Author Archives: Yona Zeldis McDonough

The Lilith Blog

October 15, 2018 by

The Depth of Grandparents’ Love

51NaQ24Gg0L._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_Lilith’s Fiction Editor Yona Zeldis McDonough spoke to memoirist and novelist Kathryn Harrison about her latest foray into family history, On Sunset.

“Blending family history and mythology, anecdotes and photographs, this book is not simply one woman’s open love letter to two magnificently eccentric grandparents; it is also a testament to the enduring power of memory,” writes Kirkus.

YZM: You have written extensively—and well as memorably and beautifully—about your family, including your grandparents, in other essays. Why did you decide to focus exclusively on them now? 

KH: I don’t so much decide to write a book as arrive at it. In the case of On Sunset, it’s only now, in my late fifties, with three adult children, that I am beginning to understand what it means to take on the care of a child—a newborn—at 71 and 62—the magnitude of my grandparents’ love. I never felt myself a burden shouldered for my irresponsible teenage mother. 

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The Lilith Blog

October 11, 2018 by

Nazi-Occupied Normandy and a Family’s Wartime Secrets

news ofFiction Editor Yona Zeldis McDonough talks to Abigail Dewitt about her lyrical and haunting novel, which tells the multi-generational story of a French family and the way the Nazi occupation—and the Allied invasion—have shaped their lives.

YZM:  You write so beautifully and intimately about France—what is your connection to the country? 

AD: Thank you! I’m a dual citizen of France and the U.S. My mother was a young, French, theoretical physicist when she came to the States in the late 1940s to study at the Princeton Institute for Advanced Study. She’d lost half her family in the D-day bombings and intended to go home after two years to re-join her three surviving siblings, but instead, she met my father and married him. Still, she was deeply committed to helping r-build France after the war, so, to make up for marrying an American, she founded the École de Physique des Houches in the French Alps. She and my father taught at the University of North Carolina, but we spent every summer in France so she could run the institute and we could know our relatives.

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The Lilith Blog

September 26, 2018 by

The Mysterious Doctor Who Put Preemies on Display — and Saved Their Lives

51BSdpH-LGL“What kind of doctor puts his patients on display?”

Fiction Editor Yona Zeldis McDonough recently spoke to novelist Dawn Raffel about her new work of nonfiction, “The Strange Case of Dr. Couney: How a Mysterious European Showman Saved Thousands of American Babies”  which tells the real story of a doctor who revolutionized neonatal care, “a marvelously eccentric man, his mysterious carnival career, his larger-than-life personality, and his unprecedented success as the savior of the fragile wonders that are tiny, tiny babies.”

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The Lilith Blog

August 21, 2018 by

A Female Friendship From the Catskills to the Wider World

bess and frimaWhen Bess and Frima―both 19, best friends, and from the same Jewish background in the Bronx―get summer jobs in upstate hotels near Monticello, NY, in June 1940, they each have dreams of love, but love means something different to each of them. Frima seeks safety and finds it with Bess’s brother Jack. Rebellious Bess renames herself Beth and plunges into a new life with Vinny, an Italian American, former Catholic, left-wing labor leader from San Francisco. Her actions are totally unacceptable to her parents―which is fine with Beth, who is eager to reinvent herself outside the tight and suffocating bonds of family.

As Alice Rosenthal’s novel of friendship, Bess and Frima, unfolds, the menace of world war is growing, and Beth and Frima must grow up fast. Balancing love, ambition, religion, family, and politics, each young woman faces challenges she never imagined in her girlhood. Fiction Editor Yona Zeldis McDonough talks to author Alice Rosenthal about the personal history she mined to write this tender story.

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The Lilith Blog

August 15, 2018 by

The Book That Teaches Children About a Jewish Prima Ballerina

An Unlikely Ballerina

Young Lily Marks loves to stand on her tiptoes. When her parents notice there’s weakness in her legs, her doctor suggests dancing lessons to strengthen them, and Lily falls in love with ballet. But can this fragile girl ever become a serious dancer? When the famous ballerina Anna Pavlova comes to town, Lily just has to meet her. Maybe Pavlova—small, delicate, and Jewish like Lily—holds the key to Lily’s future. Fiction Editor (and lifelong balletomane) Yona Zeldis McDonough talks to author Krystyna Poray Goddu about her informative and charming new picture book.

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The Lilith Blog

July 26, 2018 by

An Ode to Iris Apfel

At age 84, Iris Apfel had the distinction of being the first living person whose clothing was exhibited by the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s renowned Costume Institute. Ever since I stumbled upon the show Rara Avis: Selections from the Iris Apfel Collection at the Met in 2005, I became an ardent fan of Apfel. Walking through the galleries, I was captivated by her highly original way of mixing  high-low fashion, as well as her knack for building an outfit with the depth, complexity and wit of an accomplished visual artist. 

Iris_Apfel_at_MIFFI bought the accompanying book and kept Apfel on my radar—and so did the media. There were the various sightings and snapshots by the late Bill Cunningham, a 2015  Emmy-nominated documentary by the late Albert Maysles, a costume jewelry line sold on the Home Shopping Network and a partnership with MAC Cosmetics. But it was the most recent addition to the Apfel canon, Iris Apfel: Accidental IconMusings of a Geriatric Starlet (HarperDesign) that made me understand her place in the tapestry (pun intended!) of Jewish history. 

