Author Archives: Yona Zeldis McDonough

The Lilith Blog

January 6, 2021 by

A Q&A with Jennifer Robson, Author of “Our Darkest Night”

It’s 1942, and Antonina, a young Jewish woman, is no longer safe in her native Venice. With help from a benevolent priest, her father finds her shelter with a family of farmers outside the city. Although she knows she should be grateful for the chance to escape, Antonina grieves the separation from her parents and is terrified of accidentally exposing the charade she is forced to perform — assuming the role of the young farmer’s wife. Novelist Jennifer Robson talks to fiction editor Yona Zeldis McDonough about Our Darkest Night (William Morrow, $17.99), her newest novel that is devoted to Antonina’s brave and harrowing story. 

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The Lilith Blog

December 9, 2020 by

Two Generations of Women …and a Stolen Menorah That Haunts Them

In Nine Tenths of the Law (Kasva Press), Claudia Hagadus Long tells the story of two generations of women and the stolen menorah that haunts them. It’s 1939 and a beautiful, heirloom menorah is ripped from the hands of Aurora, its young owner.  The Nazi who grabs it has eyes for more than just the menorah, and singles Aurora out for “special duties.”  Decades later, on another continent, she sees the menorah in a museum and tells her daughter, “That was mine.”  But it’s only after her death that sisters Zara and Lilly embark on a dangerous mission to reclaim what was once theirs.  Long talks to Fiction Editor Yona Zeldis McDonough about memory’s dual power to wound and to heal. 

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The Lilith Blog

December 4, 2020 by

Saving Leonardo de Vinci’s “Lady with the Ermine”

September 1939 and Edith Becker sits with her hands trembling beneath the table where she’s seated before some of the most important men of the Alte Pinakoteck, one of Munich’s greatest museums.  Usually, Edith’s work as a conservator keeps her ] behind the scenes, but today she’s been asked to identify and comment on paintings held in private collections across Poland.  What she doesn’t know is that this is just the beginning of an extensive and highly organized plot to plunder Europe’s artwork and use it to glorify the Third Reich. 

Fiction Editor Yona Zeldis McDonough talks to Laura Morelli about The Night Portrait,  (William Morrow, $16.99) a novel that traces the fraught journey of Leonardo de Vinci’s famous Lady with the Ermine, and how this priceless work of art was ultimately saved. 

YZM: How did the idea to write about this aspect of World War II come to you?

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The Lilith Blog

November 24, 2020 by

Life Without Lipstick

This has been the year of devastation. Just to start, there’s the staggering death toll from COVID, the collapse of the economy, the millions out of work, threatened by homelessness—and that’s not even saying a word about the savage animosity surrounding the election or the reckoning with American racism that has resurfaced in recent months. 

In such a year, we might want to cling to our small comforts and rituals even more tightly—that latte with your BFF after a walk in the park, dinner at your favorite Italian place where every meal feels like a celebration, an afternoon at a museum or a Saturday night at the movies–but we are deprived of those too. And although none of these compare even remotely to the loss of life and living, they inflict a particular kind of pain because they are set against the backdrop of such monumental tragedy. One of those small sorrows is the loss of lipstick—and by this I mean red lipstick because for me, that’s the only kind there is.

Pre-COVID, I was never without my red lipstick. I owned more than a dozen tubes, and I always made sure there was one in my pocket or purse. On the damnably rare occasion I forgot one, I ducked into the nearest drug or department store to quickly remedy the lack. Like any addict, I couldn’t be without the stuff. At home, I’d keep tubes tucked everywhere: bathroom, bedroom, front hall, and desk drawer. There was even one in the fridge, for those blisteringly hot New York days when I needed to have my red on ice.

I wasn’t always so exclusive in my devotion. In my youth, I dabbled with coral and plum, berry and rose.  No more. Now that I’ve achieved a certain, shall we say, patina, it’s red and only red, even when I’m walking the dog or sweating at the gym.  Red lipstick is both ammunition and armor, a good luck charm, a valentine, a talisman and a fetish. Red wards off the blues, brightens the skies, lifts the spirits and stirs the soul–every single time. When you wear red lipstick, you can’t hide; it won’t let you.  Red commands attention, instills confidence, projects power.  Red is bold, red is brilliant. Red finishes off the perfect Little Black Dress, punches up a classic white T and jeans, turns a bathing suit and flip-flops into a I’m-ready-for-my-close-up moment. Red lipstick adds gumption and guts to everything you put on. The incandescently lovely Marilyn Monroe was a fan of the red lip. And so is the fierce—and fiercely awesome–Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Her go-to shade is Stila’s Stay All Day Liquid in Beso, and whenever she expects a day to be more stressful than usual, she makes sure she’s rocking it. 

Yes, red leaves its mark: on the rims of glasses, napkins, and too many of your fresh-from-the cleaners clothes.  But embrace it as your own personal trademark, your brand.  Even after years of wedded bliss, I still embellish birthday and Valentine’s Day cards to my husband with a big, fat red-lipsticked smooch under my name.      

But now that we live in pandemic-land and masks are a part of daily life for who knows how long, all my ravishing reds (Chanel, YSL, L’Oreal, and Revlon among my current favorites) have been rendered useless—null and void.  There’s no point to wearing red (or any other color) under the mask.  No one sees it and it makes a mess of the inside, as well as your face.

