Archive for the 'Historical' Category
Monday, August 26th, 2013
Join me in welcoming Delin Colón to Highlighted Author.
Delin Colón has a special affinity for research and non-fiction. She’s here this week to share two books, Rasputin: The Memoirs of His Secretary, which she translated and annotated, and Rasputin and The Jews: A Reversal of History.
My name is Delin Colón. I am a freelance writer, editor and researcher with an undergraduate background in French and a post-graduate background in Clinical Psychology. I was raised in a small artists’ colony, about an hour from New York City, which no doubt sparked my interest in the many forms of art. But I was especially intrigued by the writers around me. I loved books, and the thought of spending the day alone in a room just putting words to my thoughts and imagination was very appealing, though admittedly odd for an eight year old. As a young adult, a few of my poems and articles were published in small journals. Over the course of my varied career(s), I’ve been: owner of a construction company; a Playboy Disco Bunny; a counselor in various psychiatric facilities; a freelance researcher; owner of an agency that paired writers with clients; a technical writer for Sociological Abstracts; and was once even offered a position as shepherdess on a large sheep ranch in the province of Québec.
My father had always told me that his great uncle was secretary to Rasputin in addition to being a diamond merchant. But it wasn’t until I was in my forties that I began researching him and found his published memoir in French. I spent a couple of years translating it, but before publishing, decided to research my ancestor’s claims of Rasputin’s aid to the oppressed. I found many sources to substantiate specific incidents. Rather than publish the English translation of the memoir, I first published my research (Rasputin and The Jews: A Reversal of History, April, 2011) demonstrating how Rasputin was demonized by the aristocracy for his progressive and egalitarian views on social and economic reform which would have deprived them of power. That book laid the historical groundwork – the context in which the memoir could be better understood. I subsequently spent a couple of years researching more about the people and events my great-great uncle wrote about in order to annotate, in my English translation (Rasputin: The Memoirs of His Secretary by Aron Simanovitch), background information and noting what was historical fact, gossip of the era or historical inaccuracy. All told, I’ve spent about fifteen years producing these two books, although I’ve edited books for other authors in that time, too.
Rasputin and The Jews: A Reversal of History
This book is a well-documented account of Rasputin as a healer, equal rights activist and man of God, and why he was so vilified by the aristocracy that their vicious rumors became accepted as history. For nearly a century, Grigory Rasputin, spiritual advisor to Russia’s last Tsar and Tsarina, has been unjustly maligned simply because history is written by the politically powerful and not by the common man. A wealth of evidence shows that Rasputin was discredited by a fanatically anti-Semitic Russian society, for advocating equal rights for the severely oppressed Jewish population, as well as for promoting peace in a pro-war era. Testimony by his friends and enemies, from all social strata, provides a picture of a spiritual man who hated bigotry, inequity and violence. The author is the great-great niece of Aron Simanovitch, Rasputin’s Jewish secretary.
What they’re saying:
“If you are interested in history or social justice, teach history, like to be challenged by new perspectives, or want to discover something many people don’t know but should, read “Rasputin and the Jews: A Reversal of History.””— Kate Brauning
This small tome is intended to vindicate Grigory Efimovitch Rasputin (born approximately 1870; died 1916), spiritual advisor to the last Tsar and Tsarina of Russia. It means to debunk all of the outrageous rumors perpetrated by a bigoted, small-minded, self-absorbed society. If you are looking for a list his debauchery, sins, or crimes, you won’t find them here, for there exists no evidence of those, other than rumors. If you’re seeking the gory description of his brutal murder, you won’t find it here. And if you want to establish a link between Rasputin and the fall of the Romanov Empire, you won’t find any, because there is none.
What you will find is testimony from many who knew him, including his enemies, regarding his humanitarian activities. You will find accounts of his aid to the poor and the ill and his endless efforts to avoid war and its needless cost of lives. You will find substantial evidence of his aid to Russian Jewry and his attempts to obtain equal rights for this group, which was Russia’s most severely oppressed and restricted population.
But, most of all, you will find that what has passed as history for a century was not the truth, which exemplifies how history is written by the powerful not by the oppressed.
Get your copy of Rasputin and The Jews: A Reversal of History at Amazon!
Rasputin: The Memoirs of His Secretary
Available and annotated for the first time in English, Aron Simanovitch’s memoirs offer an intimate view of Rasputin through the eyes of his dear friend and secretary. Simanovitch reveals Rasputin’s progressive ideas for social and economic reform that outraged the nobility. In the process, he paints a Peyton Place image of early twentieth century Petersburg society, with its gossip, plots and intrigue. But more importantly, his revelations about Rasputin’s humanitarianism lend a three-dimensional view to this controversial figure of Russian history.
