Another Author of the Month at MyShelf.Com
Author of the Month
Leora Krygier [December 2004]
Chosen by reviewer Carolyn Howard-Johnson, MyShelf.Com
On Forgiveness as an Aftermath of War
Leora G. Krygier is an author of great sensitivity. I have read both of her novels and believe them to be on a par with those of Joanne Harris (CHOCOLAT and the movie by the same name) and Fannie Flag (of FRIED GREEN TOMATO fame--both book and movie). She used her First the Raven and now her new release When She Sleeps to explore important subjects through the double lenses of her American and Israeli heritage. By doing so she affirms once again what all great authors tell us, that, as human beings, we are made of the same stuff and that “stuff” holds great promise if we will but use it well. Here are the questions I asked her. I only hope that they begin to do her justice, that they allow her inimitable spirit to shine through.
Leora, I was taken with the originality of When
I have never read anything quite like it. How did you get the idea? In
Carolyn: Leora, I was taken with the originality of When She Sleeps. I have never read anything quite like it. How did you get the idea? In your dreams?
Leora: The character of Mai actually did come to me in a dream. I was a teenager during the Vietnam War, but I’ve never been to Vietnam, nor was anyone in my family a veteran of the Vietnam War. Suddenly, a few years ago, I began having a recurring dream about this young, Amerasian girl. It prompted to start thinking about all the other experiences I’d had with dreams over my lifetime – the times I’d dream about someone and then they’d call the next day. I knew then that I wanted to explore the power of our dreams. When I realized how little I knew about the war, I started to read books and research the era, and soon I was imagining Mai in a way I had never experienced before with a character. It was as if the floodgates had opened, and her story needed to be told.
Carolyn: It’s interesting that Vietnam and the war there, after being virtually ignored for some time, is now being compared to the war in Iraq. Did you have any inkling about this when you were writing?
Leora: I wrote the first draft for When She Sleeps four years ago, so there was no inkling on my part about the war in Iraq. I am, however, very drawn to stories about war veterans. The subject of the emotional aftermath of wars is a theme that interests me and seems to run through all my writing.
Carolyn: Along the same line of thinking, do you believe that authors should try to foretell what will be “in” or current when they write their novels?
Leora: There’s no hard and fast rule that fiction cannot be “topical,” even though traditionally it isn’t. Personally, however, I find fiction is a way of exploring a topic in an entirely different viewpoint, and necessitates, for me, some time away from an event, in order to gain a special perspective.
Carolyn: The scenes in Saigon feel real. The sights and sounds of the countryside, the smells and danger of the city, virtually throb with life. How did you achieve that?
Leora: Since I wasn’t able to time-travel back to Vietnam in the 1960’s and 1970’s, I read everything I could get my hands on, trying mostly to read firsthand accounts of American soldiers who served there. I also posted inquiries on the Internet and corresponded with nurses and doctors who were stationed in Saigon during the war. Especially important for me, however, was reading Vietnamese poetry in translation, so I could understand and feel the rhythm of the language. Language is the nucleus of the story and Vietnamese poetry I read helped me to capture the sensibility I wanted to achieve.
Carolyn: I was moved by the scenes with the Jewish grandparents and how you showed the effect of the Holocaust on Lucy’s family. What were you trying to achieve by juxtaposing the stories of two such different young girls as they moved into womanhood?
Leora: The Holocaust is an undercurrent in all my thinking and writing. This time, I wanted to delve into its repercussions from an unusual vantage point. Lucy’s grandparents lost their entire family in Eastern Europe. Their feelings of guilt for leaving Europe before the Holocaust permeates everything they do and say. When their son, Aaron, volunteers for Vietnam, they feel betrayed by his wanting to put himself in harm’s way. I thought it would be interesting to examine this complicated family, see how the Holocaust fit into the choices each of the characters made, and how it interconnected with the Vietnam War. Most of us think of the Holocaust and the Vietnam War as two very separate events. I wanted to find the emotional correlations between them.
Carolyn: This story read like fine embroidery on silk. If you had to pick one thread – one theme- as most important, what would it be?
Leora: I’d have to choose the theme of forgiveness. I think forgiveness is central to the human experience and a crucial first step in moving forward. I think it’s very interesting that the verb “forgive,” the act of giving up resentment against or the desire to punish, is so close to the word “forge,” a place where metal is heated and hammered into a new shape. That’s how I like to think of forgiveness – reshaping rather than altering behavior. Each of my characters learns to forgive him or herself and others in their own particular way.
Carolyn: Has your career as a lawyer and referee with the court influenced your fiction?
Leora: As a lawyer and referee, I spend my days listening to people’s stories. No matter how many times you might think an answer should be simple or clear, you realize that the human element will intervene to expose the inevitable shades of gray. Even a simple traffic case, which should be cut and dry, can be colored by events that precede the offense, the history of the people involved, and their emotions and expectations. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from more than a decade on the bench, it’s never to take anything at face value. I always try to dig a bit deeper, because ultimately I’ll find something I don’t expect.
Carolyn: You are obviously a researcher as well as a writer. I understand that this skill led you to an investigation related to your book. Would you care to tell us a bit about it?
Leora: Because of my interest in the plight of Amerasians, I recently became involved in helping an Amerasian woman who is trying to locate her American father. She doesn’t know her father’s name, only that he worked as a geologist and brought his violin with him to Vietnam. She has no photos of him because her mother burned all the photographs they had when Saigon fell, fearing the Communist backlash. It is really a very poignant story and I hope to enlist the help of others via my website (www.leorakrygier.com) in this search.
Carolyn: Have you ever done this kind of search before?
Leora: I just spent a year searching for a British Army Private whose postcard, written in 1942, I found in a little junk store here in the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles. I was very taken by the simple sentiments written by him on the postcard, very evocative of its time, and I took it upon myself to see if I could find its author, more than half a century later. After a year of searching, sadly, I learned that the private had passed away, but I found the private’s brother in a small village in Norfolk, England, and this summer I traveled to Great Britain to return to postcard to the family. The story of my search and its affect on both my life and the life of the private’s family is the subject of my next book.
Interviewer Carolyn Howard-Johnson is the award-winning author of This is the Place, Harkening: A Collection of Stories Remembered and The Frugal Book Promoter.
2004's Honorary List