I know that in the scheme of things, this hardly warrants mentioning, much less whining about. Yet I almost don’t know myself without my red lipstick; it’s a loss that feels so essential, so personal as to almost be disorienting. Helena Rubinstein—a woman who knew the value of a good red—built an empire on the belief that wearing make-up was a self-assertive, empowering act, one that allowed a woman to literally create the face that she showed to the world.  Well, the pandemic face is a new face in what may be a new world.  That it robs us lipstick-loving lasses of a little bit of our identity is a loss that compounds the bigger losses.  Yes, I’ll learn to cope, as I’ve learned to cope with so much else these last terrible months.  But I’m still longing for the day when I can doff the mask and paint my mouth a dazzling, bright-as-a-beacon red once again.

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The Lilith Blog

November 11, 2020 by

A Profound Posthumous Novel from a Very Late Bloomer

What does it feel like to publish your first novel at the age of 90?  That’s the question Lilith posed to Rochelle Distelheim two years ago— she was in a position to know.  Distelheim, an award-winning short story writer and Chicago native,  released her debut novel, Sadie In Love (Aubade Publishing), in 2018 and in addition to the Q & A that appeared on Lilith’s blog, we also ran excerpts from the novel, a warmly comical and deliciously wry story that sweeps us back to 1913 and the world of struggling Jewish immigrants in New York City’s Lower East Side.

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The Lilith Blog

August 26, 2020 by

Friendships and Race: A New Orleans Coming of Age Story

New Orleans, in all its tawdry glory, is the setting for Iris Martin Cohen’s second novel, Last Call on Decatur Street (Park Row Books, $27.99).  After swearing that she’ll never get to return to the Big Easy, Rosemary gets kicked out of college and finds herself back in her hometown, working as a burlesque dancer. Most nights she dulls her private sorrow with a combination of booze, drugs and sex but on the January night in question, her world is cracked wide open and she’s forced to confront the choices—good and bad—that she’s made.  Cohen talks to Fiction Editor Yona Zeldis McDonough about how her Jewish protagonist fits into this very Catholic world. 

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The Lilith Blog

August 13, 2020 by

Daphne Merkin on the Nature of Love and Lust

Daphne Merkin is an essayist known for her take—at once both ferociously observant and fiercely introspective—on everything from depression, spanking during sex and the importance of handbags.  In 22 Minutes of Unconditional Love (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $26)) her first novel in more than 30 years, Merkin turns her gimlet-eyed attention to Judith Stone, a young book editor in New York City who has not yet had her first real reckoning with love—or with the erotic charge that often fuels it. 

Enter Howard Rose, the somewhat older attorney she meets at a party.  Howard arouses her in ways she’s never before experienced and very quickly, she’s putty in his hands.  That he’s inclined to insult, undermine and emotionally abuse her only makes him more desirable.  Merkin talks to Fiction Editor Yona Zeldis McDonough about the nature of lust, love and whether the two can ever truly be reconciled. 

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The Lilith Blog

August 5, 2020 by

Nostalgia for the 1939 World’s Fair

Neither Maxine Roth nor Vivi Holden wanted to be sent to World’s Fair in the spring of 1939; Max was angling for a journalism internship at the New York Times and Vivi was excited by a starring role—her first—in the Hollywood film Every Last Sunset. But both young women do end up at the fair.  What they learn—about themselves, the nature of friendship and indeed life—are the basis for the novel We Came Here to Shine (St. Martin’s, $16.99). Fiction Editor Yona Zeldis McDonough chats with author Susie Orman Schnall about her entertaining new summer read—think of it as a perfect respite from the horror of the daily news.   (more…)

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The Lilith Blog

July 31, 2020 by

Is Rape a Crime? A Conversation with Michelle Bowdler

Is Rape a Crime: A Memoir, an Investigation and a Manifesto (Flatiron, $27.99) ought to come with a warning: parts of this book are so harrowing that I frequently had to put it down for a spell before picking it up again, avid to continue. Long after the fact, author Michelle Bowdler returns to the home invasion and brutal rape she suffered as a young woman.  As one might expect, the attack both branded and shaped her.  When she was finally ready to explore the subject in print, she was able to go deep into her own experience but also wide, to place it within a historical and cultural context.  Bowdler talks to Fiction Editor Yona Zeldis McDonough about what this literary exploration has meant for her—and what she hopes it will mean to others. 

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The Lilith Blog

July 14, 2020 by

Stitching for Survival: the Story of Holocaust Survivor Trudie Strobel

Some artists work with a brush; others with a pen, and still others with their voices, bodies, or a musical instrument. Trudie Strobel’s instrument is a slender needle, and she wields it with fierce and incredible power. Lilith first learned of Trudie Strobel’s recovery of her Holocaust past when she told Rabbi Susan Schnur of recreating the treasured doll the Nazis had torn away from her when she was a small child. When Jody Savin encountered Strobel’s work, she knew she had to tell her story (Stitched & Sewn: The Life-Saving Art of Holocaust Survivor Trudie Strobel, Prospect Park Books, $35).  Savin talks to Fiction Editor Yona Zeldis McDonough about the delicate process of excavating Strobel’s harrowing past and how her art was a way of coming to terms with it.

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