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by Yona Zeldis McDonough

The Light After the War: Jews in Caracas

Two best friends jump off a train heading for Auschwitz, leaving their mothers still on board.  They survive the rest of the war in hiding, and when peace is finally declared, make their way to Naples, then Ellis Island and finally Caracas, trying to rebuild their shattered lives. This actually happened to Anita Abriel’s mother, and she used it as the basis for her newest novel, The Light After the War (Atria Books, $27). She talks to Fiction Editor Yona Zeldis McDonough about how and why she transformed fact into fiction. 

Yona Zeldis McDonough: Your previous books were much lighter in tone; what made you go in a different, and darker, direction for this one? 

Anita Abriel: My mother died from Alzheimer’s a number of years ago and I wanted to write something about her and for her. I have dedicated all my previous books to her and telling her own story seemed like the natural thing to do. I also had something happen in my own life – my husband’s suicide – that made me really appreciate life and ponder the will to survive. 

YZM: How closely did you adhere to your mother’s story?  Did you change aspects of it as you wrote and if so, why?  How did it affect you as you tried to recreate it? 

AA: I kept very close to her story. I even kept all the names the same. I changed just a few things but very little. I had heard many of these stories over the years and they were so vivid in my mind – and unique – there was no point in changing them.

YZM: Growing up, how much of this story were you aware of?  When did your mother share the details with you? 

AA: I was very aware of many of the stories. Though when I was young, I didn’t really think about them too much. My mother shared quite a few of the details when I became a teenager and I was always fascinated by the war and what they lived through. It was hard to imagine my mother as a young girl facing so many terrible things and having to make so many decisions. I also met her friend, Edith when I was young. Which I now find quite thrilling!

YZM: I imagine you did a lot of research to fill in certain gaps. Can you describe that process? 

AA: I spent endless hours on the Internet and reading and watching movies about the time period. I read all about Caracas and the Jewish population after the war and what it was like in Naples. I’ve always loved research and immersing myself in the places I write about. It was fascinating and quite enjoyable.

 YZM: What’s something I didn’t ask but that you’d like to share with readers? 

AA: We all have people who are important to us in our lives. I feel my mother really shaped me as a person and I owe so much of who I am to her. I’m so glad readers are connecting with her story and I hope readers take away a feeling of hope and empowerment. The will to survive is very strong and we can overcome most things if we try.

 

© 2011 Lilith Magazine