Allow me first to say a few words about myself: For more than 10 years, I occupied a position, in Petersburg, that one could certainly call ‘unique’. For the first time in Russian history, a simple Jew from the provinces was received by the Royal Court and had some influence over affairs of state. The upper classes of that time posed no serious obstacle despite their profound anti-Semitism. They sought my advice and assistance even though I was a Jew; however, most of my activities consisted of trying to aid my oppressed people, and lighten their load.
My success in Petersburg has generally been attributed to my bond of friendship with Rasputin. It has been said that it was Rasputin who cleared the way for my introduction to the Imperial Court. This is not exactly true. My friendship with Rasputin was certainly very precious to me, but the truth is that I had established connections with Petersburg society before Rasputin arrived in that city. And this is how I did so:
I was an established jeweler in Kiev and knew many influential people. Living in the provinces, I acquired a lot of experience in dealing with the police and other bureaucrats. I became adept at the art of manipulating these state officials. However, life for all Jews in Kiev, meant tolerating all sorts of vexations and humiliations. So, in 1902, I moved to Petersburg, temporarily leaving my family in Kiev to manage my thriving business. In Petersburg, I often met people for whom I previously had performed important services. Most had not forgotten my assistance and remained ready to oblige by helping me to get established in the city. Due to several among them, I was later able to escape certain death, as well as save the lives of my children.
In 1905, at the first worrisome reports of a pogrom in Kiev, I hurried back to join my family. My stores had been ransacked. My business managers and many of my relatives had been massacred. My own life and that of my immediate family were in grave danger. But General Mavrin, who led the pogrom, and Zichotzki, the police prefect, took us under their protection and, thanks to them, my family and I escaped to Berlin.
As we were leaving Kiev, in front of the synagogue, we saw the corpses of Jews massacred during their holy service. This horrible spectacle left such an indelible impression that, after arriving in Berlin, it took me some time to recover. It was then that I firmly resolved to engage in the struggle, using any and all means, to defend the lives and rights of myself, my family and my fellow Jews. I decided to actively support the causes and interests of my people. Only now, and for the first time, am I making a public report of what I attempted and accomplished, taking full responsibility for my actions, and ready to accept any attacks or accusations.
My wife was from a family of Jewish entrepreneurs who were builders. They were serious workers and businessmen. Many of her relatives were artisans in Petersburg, with the support of Count Witte. They congratulated me when I established my first business relations there. Some of them occasionally received work orders from the Imperial Court. But just the same, they led a modest life and didn’t mix with high society. I, on the other hand, was a completely different kind of man. I eagerly and assiduously frequented the circles of little theaters, cabarets, and the races where I met people from the most diverse social strata. As everyone knows, the passion for gambling is a force that puts people at ease with each other, causing them to overlook social and national differences. The search for pleasure renders us, its prey, amiable in social relations. I quickly learned my way around this world and developed my client list from the acquaintances I made.
Thanks to my facility for creating amicable relationships despite social differences, I soon made contact with many members of the Imperial Court and interested them in doing business with me. In this fashion, my relations with them grew more intimate and I quickly learned, up close, the sort of lives the aristocracy lived. I arrived in Petersburg with business experience and a knowledge of life at just the right moment to help well-situated people who didn’t know how to obtain credit or buy and sell valuable objects. (Petersburg society was extraordinarily ignorant with regard to any sort of business affairs.)
 General in the Imperial Russian Army who often carried out or instigated pogroms.
 Simanovitch, as part of his “art of manipulating and corrupting” officials, regularly paid those officials for protection.
 This ‘support’ would have been in the form of letters of introduction, business contacts, etc.
 Count Sergei Witte was Prime Minister from 1905-1906, also Finance Minister and served under Tsar Alexander III.
Get your copy of Rasputin: The Memoirs of His Secretary at Amazon!
And here’s where you can find Delin:
Monday, November 5th, 2012
Join me in welcoming Tema Merback to Highlighted Author.
Tema was born to a Holocaust survivor, Dina Frydman from Radom, Poland and Leo Balbien who was rescued by the Kindertransport from Vienna, Austria. She was raised in a loving home by two people whose lives had been shattered by the Holocaust, though in entirely different ways. She attended Granada Hills High School, worked countless jobs, and became a Kathryn McBride Scholar at Bryn Mawr College, following her passion for literature and art history. As she married and had children, her desire to write was deferred by the demands of a family.
Through the years, several writers have approached her mother with hopes of telling her miraculous tale of survival. Unbeknownst to Tema, her mother had long ago determined that only she could bring this book to fruition, that only she would write it with an intimacy and compassion that no one else could. In the Face of Evil is the result of a collaboration of two forever bound souls, a mother and a daughter.
