Monday, August 30, 2010
Monday Night in Fort Greene: Ghita Schwarz and "Displaced Persons" at Greenlight Bookstore
Tonight we went over to the absolutely fabulous Greenlight Bookstore in Fort Greene, right by the Fulton Street stop of the G train running along Lafayette Avenue (and the Lafayette Avenue stop of the C train running along Fulton Street - but only MTA employees can go between these stations).
We came for a reading by Ghita Schwarz, a neighborhood resident and author of a first novel, Displaced Persons, which has been garnering wonderful reviews and which we can't wait to read.
Ghita is well-known as a civil rights litigator specializing in immigrants' rights, but she's been writing for decades, from her undergraduate work in The Harvard Crimson to more recent articles everywhere from The Believer to The San Francisco Bay Guardian. We were alrady impressed with the great reviews of Displaced Persons and Ghita's interview with Leonard Lopate on WNYC.
She read two passages from her novel. The first took place in the displaced persons' camp in Europe where her three major characters - Pavel, Fela and Chaim - form a makeshift family. The second, longer, excerpt took place in the 80s or 90s, as they and their families and their fellow survivors debate the now-public nature of the horrors they experienced: whether to go along with "Shpielberg"'s Holocaust oral history project, how and whether to compare their suffering with that of the victims of the Atlantic slave trade and their descendants, and how to make sense of their lives.
The author clearly has a gift for characterization, for inner dialogue as well as the conversational speech of the people she writes about. The long question-and-answer period at Greenlight brought out many interesting testimonies from other children of survivors.
We grew up in a very Jewish world in Brooklyn in the 1950s and 1960s, but except for The Diary of Anne Frank, we knew very little about the Holocaust; it wasn't talked about by the few people (a couple of neighbors or parents of friends) who experienced it, and nothing much was said about it even in four years of Hebrew school at Flatbush Park Jewish Center.
As far as we knew, no one even vaguely related to us had anything to do with it, so it was fairly removed from our lives until the 1970s when the world seemed suddenly filled with books, TV shows, discussions and films about the subject. Anyway, now we are excited about Ghita Schwarz's novel, and like many others - the book's a bestseller already - we look forward to reading it.
Any author who says, as Ghita did in an interview with The Brooklyn Paper, "I love living in Brooklyn, period. I just love biking and walking around. I’m very happy living here, and for me it’s easier to write when I’m happy," knows what she's talking about.