Last week, I spent my Tuesday lunch hour at my office desk, immersed in the latest Twitter Book Club session administered by the Jewish Book Council. The novel under discussion was The Invisible Bridge, by Julie Orringer, one of my favorite recent reads. There are many reasons why I became interested in Orringer’s novel even before I read it; one of them is the fact that the novel emerged in part from Orringer’s family history. That is to say, from grandparent history.
When I discover that a particular work of fiction is rooted at least in part in the Nazi era-influenced experiences of an author’s grandparents, I can’t help but be interested. I’ve long been familiar with creative work by the children of Holocaust survivors and refugees from the Reich. The grandchildren are another story. With a 1969 birthdate, I am among the elders of this cohort. For the most part, the grandchildren’s work is just beginning to reach readers. (This is a point that I expect to discuss during a panel on 21st-century Jewish-American fiction at the Association of Writers and Writing Programs conference in February.)
As usually happens with the JBC chats, the author participated and answered reader questions last week. (You can read the full transcript here.) And in one of Orringer’s statements, I found an excellent insight that will help me respond to questions, when they come, about my own forthcoming collection, Quiet Americans:
“My grandmother says, ‘The fictional parts of the book are true; if they didn’t happen to us, they happened to someone else.'”
How do I know this will help me? Well, a few days after the chat, a friend read my collection’s opening story online, then asked me via e-mail whether any of it was drawn from my own family’s experience. I pointed my friend to a brief essay I’ve written explaining the story’s background.
Mentally, I also heard the words of Julie Orringer’s grandmother, echoing.