Ranking #12 on Book Movement, In the Face of Evil has received outstanding recognition, including Silver Finalist in the category of Young Adult Literature for the National Jewish Book Awards for 2011 and being an eBook of note on the prestigious International Raoul Wallenberg Website whose members include Nobel Laureates and International world leaders.
You can find more at The Jewish Journal, April 26, 2011, by Ryan Torok: A daughter tells her mother’s story of the Holocaust, The Jewish Journal, May3, 2011, by Ryan Toro: Holocaust Book Reading Brings on Reunion and More, and MalibuPatch, April 29, 2011, by Jonathan Friedman: A Novel Idea to Tell a Survivor’s Story.
Welcome, Tema. Please tell us about yourself and how you came to write In the Face of Evil.
When I was a child I knew my mother was different. I didn’t really hear her accent but all of my friends did and would ask, “Where is your mother from? Is she from Hungary? She looks like Zsa Zsa Gabor.”
“Poland, she’s from Poland,” I would answer. To my friends my mother’s foreignness was other worldly. She might as well have been an alien from another planet. She was an enigma even to me as I tried to fathom the differences between her and my friend’s parents. It wasn’t such a stretch of the imagination for me to conclude that I didn’t really know my mother. From time to time I wondered why my mother had no father, mother or siblings. What had happened to my grandparents? I wondered why she had a tattoo on her forearm and why during the summer she wore a Band-aid to cover it up. Later when I asked her why she wore the Band-aid? She would shrug and say she didn’t want to be stared at or endure the inevitable questions that the indelibly blue A-14569 would elicit from strangers.
In the 50’s and 60’s no one spoke of the Holocaust or World War II for that matter. I don’t remember ever learning about it in school, at least in terms of the Holocaust. I was about nine when I finally began to persistently question her as to the mysteries that surrounded her. You see, I didn’t just love my mother I was in love with my mother. She was so startlingly beautiful that all of my friends would constantly comment on her beauty. It was like an aura that shone so brightly that even children were taken with her. Forget about the countless men that were drawn to her. Even with four children in tow between the ages of three and nine they would come up to her and hit on her, using any excuse just to bask in her glow. She enjoyed being beautiful but was never comfortable or secure with it. In other words, she never really owned it. It was just some fluke of nature, something she hadn’t earned. I, however, only wanted to look like her and be like her.
She was hesitant to share her past but I must have been relentless because little-by-little she began to share her stories. At first, she spoke mostly about her family, reminiscences of incidents and events, family history and the city she came from. Her eyes would light up in reverence as she spoke of her father, mother, sister and brother, her grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. Then as suddenly, her eyes would cloud up and fill with tears as I continued to badger her for an answer as to what had happened to them. Eventually, she shared it all with me and I became part daughter, part psychologist, and part family historian. It became a routine that on Sunday morning I would climb into bed with her and having saved up a hundred questions during the week I would interrogate her. I was insatiable for answers and this hour usually ended with the two of us sobbing. I would wrap my arms around her feeling guilt that I had provoked such sorrow, wanting to comfort the pain that could not be comforted. I felt like the parent, the protector of this soul that had known such horror and lost so much. It seemed inconceivable to me that anyone could survive what she had. In my efforts to reassure her I would promise to never leave her and profess my love of her for all of time. “Mommy, when you die I don’t want to live another day.” She would laugh and say, “Of course you want to live. Life is the most precious thing we possess. Believe me, even with all of the evil in the world there is nothing sweeter than life.” So would another session end with her hugging me, “Besides, I am not leaving so fast I will be with you a long time.”
My mother has kept that promise to her child of being with her for a long time. The days and years have flown by as they tend to do and I feel that the circle that is life gets ever smaller. She is older now and not a day goes by that I don’t worry about her fragility. Yes, she is still beautiful but not in that effervescent lusciousness of youth. Her beauty is more haunting and like a mirror her face reflects the years of deprivation and loss that were her teens. Yet, her spirit is as pure and incandescent as it ever was. It is a mystery to me how anyone who has witnessed what she has could hold such an enduring belief in the goodness of mankind. Today, she often reminds me of an ancient philosopher of Greece. Ever the pragmatic idealist, she has long resigned herself to the inexplicability of life.
It is important to remember during these rapturous days that are summer that even with all of the imperfections and disappointments that come with the daily task of living, there are miracles to be sure. My mother lives by example and she is an example to us all. Be sure to appreciate all that you have been given and all those that you love.
