Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Diane Lunsford is talking with Mirta Ines Trupp, author of Destiny by Design: Leah's Journey.
FQ: Thank you for such an engaging story of a time in the not-so distant past. I was immediately intrigued by the subject matter of your book and wonder if there were times you had to step away from the writing given the familial connection. How did this affect your writing and what would you do to get back to it if you needed a break?
TRUPP: Firstly, allow me to express my gratitude for this opportunity. I’m honored you enjoyed the story and—as any author would tell you—nothing is more pleasing than having a tête-à-tête to discuss one’s work! I’m thrilled that you found the subject matter intriguing, as it is truly a topic very near and dear to my heart. I have a penchant for all things Judaic, along with a great passion for historical or period fiction. There is an adage that states “write what you know,” as well as, the axiom that urges one to “write the book you wish to read”—that is what I have done here.
The Abramovitz family in Destiny by Design: Leah’s Journey are a set of fictional characters; however, their plight, both in Imperial Russia and later in Argentina, is based on historical facts. My ancestors, although neither wealthy, nor of the nobility, resided in and around the port city of Odessa and although I was not made privy to their personal trials and tribulations; the general history of the people in that particular time and place has taken hold of my heart.
Throughout the writing process, I wasn’t emotionally affected to such a point where I had to step away from the work, as you say; rather, I was passionately motivated to validate the Abramovitz experience. Too often, when one mentions Russian Jews or the immigration of Eastern European Jewry, people think of Tevye and “Fiddler on the Roof.” There is nothing wrong with that—Sholem Aleichem, the author of the short stories which formulated that epic play and film, was a beloved and brilliant teller of tales. I, however, wanted to paint a different picture, mostly because of my aforementioned partiality for period novels. My fictional Abramovitz family was crying out to me. If ever I felt overwhelmed by the material, I simply focused on their voices. Their aspirations and achievements needed to be put down on paper; in that way, the reader could take Leah and her family into their hearts, hopefully setting them alongside the stories of Tevye or their own ancestors.
FQ: In your opinion, why do you think there was such an animosity toward the success of the Jewish community?
TRUPP: Ah…that is the question of the ages! I don’t know if I am qualified to answer that in any sort of definitive manner, but in general terms, I could—humbly—point to my research and narrow our view to a certain period in time. In the first few chapters of the book, you may recall this passage where Moishe Abramovitz responds to the revizor’s accusations...
“Inspector Reshetnikov, as you well know, we are not foreigners,” Moishe dared to point out. “My siblings and I were born here—in Odessa. My grandparents and those of their generation were practically invited by Catherine the Great with the partitions of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth! How can we be considered foreigners when Lithuania, Belarus, Ukraine and Poland were assimilated by Mother Russia? We are Russian citizens just as the Moldavians, the Crimean Tatars, and Albanians…”
In 1772, the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth was invaded and the first of three partitions brought a huge territory under the control of the Russian Empire. Prior to that time, relatively small numbers of Jews lived in Russia, but with the incorporation of modern-day Lithuania, Belarus, Ukraine and Poland, Jews became a sizable minority overnight.
The influx of Jewish merchants, scholars and farmers into “Novorossiya”, intimidated an already agitated population of mixed ethnicities. Beginning in 1792, Catherine acquiesced to internal pressure and created the Pale of Settlement, an area in the western part of the empire in which Jewish subjects would be obligated to reside—but even this couldn’t curtail the animosity or violence being perpetrated against them. Blamed for everything from disease, famine, economic strife and even the assassination of Alexander II, pogroms or attacks were often authorized by the church, local police or military officials. I don’t know if we can ever fully answer the question of ‘why’, but I suppose fear and ignorance are at the root of all atrocities.
FQ: In your acknowledgments, you reference the fact that your ancestors left Imperial Russia and began their new lives in Entre Rios in La Pampa. You expand on their success thereafter, but there was still the nuance of anti-Semitism and the significant role it played in the lives of Argentine Jews. Could you elaborate on the similarities between Russia and Argentina in such situations?
TRUPP: It was my intention to shed some light on the history of Jewish Argentina, mostly because when one mentions Jewish and Argentina in a sentence, people automatically think of Nazis. It is widely known that thousands of Nazis, high-ranking party members and collaborators—including many notorious war criminals—escaped and found refuge in Argentina. This was largely in part to Juan Peron and his connections to the Third Reich and of course, to many German immigrants who had remained faithful to the Fatherland. There is so much more to the story of Jewish Argentina and it was my hope not to focus solely on the anti-Semitic policies and tragic events. That being said, one cannot turn a blind eye to history and the presence of this particular evil.