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The Lilith Blog

June 19, 2018 by

Dispatches From an Anxious Life

Little Panic CoverThe world never made any sense to Amanda Stern–how could she trust time to keep flowing, the sun to rise, gravity to hold her feet to the ground, or even her own body to work the way it was supposed to?

In her memoir Little Panic: Dispatches from an Anxious Life, Amanda describes this feeling. Deep down, she knows that there’s something horribly wrong with her, some defect that her siblings and friends don’t have to cope with.

Growing up in the 1970s and 80s in New York, Amanda experiences the magic and madness of life through the filter of unrelenting panic. Plagued with fear that her friends and family will be taken from her if she’s not watching—that her mother will die, or forget she has children and just move away—Amanda treats every parting as her last. Shuttled between a barefoot bohemian life with her mother in Greenwich Village, and a sanitized, stricter world of affluence uptown with her father, Amanda has little she can depend on. And when Etan Patz, the six-year-old boy down the block from their MacDougal Street home disappears on the first day he walks to school alone, she can’t help but believe that all her worst fears are about to come true.

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The Lilith Blog

June 12, 2018 by

Isolated Mothers, Searching for Miracles

The reader knows by page one of Queen for a Day that Mimi Slavitt’s three-year-old son is autistic, but if anyone told her, she wouldn’t listen, because she doesn’t want to know—until at last Danny’s behavior becomes so strange even she can’t ignore it. After her son’s diagnosis, Mimi finds herself in a world nearly as isolating as her son’s. Searching for miracles, begging for the help of heartless bureaucracies while arranging every minute of every day for children who can never be left alone, she and her fellow mothers exist in a state of perpetual crisis, “normal” life always just out of reach. In chapters told from Mimi’s point of view and theirs, we meet these women, each a conflicted, complex character dreaming of the day she can just walk away.

Taking its title from the 1950s reality TV show in which the contestants, housewives living lives filled with pain and suffering, competed with each other for deluxe refrigerators and sets of stainless steel silverware, Queen for a Day portrays a group of imperfect women living under enormous pressure. Maxine Rosaler talks to Fiction Editor Yona Zeldis McDonough about the true-life experiences that led her to write this book. (more…)

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The Lilith Blog

June 6, 2018 by

What Did Your Grandparents Do to Mine?

The HeirsAfter breaking her hip in a serious accident, Eleanor Ritter’s mother, Rose, a Holocaust survivor now living in New Jersey, suddenly starts talking about her harrowing childhood in Poland and the taboo subjects she has refused to discuss for half a century—even speaking in long-forgotten Polish. Around the same time, Eleanor learns that the parents of her nine-year-old son’s soccer teammate, Tadek, are Catholics from Poland.

As Eleanor becomes fixated with digging into the histories of both her mother and Tadek’s family, her obsession strains her already difficult relationship with Rose, as well as her marriage to Nick, an IT technician who is himself caught up in preparing for the feared Y2K turn of the millennium.

Eleanor starts flirting with the soccer coach, ignoring her 12-year-old daughter’s growing rebellion and her son’s misery when, messing up several games, he becomes the team pariah. Meanwhile, the “sure-fire” tech stock that Eleanor bought behind Nick’s back is losing money. Even as her quest nourishes an odd friendship with Tadek’s mother, it forces Eleanor to face the unavoidable questions: For how many generations can guilt carry on? And: What did your grandparents do to my grandparents?

Hawthorne, the author of the award-winning Ethical Chic: The Inside Story of the Companies We Think We Love and seven other books about business, consumers and social issues, talks to Fiction Editor Yona Zeldis McDonough about her journey from fiction to fact and then back again. 

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The Lilith Blog

June 5, 2018 by

Love, Seduction and Survival—and Always, Paris

In 1950, Glynne Hiller, 26, goes to Paris with her husband, Joe, and her three-year-old daughter, Cathy, so they can all study French in the City of Light. But after a year, Glynne leaves Joe. She doesn’t love him—in fact, she questions whether she’s ever been in love—and she is looking for a more liberated life. Saucy and beautiful, Glynne charms one man after another, including the movie star Jean Gabin. Then she meets a man named Maurice and her whole understanding of love changes. Hiller, now 94, describes this transformation in the memoir Passport to Paris. She talks about her life and writing with Fiction Editor Yona Zeldis McDonough. Passport to Paris

YZM: Your father, an Egyptian Jew, moved your family from England to America in 1939; did he have a sense of what was coming? 

GH: My father started a cotton mill with his brother in Guatemala, before the war started. Both of my brothers volunteered to fight: Eddie, the eldest, in the RAF (Royal Air Force). Max went into the artillery force.  Both survived. 

Meanwhile, Sally and I, separately, came to America. I came alone, and on the second night, we all came on deck were told we mustn’t make a single sound because there was a German U-boat in the vicinity. And everybody, even the children, were absolutely mum. We all cooperated. And they were already unloading the little lifeboats boats. It was very scary, I have to tell you.

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