I always knew that one day I would write and publish a novel, the question was never if, but rather what and when. Subject matter presented itself wherever I looked, however, for some reason I was not prepared to tackle the one story that was personal, the one that threatened perilously near my heart. Creating the story of my mother’s survival of the Holocaust seemed a journey through Hell and one that might prove to be too painful to revisit. Then it struck me, what if the memoir became a novel written in the present, in the voice of my mother as it occurred. The journey would become one of hope, a passage from ashes to redemption. A novel of an adolescent transformed into womanhood set against the background of world conflagration. “In the Face of Evil” was born.
I am currently writing my second novel.
About Dina Frydman Balbien
Dina Frydman was born in 1929 in Radom, Poland. Radom is situated about forty-five minutes by car from the capital city of Warsaw. Her parents Joel and Temcia Frydman were hard working people that owned and worked at their Kosher and non-Kosher butcher shop. Dina had an older sister Nadja who was six years her senior and a younger brother Abek that was three years her junior. They were an educated middle-class family, religious yet modern. They saw the future as a bright beacon of possibility, a place where Jews would find through education and hard work equality and success.
In September of 1939 when Dina was 10 years old all of the Frydman family’s dreams and aspirations were ended when the Nazis conquered Poland. From that moment forward until sixteen year old Dina’s liberation at Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp life become a deadly game of survival. From work camps to death camps Dina did, through countless miracles, survive. Sadly, none of her family would share that fate. Her mother, father, sister and brother were murdered at Treblinka and Auschwitz. Only two of her cousins from her extended family of aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents survived.
After Dina’s liberation she spent time at DP facilities in Germany and a school for orphans at Aglasterhausen, Germany before immigrating to the United States in May 1946. She lived in foster care with a family in Philadelphia and attended Overbrook High School for two years. In 1949 she moved to Los Angeles, CA to live with a cousin that offered her a permanent home. She graduated from Roosevelt High School in Boyle Heights and through necessity went to work. OnApril 5, 1952 she married Leo Balbien, a Kinder Transport immigrant from Vienna Austria who served in the US Army.
Dina was a full-time mother to her four children: Tema Nadine (named for her mother and sister), Joel Abraham (named for her father and brother), Joshua Nathan (named for both of her grandfathers), and Sarah Gail (named for both of her grandmothers).
In the last twenty-five years Dina has spoken to schools and synagogues in California about the Holocaust. In 2008 her daughter Tema Merback began a novel based on her amazing story that was published in January 2011. In the Face of Evil: Based on the Life of Dina Frydman Balbien has received critical acclaim from readers throughout the world and now has been honored by the National Jewish Book Council as a Finalist – National Jewish Book Award for Children’s and Young Adult Literature. The International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation has also recognized In the Face of Evil as an e-book of note by recommending it on their prestigious website www.raoulwallenberg.net .
The novel, like The Diary of Anne Frank, spellbinds the reader with its ability to recreate the world in which Dina lived prior, during and after the war. Written in Dina’s voice we experience her transformation from child to teenager to woman while surviving occupation, destruction and imprisonment. Through it all Dina’s strength, perseverance and positivity all factored into her survival. She retained and exemplified the only possession left her by her loving family: Morality, ethics, love and forgiveness.
Her life is an inspiration to friends, family and all who read her story. Dina lives in Thousand Oaks, CA with her husband Leo. They have seven grandchildren.
What they’re are saying:
“This book is the outcome of three miracles. First, the mother Dina Frydman, lived through the Holocaust, surviving an unbelievable, all too true set of tragic experiences that wiped out her entire family: occupation, ghetto, work camp, slave labor, Auschwitz, Bergen-Belsen (in its final stage of total collapse and chaos). Miraculously, she came through with her goodness, honor and affirmation of life intact. This book reflects those qualities.
Second miracle: for decades, in an incredible feat of memory, Dina relived and told her stories, recounting them with pitch perfect recollection, including a vivid gallery of portraits of friends, family, victims, persecutors, and with vital scenes of the kindness and cruelty of strangers, the love and incapacity of family, the support and saving help of friends.
Third miracles: Dina’s daughter, Tema Merback, absorbed these stories and reproduced them in this authentic, gripping, moving account. What the mother could not do – put her testimony in a book – the daughter has done and without losing any of the fire, or the suffering, or the heartbreak or the moments of relief and of despair. In the end this book communicates an irrepressible, overflowing life force and decency and hope in the face of the most inhuman crimes ever.
As authentic, as compelling, as devastating as a survivor’s account written at first hand, this book snatches memory and life from the jaws of oblivion and gives them as a gift to its readers.
This book was a mitzvah to write and a mitzvah to read.”—Rabbi Irving (Yitz) Greenberg, Founding President, Jewish Life Network; Founding President, CLAL: The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership; Chairman, United States Holocaust Memorial Council, 2000-2002.