Between Argentina’s peak immigration years of 1870-1930, there were approximately 130,000 Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews. By the early-1960s, this number surpassed 250,000. Jewish Argentines figured more prominently in society than their numbers might have implied. From literary giants to Nobel-prize winning scientists, to artisans, educators and businessmen, the Jewish community left an indelible mark on Argentine culture. Although they have greatly shaped Argentine society, this community has been plagued by periodic outbursts of malicious anti-Semitism—very much like what they experienced in Russia and Eastern Europe. Examples abound…
In January 1919, for the duration of an entire “tragic week” (Semana Trágica), the Jewish community in Buenos Aires experienced physical violence and destruction of property. The coup d'état in 1943, orchestrated by a group of army officers known as the G.O.U. (Grupo de Oficiales Unidos) which included a relatively unknown colonel named, Juan Perón, imposed compulsory Catholic education. In 1962, after Eichmann was executed in Israel, gruesome riots broke out throughout Argentina, culminating in the so-called “Sirota affair.” Neo-Nazis kidnapped a college student named Graciela Narcisa Sirota and carved a swastika on her breast. Jewish organizations cited the incident as an example of police laxity in a mounting number of violent cases against their community. During the “Dirty War” era of 1976-1983, disproportionate numbers of Jewish students and professionals were victimized, kidnapped, tortured, or were simply made to “disappear. In the 1990’s, both the Israeli embassy and the A.M.I.A. (Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina) buildings were bombed—hundreds were killed or injured.
When I would ask my grandparents to tell me stories of Russia, they would sometimes reply, “What for? We have made a new life here.” When I would ask my cousins about the anti-Semitism they faced at school or with society in general, they would say, “Yes, it exists, but we don’t allow it to define us.” During the Jewish holiday of Passover, we read the story of the Exodus. We are directed to think as if we, ourselves, were the Israelites escaping Egyptian servitude. The point of the story, for me at least, is to recognize that at one time we were enslaved, tortured physically and mentally, but we are now free…what will we do with that personal freedom? We cannot move forward and create a better future for ourselves and our children, if we live as victims. So while the answer to your question is: Yes, they faced similar stifling and horrific events—comparable to what was experienced in Russia—in many important ways, their adopted country did, indeed, prove to be their “New Jerusalem.”
FQ: I’m in awe of authors who weave accurate history throughout the storyline. While you site many references, I’m assuming there were eyebrow raising moments when it hit close to home during your genealogy research. Please share an instance when this occurred and how it made you feel.
TRUPP: As noted above, there were stories—worthy of raising eyebrows and my ire—but I’d rather focus on the awe-inspiring stories! Throughout the many years of research, I have been blessed with several discoveries. Thanks to the wonderful people at the Civil Registry of Santa Isabel in La Pampa, I was gifted with numerous documents detailing the lives of my ancestors. They were able to send me birth, death, and marriage certificates of my relatives. In addition, the Jewish association in Bernasconi, La Pampa sent me a book which had been published to commemorate the founding of that particular Jewish colony. My paternal great grandparents are listed among the honored pioneers. In a Jewish cemetery in the town of Rivera, I discovered a tombstone with the name Esther bat Mendel Trup (daughter). I was not familiar with the infant, but Mendel Trupp was my grandfather. Upon further investigation, I confirmed that this baby had, indeed, been the second of the Trupp’s daughters; however, Esther had died within months of her birth. Her life and death was never discussed—my father never knew of this sister. With help from the Chevra Kadisha (the Burial Society) of that isolated township, I discovered a delicate branch in my family tree. It is a Jewish custom to commemorate the dead on the anniversary of their passing, as well as on the holiday of Yom Kippur—I now can recite the mourner’s Kaddish (a mourner’s prayer) for Esther. There is a Yiddish proverb that states: The only truly dead are those who have been forgotten. What started out as a hobby has enabled me to bring this babe into the family fold. Writing historical fiction has allowed me to provide my reader insight into a past society; it has allowed me to build a bridge between the “then and now.”
FQ: Have you ever visited the Russian empire of Odessa? If so, what resonated most for you? If not, do you have plans to ever do so?
