Hidden Rooms Interview Transcript

“Hidden Rooms” Interview Transcript

Early one morning, I stood at a bus stop and rummaged through my mind for a story to write. What interests me now? What storyline has been in hibernation, waiting for its spring? What older, unpublished story that I still find relevant might benefit from a remodeling? My bus approached in the distance, and as it and I waited for the red light to turn green, I suddenly remembered a story, one more generation, that I had written 40 years earlier. It was loosely about my paternal grandmother as much as it was about my childhood attachment to a particular neighborhood of Tel Aviv. At that moment, standing at the bus stop, I was in that particular neighborhood, living there, in fact, surrounded on the daily by the ghosts of all my grandparents and my parents’ childhoods as well.

As the bus moved closer, I did a quick rethink of the story and knew that I did not relate to its sentimentalism and naïveté. How to rework it? Would it be worth doing? Sometimes it’s better to just let pieces remain in the boydem, our German-inspired word for garret. But as I boarded the bus, I thought I could do something with this, could use this child’s point of view to create tension with the wider perspective I’ve gained over decades of living here. I grabbed a strap and thought, “I will revise the story’s language to remove some of the most aching phrases I no longer relate to. But I will keep the story basically as is and superimpose on it my current voice and way of seeing the world.” And that is how the hybrid structure was born. By the time the bus pulled up next to the train station, I realized there was not only logic, but beauty in this narrative structure, for it literally mimicked the reality of how I live with parallel scenes and voices every day on these streets.

When I actually started to add the second new contemporary sections, I realized right away that they should not only sound different from the original short story, but that it would be more effective if they embraced the nonfictional voice: a deliberate shift in genre to underscore the position that I am looking back, not only at my younger selves—the child in the story and the woman in her twenties writing. Not only about how I—we—saw my grandmother and her history then, but to comment on the entire project of writing as a way of making inroads into family history and most obviously, the geography of the self. I cut and added sentences from and to the original piece and composed the long, reflective parts that turn out to comprise more than half of the new story.

I hope to establish a dialogue between the two parts. Between the two parts of me, the older and younger, the American and Israeli, the English- and Hebrew-speaking selves. The Israeli and the European. Including photos felt very organic while I was writing in the nonfictional personal voice. I wanted literally to show what I was talking about.

Deciding to include the contemporary Berlin photo was intuitive, and once I saw it on the page, I valued the visual contrast it created with the older photos, one from 1960, me as a baby on my grandmother’s lap, and one in black and white from the 1930s, my grandmother on her Tel Aviv balcony. The Berlin photo is crisp with color, and yet it represents the time before. Before the flight, the violence, the war. I like the tension there. The oldest reference is the most current photo. I read hope into that. The place that was once home and then became a battleground can once again become a home.

Layering two different kinds of voices created 40 years apart resonates for me. The structure is aesthetically challenging and new for me as a writer, and exciting for that. I hope that a kind of harmony describing these transnational movements and identities is created. I have attempted to bring a great deal of information together and to understand legacy more deeply, even though I know so much cannot really be understood or fully grasped, not while life is being lived. And not once it is being viewed in the rear view mirror.

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