Tema Merback, October 16th guest speaker at Santa Monica College for their Literary Lecture Series.
In the Face of Evil
Seventy years have elapsed since the end of my childhood and the beginning of World War II. The destruction of community and family that followed the German invasion and conquering of Poland precipitated and forced me into an unnatural adulthood. The odd windfall of this calamitous event is a searing imprint of memory. Faces and voices have followed me my entire life offering up their advice and counsel, whether desired or not, shadowing each step as I steered my course through the seas of life. At times they have proven to be more real to me than yesterday’s events. Often, these friendly ghosts have capriciously danced through the corridors of my dreams as real and alive as the last day that I saw them. Like the story of “Brigadoon,” the mythical community of book and song that reappeared every hundred years and for one shiny bright inexplicable moment sparkled through the mists of Scotland, so has the vanished world of Radom, Poland returned to me in dreams and at times in waking just as it was long ago. The joyous community with its various degrees of religiosity, the marketplaces and shops, the places of learning, the observance of holidays, the intellectual liveliness, and of course the devotion and celebration of the Sabbath are all safely locked inside the reels of memory that play like a film in my mind, alive again.
Although I have tried at times to put the war behind me for both mine and my children’s sanity, like the tattoo that I bear, it is burned into me and has colored every moment of my life. With the passage of time there have been endless books with their endless revelations as to why or how such a nightmare could have occurred, but in the end the only lesson learned is that it happened. The Holocaust happened and millions perished through systematic slaughter. A world of people with their joys and sorrows disappeared and with them went a way of life. The apocalypse has long passed and the years have flown by like the clouds in a windblown sky. Soon there will be no survivors left and the keepers of the memory will be just that, a memory. So it has come to me, the bearer of the torch, the last to remember their sweet sojourn among friends and enemies before I, too, leave this world of bitter sweetness. The tale has now been written of those who lived, that they may endure and that you might know them.
Dina Frydman Balbien
Radom, Poland Summer of 1939
An Ordinary Family
From the window of our apartment, I look down on the bustling streets. The morning sun shines on my street, Koszarowa Ulica, a busy thoroughfare in Radom’s Jewish quarter. Placing my hand on the window, I feel the warmth radiate through the glass. The bright August morning pours into my bedroom, casting away the shadows of a doubt-filled night. The ordinary ebb and flow of life seems to continue in a reassuring cycle of sunrises and sunsets.
Across the street, the shopkeepers are opening their stores. Michal the baker comes out and looks at the sky. A smile spreads across his plump face as he brushes some flour from his prominent nose. Mrs. Rabinowicz greets him, and with a last wistful glance at the sky, he follows her into his bakery. The birds’ songs crescendo in the tall chestnut trees lining the street, adding to the symphony of daily life. People hurry through the busy streets in pursuit of their daily callings. Bicyclists weave among the horse-drawn carriages, or dorozkas1, the principle form of transportation throughout Poland’s cities. Life seemed normal enough on this warm summer day in 1939. I rub my eyes in an effort to dispel the dream that still plagues me, trying to make sense of the visions of the night. It has been two years since my beloved zaida2 passed away. Last night in my sleep, he came to me. Reaching across the barriers that separate the living from the dead, he touched me in an urgent gesture to communicate. Standing at the foot of my bed, silently beckoning me to acknowledge his presence, he hovered; his large immaterial body shimmered before me. His eyes, the color of blue ice, bore into me through the veil of death. He conveyed a warning I could not fathom. The ghostly apparition had disturbed my peaceful slumber and I had brusquely shooed my grandfather away, reminding him that he belonged in the afterworld of the dead.
I awoke with a horrible feeling of guilt and remorse. Why had I not reached out to him full of the love we once felt for one another? I had not asked him why he was there. Instead, in the imaginary landscape of my dream, I had told him to leave and not to return. How could I have sent my beloved grandfather away? I tried to brush the vision from my mind and replace it with the happy memory of my grandfather as he was in life, Jekiel starke, meaning Jekiel the strong in Yiddish. Rhythmically swaying in his rocking chair, he impatiently waited for our cherished daily routine—when I climbed on his lap and kissed him. Together we would rock as he told me stories of his youth, the security of his arms enfolding me, his white beard tickling until I was reduced to giggles. The fond memories of a favorite grandchild encircled me in a blissful cloak of warmth and safety, shielding me from the terrors of the dream.
Find more about Tema here:
Monday, October 8th, 2012
Join me in welcoming Armineh Helen Ohanian to Highlighted Author.
