In the upcoming months, I will be participating in two separate book club meetings via Zoom. Both groups have decided to read and discuss my novel, Destiny by Design~ Leah’s Journey. Full disclosure, this book is not a JAFF. It is an Austen-inspired, Jewish Historical Fiction loosely based on my family’s experiences. Although I tried to promote my latest novel, The Meyersons of Meryton, both groups had already made their selection. Some members had already begun reading. What’s an indie author to do? The book was published in 2017; and it goes without saying, the ongoing show of interest is invaluable! However, for this book in particular, I should not have been surprised. Just about a year after its publication, I embarked on a journey of my own. Talk about a show of interest…
I received an email via Goodreads.com. The note was from a woman who had read and enjoyed, Destiny by Design~ Leah’s Journey. She went on to explain that a group from the Jewish Federation of Palm Beach County were in the midst of planning a trip, their so-called “VIP Mission to Argentina.” Stacey Levy introduced herself as the lead chair of the mission and explained that her team of organizers were preparing an exclusive itinerary in this hub of South American Jewish life. They were planning on visiting synagogues and Jewish schools, and meeting with dignitaries to discuss the needs and the experiences of Jewish Argentines. She also wanted to schedule an afternoon Meet & Greet with a Jewish Argentine author.
“Do you happen to know of anyone who’d be interested to meet with us?”
In my naiveté, I wrote back, graciously thanking her for her kind words regarding my book. I offered to contact my relatives in Argentina, in the hopes of finding someone to work with her organization. That is to say, an Argentine author of Jewish fiction, who—by the way— spoke English. Several emails later (Yes! I am that slow), my fairy godmother nearly had to slap me with the plane ticket.
“Your book was hand selected. I am inviting you to come speak to the group.”
To say that I was honored doesn’t even come close. Naturally, I accepted the invitation, but how would I explain it all to my family? A complete stranger was inviting me to go to Argentina. My kids were astounded. Hadn’t I always preached the need for safety and precaution when interacting with people on the internet? Admittedly, I did some research and found that I was dealing with a legitimate person from a well-known organization. There were a flurry of emails and phone calls to organize the event. I was given the opportunity to suggest a venue, and I immediately proposed meeting in Las Violetas, an iconic café in Buenos Aires. The location is even mentioned in my novel. But the café could not accommodate a group of fifty people, so I suggested Café Tortoni. This legendary establishment has been home to Argentina’s most famous artists, literary giants, journalists and politicians. And I, an unknown indie author, would now be joining in their ranks.
The day of the event finally arrived. I was met at the door by the manager of the café and escorted to a private room. I walked by famous works of art and stained glass, noting the lovely display of treats that had been set out. An Argentine afternoon tea closely resembles what one might expect to find in any British setting. Finger sandwiches and fine, elaborated pastries were presented upon intricate silver trays and delicate china. Of course, there were cookies filled with Dulce de Leche, but I couldn’t touch a bite. I took a seat, next to a life-sized picture of world-renown author, Jorge Borges, and sipped my tea in anticipation. I had yet to meet Stacey in person!
At last, the group arrived. They had completed a tour of Teatro Colon; and after my presentation, they would have just enough time to change before dining with one of the city’s officials. Again, I was taken aback at the magnitude of what was transpiring. The entire episode was surreal. With not a moment to waste, Stacey and I embraced— as if we had known each other our entire lives— and she proceeded with the introductions. Taking the floor, I was overcome with a sense of calm. The nerves were gone and I was “in the zone.” This moment in time was the exact reason I had written Becoming Malka and Destiny by Design~ Leah’s Journey. I was given this opportunity, not to gloat or to promote my work, but to elaborate on my own family’s history and Jewish Argentina.
Many participants had had the opportunity to read the novel, but there were others who had not. I explained that my book focuses on the experiences of Jewish immigrants at the end of the nineteenth century and speaks to their struggles and their tremendous achievements. It is thanks in part to these unsung heroes, and the Jewish Colonization Association established by Baron Maurice Hirsch, that the community flourished. Of course, being an enthusiast of novels set in the Regency, Victorian and Edwardian period, I readily admitted that my story had an Austenesque flair. I was happily surprised to meet a few Janeites there! Nevertheless, it was important for my audience to understand the book’s true purpose. Destiny by Design-Leah’s Journey intentionally pays homage to this particular era and to the immigrant merchants, teachers, tailors, and farmers, who became Jewish gauchos. Afterwards, I was approached by members of the group who eagerly shared their thoughts.
“I felt connected with the Jewish gauchos and their descendants after reading your book; more so, than after visiting the synagogues and museums.”
“You painted such a vivid picture—I was right there with you and Leah!”
“Your book reminded me of Pride and Prejudice, but with a culturally Jewish ethos. Very well done!”
In a moment that could only be described as supernatural, I felt surrounded by all my ancestors. They were kvelling. They were proud. I felt it. I knew it. Their voices had been calling out to me. They had carved out a path for us and showed us the true meaning of courage, faith and determination. My books are solely a vehicle to illuminate their work. In preparation for my upcoming events, I will continue to focus on that point.
My trip to Argentina was a once-in-a-lifetime event. Of course, I have been back on numerous occasions (that’s a subject for another book), but this trip was unique. I traveled alone and with a specific agenda. My roots were in the provinces; my ancestors were the founding pioneers of several Jewish colonies as early as 1898. I had the opportunity of visiting these places, of placing stones on graves, of touring their rural synagogues and schools, of meeting people who knew my grandparents in their early days. Every time I am invited to speak, it is an opportunity to honor their memory.
I’m currently working on a new project. Captain Wentworth has a recurring role throughout the novel, so I’m tentatively calling it a Persuasion prequel (No doubt, my beta readers will inform me if I’ve missed the mark completely). The story will feature Abigail Isaacs, a young Jewish woman from Exeter. Her father and brother raised her to be a brilliant mathematician and an astronomer. We will follow her to the Viceroyalty of Rio de la Plata where real characters will be introduced into the mix, including Lord Duff, the Fourth Earl of Fife, Jose de San Martin, and Mariquita Sanchez de Thompson. A hundred years before my ancestors arrived to the shores of Buenos Aires, these three were helping to fight for independence from the Spanish crown. I’m hoping to combine my love for Austen and Jewish Historical Fiction, with my passion for honoring my ancestors. Wish me luck as I continue on this journey…