I have never visited Russia or Odessa, which, of course, is in the modern-day country of Ukraine. In my first attempt at writing, I offered up a Creative Nonfiction which outlines my rather unique upbringing thanks, largely in part, to my father’s employment with Pan American Airlines. One of the many fringe benefits Pan Am bestowed upon their employees was the ability to fly around the world—practically for free! Unfortunately, the only place we ever visited was Argentina and I have at least five discarded passports to prove it! A trip to Odessa would be bittersweet, but it is definitely on my bucket list. Who knows, maybe one day, I will find myself sitting in a corner café in the Pearl of the Black Sea…drinking tea from a crystal podstakannik.
FQ: Given this is a story that touches upon familial experiences, was there any push-back from family members on any of the content? If so, how did you overcome the circumstance to reach an amenable way forward with the writing?
TRUPP: I am known as the family historian and genealogist. Upon the publication of “With Love, The Argentina Family” and later, “Becoming Malka” and finally, “Destiny by Design”, my family saw my dedication and passion come to life. Everyone has been supportive of my scribbling, although I do recall one or two cousins being surprised that I wrote a second and a third novel. They had assumed that, like the first book, I had continued to write my memoirs. Since “Becoming Malka” is about a tarot card endowed with time-travel abilities and “Destiny by Design” showcases an aristocratic family on the run, I found their comments worthy of being mocked! “Yes,” I retorted. “The books are all about my time travel to Odessa in 1901, where I wore a corset and a bustle—while dancing to the tune of ‘Tum Balalaika’ with the neighborhood cossack!” I found my answer to be quite amenable! I’m not quite sure what my cousins thought.
FQ: How long did this story percolate in your subconscious before you knew it was time to set pen to paper?
TRUPP: Even as I child, I was mesmerized by historical fiction. I remember reading a biography of Florence Nightingale in the third grade and the mold was set. The history, combined with the foreign settings, fashion, and mannerisms sparked something inside of me. In addition, I had a fascination with genealogy and my family’s own history of immigration, so you see; subconsciously, all of my novels were sown from the same seed.
In a previous question, I mentioned that old saying about writing the book you wish to read. With my novels, I did just that. I wanted to incorporate my love for Austen, Gaskell and the Bronte sisters with Judaica. I think we are seeing an extraordinary renaissance of the period drama—a quick look at Regency author, Jane Austen’s popularity can attest to that fact. Destiny by Design: Leah’s Journey took hold in my mind while I was writing Becoming Malka. In one of the final chapters of that book, Leah is having a heart-to-heart with Marina—otherwise known as Molly Abramovitz. Leah is confessing her dreams and aspirations, all the while ignorant to the fact that her world was about to come crashing down. I knew then and there—I had another story in me. It would be Leah’s turn, once I finished with my dear Molly. I published Becoming Malka in March of 2016 and began working on Destiny by Design in December.
FQ: You have a wonderful ability to breathe credibility into your characters. Of the many beautiful characters in Destiny by Design, who resonates most with you and why?
TRUPP: I’m glad you’ve enjoyed the diverse cast of characters. Each one brings their own individual gifts and talents to the story; it is rather difficult to choose one. Malka, the matriarch, is the epitome of elegance and wisdom. She imparts a sense of constancy and respectability. These are most definitely characteristics which I would hope to emulate. Then we have Leah, who, at times, reminded me of Lydia Bennett, the silliest of young ladies of “Pride and Prejudice” fame. With lighthearted, teenage bravado, Leah is continually throwing caution to the wind, and yet, I hope readers see a more refined—a more sensible—Elizabeth unfold as she (Leah) matures throughout the novel. I see myself in Leah’s plans and aspirations. While I can’t profess to have lived the life of an aristocrat, I can admit to the fact that, I too, was a cossetted and naive young lady—thanks to an overprotective and old-fashioned family. Like Leah, I wanted to pave my own way, paying homage to my culture and heritage, but fashioning my life in my own terms.
FQ: It’s been an honor and pleasure to chat with you today. I would imagine you are already onto the next project. Are you able to share what you’re working on and when we can expect to see it in print?
TRUPP: The pleasure has been all mine, I assure you! I would be delighted to share my next project with your reading audience, but I haven’t a clue to what that might be just yet! For now, I am letting this experience sink in. I’ve accomplished something that has brought me great joy—I know my parents would be kvelling with pride. I invite you all to follow me on Facebook to learn more about Jewish Argentina and view the various photo albums that depict the lives of those I mean to honor. Thank you again!
Mirta Ines Trupp
To learn more about Destiny by Design: Leah's Journey, please read the review.