Armineh was brought up in Iran before the Islamic revolution; earned her BA with honors from the Open University in the U.K. and lived in twelve countries before landing on the peaceful shores of Long Island. She paid her way through school writing the weekly romance feature in her church magazine in Tehran and translating children’s storybooks from English to Farsi. Among her published works are Dreaming of America, The Talking Animals and Magic. The Talking Animals, a collection of classical fables, has been used in schools in Long Island since 2003. But she’s here today with her new release, The Apple Tree Blossoms in the Fall.
Welcome, Armineh, please tell us about yourself.
I began my writing career as a teenager. At the age of fifteen, I wrote children’s stories and sent them unanimously to our church monthly magazine, Noor Jahan, in Tehran. Although, this happened ages ago, I never forget the day when I saw my first story in print. It happened on a Sunday after the church service when I bought the magazine from the church bookstore.
As I began leafing through the pages with trembling fingers, I suddenly came across my story. Though, my heart was fluttering with joy and excitement, I decided to keep calm and refrain from sharing the good news with my friends who were standing by me in the churchyard.
The following month I mailed another story, and it was published again. These secret writing episodes continued for a whole year without a single soul suspecting about the identity of the mysterious writer. For, I signed my name as, ‘AP’ – the initials of my first name, Armineh, and the last name – Petrossian.
One year later, while idling in the church yard with my friends, a nineteen-year-old boy called Mahmood, revealed my secret. He announced loudly, “I think I know who ‘AP’ is.” Mahmood, then laughed and carried on, “AP is nobody else, but our Armineh Petrossian.”
I blushed and fidgeted nervously. I was hoping to be able to keep my writing saga a secret for good. For me, the whole idea of being a mysterious writer was sensational. I loved it when I heard people saying what a good writer ‘AP’ was.
The news of the discovery of the mysterious writer in our church resonated like an exploding bomb. Subsequently, I became well-known not only in our church, but in churches all over Iran.
At eighteen I was already writing the magazine’s feature story. I was also translating books from English into Farsi.
I am a graduate from the American Girls School of Iran Bethel in Tehran. I also have a BA with honors from the Open University in the UK in Humanities.
I have authored two novels: Nine Years to Freedom and The Apple Tree Blossoms in the Fall. The latter was published by Lazy Day Publishing LLC on the 26th of September. I have also written two volumes of my children’s story series called The Talking Animals. Recently, I completed volume three—The Adventures of the Little Acorn—co-authored by my teenaged grandson, Alec Ohanian.
The Apple Tree Blossoms in the Fall, is a fiction—heavily based on my own life experiences. My purpose of writing this book has been to share with my readers—especially women—the lessons learned from a rich, challenging, and eventful life.
What they’re saying:
“Congratulations to Armineh Ohanien for the publication of her fascinating book THE APPLE TREE BLOSSOMS IN THE FALL. I had the pleasure of reading Ms. Ohanien’s manuscript before publication and it was an engaging read on a fascinating subject, giving the reader a glimpse into the lives of a family trying to escape an extremist regime in an historicaly significant period of time in the country of Iran shortly after the takeover by the Ayatollah Khomeini. Kudos to you, Armineh!”— Goldie Browning “Writer”, Amazon review
“The Apple Tree Blossoms in the Fall is a fascinating story! It transported me to a time and place where human relationships and habits were different from today. I traveled to Arak, a strict Islamic city where Carineh was born and raised until she was 11 years old. I lived through her experiences as a young girl in Teheran; rich and spoiled to start with, and then destitute. I saw her fall in love with the man of her life and go against her family wishes when they found out about his true identity. (forbid her to marry him.) I felt her insecurities and emotional ups and downs, wishing she were taller, blond, and more assertive. Some passages are really funny and others so sad…I cried when her beloved father died from pneumonia after he got baptized in a cold river to become a born again Christian. I was amazed to meet Ayatollah Khomeini as a guest in their house during the time when her father did some business transactions with him. This happened way before Ayatollah Khomeini took center stage in the Iranian politics. Reading this book made me realize that miracles are possible. Indeed, I saw the apple tree blossom in the Fall!”— MVVO, Amazon review
“Carineh and her sdventures kept a smile on my face every time I turned a page as I was invited to join her journey from Iran to Europe to the US as she pursued a new life with her husband and two children. From stories of her father trading tales with Khomeini in pre-revolution Iran, to her family’s fall to poverty when her father died from baptism in frozen waters, to her sudden love for the handsome Caro,, followed by the relisation that her husband was hiding a secret from her – these glimpses into this determined woman’s life were so intriguing. The insights into Armenian and Iranian culture were fabulous. The story moves swiftly and leaves you wanting more. A truly great read.”— BettyMay, Amazon review
The Apple Tree Blossoms in the Fall
The Islamic revolution is imminent. Carineh, an Armenian beauty, knows it is time to leave Iran. The country she grew up in is drawing back to its Islamic roots. Carineh would vehemently hate to wear a veil, to the point that she is willing to say goodbye to her homeland, her father’s resting place, her family, and friends.
