My recent novel, Looking for Sarah, is based on a true story of my family. It’s a tale of survival and coming of age of two young Jewish women set against the whirlwind of history and the struggle of being a Jew in the Soviet Union.
The story begins when, in the darkest days of pogroms, a family flees the Pale of Settlement in search of a better life in Argentina. Amid the chaos of the WWI, one of the daughters, Sarah, misses the train. Left alone in war-torn Russia, Sarah survives the political maelstrom of the Revolution, the vicious cycle of Stalin’s purges, the Holocaust of the Great Patriotic War, and the aftermath of the Soviet victory. Through the pain, bloodshed, violence, and humiliation, Sarah never gives up the hope of seeing her family again, and when the opportunity presents itself, she makes a difficult decision to defect.
Years later that decision has a profound effect on her great-granddaughter Sonya’s life. Sonya comes of age amidst the Soviet anti-Semitism of the 1970s and 1980s, and the intricate details of her childhood and adolescence provide a never-before-seen window into the world of Jewish upbringing of that era. For years Sonya dreams of being accepted among her non-Jewish peers, but when those dreams are shattered by the KGB’s revelation of Sarah’s choice, Sonya has to make her own choice. She must choose between the road taken by her great-grandmother and the road that will save her love.
Tell us something about yourself.
I was born in Moscow, USSR into a Soviet Jewish family. As most Soviet Jews in those days, I grew up afraid to speak my last name for fear of being recognized a Jew, the most despised minority in the country. Kindergartens and schools didn’t discourage anti-Semitic remarks from both students and teachers and so Jewish children had to fend for themselves. The answer was to remain as invisible as one could possibly master.
Invisibility was the norm among the adults as well. My parents, their parents, their friends, uncles and cousins were nearly all engineers — a profession that was dull, harmless and, most importantly for the Soviet government, safe enough to entrust to Jews. So for the lack of better opportunities, I also began to study engineering. When the changes of perestroika and glastnost swept through the Soviet Union and Jewish emigration rules were relaxed, I convinced my family to leave. After much discussion we left Moscow on October 19, 1989 – stripped of our Soviet citizenship, with six suitcases, and $180 to our names. Our departure proceeded the fall of the Berlin Wall only by three weeks.
Since my arrival I completed my education in the field that was as far from engineering as I could get. I’ve taken advantage of my freedom and I have worked and lived all over the world. And I finally took off my “invisibility” cloak. I decided to write about my experiences. In addition to this novel , I was published as a contributor to Illuminations (www.Illuminationsbook.com) alongside such contributors as Julia Cameron, Marianne Williamson, Desmond Tutu, and others. I am now working on my next novel.
What inspired you to write this book?
Ever since I first heard the story of my great-grandmother whispered during the usual tea ritual by an old samovar, I could not help but think of all those whose fates would have been ever so different had she not missed that train. It was the stories of their remarkable lives
and struggles as well as my own experiences in the Soviet Union, United States and Argentina that compelled me to write this novel.
What obstacles did you encounter in getting this book published? How did you overcome them?
When I first finished this book, the internet and e-book formats were not as developed or popular as they are now. So I embarked on the familiar-to-every-writer process of looking for an agent. After having no luck for a few months, I embarked on publishing Looking for Sarah in the electronic format. I figured that it’ll allow people to read my work while also saving trees.
How did you know you wanted to be a writer? How did you get started?
My first wish was to pen this story. I felt the need to tell it, to commit it to paper, and to share it. Once I finished it, I realized that telling stories was really, really fun. And that’s why I am now working on my second novel.
Do you have any writing rituals?
My problem is that I easily get distracted with e-mail and internet. So my ritual is to write for full two hours and only after that reward myself with checking my e-mail or browsing the internet.
What is the best advice you could give other writers about writing or publishing?
Be gentle with yourself. Writing is an art but it’s also work. So make sure you celebrate small victories and reward yourself for the hard work you’ve done.
Who is the perfect reader for your book?
People interested in Jewish history, Russian history, and coming of age stories.
Where can readers learn more about you and your book?
I have the book featured in my blog: http://mgsbooks.wordpress.com/fiction/
It’s available for purchase (in all different electronic formats): https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/3630
YouTube trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch? v=hkQe0GDDWXU