hanna)

Today I am joined by the talented Tara Lynn Masih, author of My Real Name is Hanna. This YA historical fiction novel is out September 15th and has been featured on GoodReads’ Ultimate Fall Reading List for YA Fans! Told from the perspective of a young Jewish girl living during the Holocaust, this is a poignant and beautiful story about human connection and tenacity of spirit. Fans of The Book Thief should check this out!

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Book Blurb:

Hanna Slivka is on the cusp of fourteen when Hitler’s army crosses the border into Soviet-occupied Ukraine. Soon, the Gestapo closes in, determined to make the shtetele she lives in “free of Jews.” Until the German occupation, Hanna spent her time exploring Kwasova with her younger siblings, admiring the drawings of the handsome Leon Stadnick, and helping her neighbor dye decorative pysanky eggs. But now she, Leon, and their families are forced to flee and hide in the forest outside their shtetele—and then in the dark caves beneath the rolling meadows, rumored to harbor evil spirits. Underground, they battle sickness and starvation, while the hunt continues above. When Hanna’s father disappears, suddenly it’s up to Hanna to find him—and to find a way to keep the rest of her family, and friends, alive.

Sparse, resonant, and lyrical, weaving in tales of Jewish and Ukrainian folklore, My Real Name Is Hanna celebrates the sustaining bonds of family, the beauty of a helping hand, and the tenacity of the human spirit.

About the Author

2889627Tara Lynn Masih has won multiple book awards as editor of The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction and The Chalk Circle: Intercultural Prizewinning Essays. Author of My Real Name Is Hanna (a Skipping Stones Honor Award Book) and Where the Dog Star Never Glows: Stories, she has published fiction, poetry, and essays in numerous anthologies and literary magazines (including ConfrontationHayden’s Ferry ReviewNatural BridgeThe Los Angeles ReviewPleiades, and The Caribbean Writer). Several limited edition illustrated chapbooks featuring her flash fiction have been published by The Feral Press and archived at such universities as Yale and NYU, and awards for her work include The Ledge Magazine‘s fiction award, The Lou P. Bunce Creative Writing Award, a Massachusetts Cultural Council finalist fiction grant, and Pushcart Prize, Best New American Voices, and Best of the Webnominations.

Interview

Where did you get the inspiration for My Real Name is Hanna?

My family and I were watching a documentary, No Place on Earth, about Esther Stermer and her family and friends who lived in Ukraine during World War II and, for the most part, survived the Holocaust. We were riveted. The strength of Esther and the perseverance of her family, who hid in underground caves and battled fear, anxiety, starvation, and the Nazis, was inspiring to us all. I took the DVD back to the library but couldn’t forget the Stermers. I’m drawn to stories set in nature. We live so far apart from it now. Thinking of hiding in the bowels of the earth from the evil above, and the lessons we all could learn from the family on how to survive not just physically but emotionally gave me the drive to retell their story through my own fictional characters.

You’ve been published before, but My Real Name Is Hanna is your first novel. How did your writing process differ for this compared to, for example, your short stories? Was it a difficult adjustment?

It was very difficult for me to go from decades of condensing story to expanding on it for the first time. I was astounded when I finished the first real draft in three months. But it was full of holes and lots of problems. It took almost 5 years to get to the finished draft, with lots of help along the way. And as you can see, it’s still not an epic volume. But I think my training in short stories helped me to distill three years into a short novel.

Historical fiction tends to require a lot of research to be done well; what kind of research did you need to do for this book? What would you say is the most interesting thing you learned in your research?

Oh my, every kind of research. From food to birds to animals to customs to the war and the history of the region. Those first categories were fun and relatively easy to research. There is a wealth of research online these days for writers. However, the history of the region was incredibly complex. I can’t say I still know or understand it all. Ukraine has changed hands so many times. I feel for the country. I learned one reason is because of its fertile soil. So much of war and conquest is over trying to dominate the best land that contains water and grows crops.

For me, the most interesting research I did was on the Stermers themselves and how they were able to live underground for almost two years. Much of Ukrainian history was kept under wraps by the Russian government until the 1990s. And so few Jews survived in that part of the world. We’re lucky to have the Stermer autobiography and the work of caver Chris Nicola, who discovered their story and worked hard to preserve it. I encourage everyone who reads the book to watch the film. Hear the real voices, see the real survivors.

What made you decide to write this story as a YA novel specifically, vs. writing for any other age group?

40919597_3532518026764140_7721455577267699712_nI wanted to tell the story from the perspective of a young girl, and I wanted to tell it in a relatively simple, almost fairy tale-like voice. I wanted the younger generation to read a story that hasn’t yet been told in a Holocaust novel. Everyone wants to be seen and heard in life. When voices are purposely ended, it’s a tragedy that goes beyond words. But we need to gather words as much as we can to retell each person’s story, for those who were silenced. As a writer, for me, the most important story I can tell is one that might make readers think differently about their lives or the lives of others. 

What is one message that you hope your readers will take from My Real Name Is Hanna?

Be kind to everyone, but especially to those who you may view as different from yourself. Understand their worth, especially if they are being attacked in some way. Speak out, stand up. As a fellow human being, you have an obligation. It can happen again, and, in fact, it is happening on a smaller scale in places such as Syria and on the U.S. border.

You must have read a lot of books about the Holocaust. Can you recommend any to readers besides the obvious bestsellers?

I did read a lot. Irena’s Children, by Tilar Mazzeo, is an amazing biography about Irena Sendler, a Polish woman who saved thousands of Jewish children at great personal cost. We need to read about more positive role models these days. Another biography that had a huge impact on me was Greg Dawson’s Hiding in the Spotlight, about his own talented, beautiful mother, who played piano for the Nazis without their knowing she was Jewish. Hence, the title. Hasen, a classic from the 1970s by Reuben Bercovitch, is a beautifully written and tragic tale about two boys hiding from the Nazis in the woods. It should be read more than I suspect it is. Finally, The Were Like Family to Me, by Helen Maryles Shankman, is one of the best story collections I’ve ever read, set in the real town of  Włodawa, Poland. As mentioned there are few fictional books set in this part of the world during the Holocaust, and her stories are layered, remarkable, and important and based in part on real historical figures and her own family.

What author has most influenced your own writing?

This may seem odd, but I’d have to say Mark Twain. Hearing his words read aloud in fourth grade are what made me fall in love with story writing. I loved his lyricism and his descriptions of the natural world and his willingness to take on tough cultural topics. It’s a coincidence that his words from Joan of Arc made it to the part openers of my novel, but a happy one, for me.

Many thanks for Tara for participating in this interview! Her newest book is available for purchase 09/15/18, and I cannot recommend it strongly enough. It’s sure to be a well-deserved success.

Read my review of My Real Name is Hanna here.

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