In The Apple Tree Blossoms in the Fall, Carineh narrates stories of her life in an Iran before Ayatollah’s time. She also recounts tales about her new life in Europe and America. This book offers a unique insight into Iran, Islam, Armenian culture, and the fascinating life of a jet‐setting woman.
UNCLEAN AT ANY PRICE
My three brothers, my sister, and I were born in Arak, a city in central Iran. Our stately house was situated on a slight elevation at the end of Gerdu Street, on a four-acre plot of land that was protected by high walls. A block away, not too far from a chain of high reaching mountains, stretched the railroad tracks. I am sure people walking past our home wondered what lay behind those forbidding walls. To us, our enclosed property represented a safe haven: a place where vicious people could not harm us the way the Turks had massacred over one million of our people during the days of the Ottoman Empire. My father always kept a gun handy, just in case we encountered any danger. However, he had no use for it. Generally, Iranians are not a violent people.
Our property contained two buildings. One was a two-story house with a huge wraparound porch in which we lived. The other was a two-bedroom farmhouse-style building with facilities built for guests. I sometimes think that if Hars Jan had been alive, my father would have allocated the guesthouse to her. Alas, she died long before my father built our house.
One of the guests, who stayed there twice, happened to be Ayatollah Khomeini – at the time, Mullah Khomeini – with whom my father did some business transactions.
The first time Khomeini stayed at the guesthouse, our Muslim servants were shocked to see him eating food with an Armenian – my father.
I was not born yet when my father entertained Khomeini. I learned about his story through my brother, Arthur, years later. In 1979, when Khomeini came to power, I was a married woman, living with my husband and two teenage children in Monnetier, France.
My brother called me on a snowy morning and asked, “Do you have the TV on? They are showing Ayatollah Khomeini.”
I rushed to the sitting room and switched on the television to channel two – the special French national news channel. There he was, gingerly descending the air stairs of an Air France carrier at the Mehrabad Airport in Tehran. He appeared quite authoritative, in his black clerical aba and his white turbaned head. Khomeini gazed through his piercing pair of black eyes at the multitude gathered at the airport to greet him. He waved at them in a self-satisfied manner. The Ayatollah had overthrown the powerful Shah of Iran and was about to replace him.
Arthur’s excited voice echoed over the phone, “You know who this Khomeini character is, don’t you?”
I answered, “Not really.”
All I knew about the Grand Ayatollah was that he had been a nuisance to the Shah all through his reign, and that the Shah had deported him to Iraq. I was also aware that the Iranians had rebelled against their monarch, thanks to Khomeini.
“In the past, Ayatollah Khomeini was the lord of a village called Khomein,” Arthur explained. “Besides being a cleric, he was a merchant of hides, carpets, and resin-a valuable commodity in the textile industry.”
Arthur added that our father used to purchase these goods from Ayatollah Khomeini and shipped them to the United States.
Apparently Father met the young mullah the first time during a transaction at the bazaar, where my father’s office was located.
“Father found Khomeini to be an open-minded mullah,” Arthur told me. “Khomeini told Father that he was willing to read the Bible, provided our father would agree to read the Quran.”
The story goes as follows: after a few months, the two men began holding religious discussions together and comparing verses from the two Holy Books. Then, during one of Khomeini’s visits to Arak, my father invited him to stay over at our guesthouse.
That night, after the two men finished having their dinner and my father retired, Kall Askhar, the head servant, went to talk with Khomeini just before the young cleric prepared for bed. Khomeini, sitting in the armchair wearing his brown informal aba, stared at Kall Askhar through those same dark, piercing eyes quizzically.
Kall Askhar said softly, “Although we all love and respect Arbab Tadevos – Master Tadevos – and his family, we never touch their food.”
Khomeini, rubbing his thick beard, inquired with a smirk, “May I ask you why?”
Kall Askhar looked baffled! He thought that the honorable mullah should know better.
Khomeini, reading the servant’s mind, smiled, and shook his head. He then rose to his feet from the low armchair and approached Kall Askhar. Placing a firm, reassuring hand on his frail shoulder, he stressed, “Don’t worry, you can eat their food without having any remorse.”
“But…!” Kal Askhar protested, opening his small beady eyes widely. “Everyone knows that Armenians are Najis – defiled – and their food haram - unclean.”
Khomeini kept nodding his head and muttered, “The Armenians are clean, God-loving people just like us. Besides, these people have a Holy Book. What’s more, we Muslims accept their prophet, Jesus.” Khomeini smiled, and added, “And, yes, you can perform your daily prayers in this house.”
