A Gefilte Fish Out of Water

Readers always want to know how much of a novelist’s work is autobiographical. In my case, not much. I've been blessed with a boring life. There’s little drama to work with.

When I took the writing class that encouraged me to write Slave and Sister, my writing teacher asked us: Is there a conflict in your life that has sparked your writing?

Minneapolis, my home town, is a diverse place now, filled with people from East Asia, East Africa, South Asia, and South America. But in my childhood in the 1960s, diversity in Minneapolis meant that there was a Swede and a Norwegian in the same room. It was a painfully homogeneous place.

Anyone who was a little bit different—as a Jew, I was different enough—was an oddity. I never knew if an inquiry would be a friendly request for education—“Sabra? What kind of a name is that?”—or hostile, bordering on anti-Semitic. “Is it true that you people don’t eat pork?”

Growing up in Minneapolis, a gefilte fish out of water, gave me the subject I've never tired of as a novelist. People who live in one culture but belong to another. People with divided loyalties.  People who aren't at ease where they are, or with who they are.

It’s an all-purpose conflict. It makes sense in any time or any place. I've yet to tire of it.

If you ask me about my personal life—politely—I’ll answer you. But I guarantee it’s not as interesting as what I write about.