At the time of Ayatollah Khomeini’s visit, Arthur must have been a ten-year-old boy and my eldest brother, Arsen, was twelve. The following morning, Khomeini called the two boys to him and asked if they liked horses and donkeys. Arthur babbled eagerly, without giving Arsen a chance to open his mouth, “Oh, yes, we like horses and donkeys very much!”
During dinnertime, Khomeini had asked my father, “Where do you get the milk for your family?”
Father had answered that our milk came from a cow and some sheep from our own farm.
“How much milk does your cow produce per day?”
Father had rubbed his chin, contemplating for a second, and said, “Well, that’s a hard question to answer. We have never measured the milk.”
Khomeini had asked, “A bucket … two buckets?”
Father had nodded. “Yes, I should say one bucket.”
Khomeini had said, “That’s nothing. I’ll send you a young cow that will produce more than two buckets a day.”
That was how we came into the possession of a healthy, black cow and an extremely stubborn, snow-white donkey.
Arthur and Arsen loved their pet. The donkey was still alive and kicking people who approached him when I was born. Actually, I do remember him madly kicking up his hind legs as Arthur and Arsen teased him, and tried to ride him. I must have been three-years-old when he died.
Pondering my father’s and Khomeini’s business associations and their friendship, I ask myself, How could anybody in those days ever have guessed later in life, that same person would affect millions of Iranians’ lives so adversely? I also wonder what my father would have thought about Ayatollah becoming a dictator and causing all that bloodshed, if he were alive. Indeed, not only did Khomeini bring about death and destruction in Iran, he also changed the face of the Middle East for good. Khomeini was the reason why Islamic fundamentalism grew stronger, spreading like wildfire throughout the Muslim world.
Arthur’s voice on the other side of the line that day in 1979 suddenly shook me out of my reverie as he commented, “So, now you really know who Khomeini is.”
I walked toward the fireplace, held my left palm above its dancing flames, and laughed, “Yes… the same mullah who gave us the white donkey!”
Get your own copy of The Apple Tree Blossoms in the Fall here: http://www.amazon.com/The-Apple-Tree-Blossoms-Fall/dp/1612580602/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1349167464&sr=8-1&keywords=Armineh+Ohanian
Want more Armineh? Here’s where you can find her:
Author’s Den: http://www.authorsden.com/arminehhelenohanian
Monday, April 2nd, 2012
Join me in welcoming Debra Brenegan to Highlighted Author.
In addition to her novel, Shame the Devil, which is an historical account of nineteenth-century American writer Fanny Fern, Debra Brenegan has also authored several other works that have recently appeared in Calyx, Tampa Review, Natural Bridge, The Laurel Review, RE:AL, The Southern Women’s Review, The Cimarron Review, Milwaukee Magazine, Phoebe, and other publications.
She has received a Ragdale residency for her fiction and was a recent finalist for the John Gardner Memorial Fiction Prize, The Cincinnati Review’s Schiff Prose Prize, and the Crab Creek Review Fiction Prize.
Welcome, Debra. Please tell us about yourself.
I grew up in the Milwaukee area and graduated with a B.A. in journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. I worked as a journalist and taught at Milwaukee Area Technical College before beginning my graduate work. I received my M.A. and Ph.D. in English/Creative Writing from The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, where I also taught. I now teach English and Women’s Studies at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri.
During the school year, I live in a 130-year-old house in Fulton with my husband, Steve, and our elderly cat. We spend summers and school breaks in our native Milwaukee. When not teaching, writing, spending time with family, or driving back and forth to Wisconsin, I enjoy cooking, gardening, reading, and traveling.
I am currently working on another novel, set in Missouri, and on a short story collection.
Today we’re featuring your novel, Shame the Devil. Tell us about it.
Shame the Devil tells the remarkable and true story of Fanny Fern (the pen name of Sara Payson Willis), one of the most successful, influential, and popular writers of the nineteenth century. A novelist, journalist, and feminist, Fern (1811-1872) outsold Harriet Beecher Stowe, won the respect of Nathaniel Hawthorne, and served as literary mentor to Walt Whitman. Scrabbling in the depths of poverty before her meteoric rise to fame and fortune, she was widowed, escaped an abusive second marriage, penned one of the country’s first prenuptial agreements, married a man eleven years her junior, and served as a nineteenth-century Oprah to her hundreds of thousands of fans. Her weekly editorials in the pages of the New York Ledger over a period of about twenty years chronicled the myriad controversies of her era and demonstrated her firm belief in the motto, “Speak the truth, and shame the devil.” Through the story of Fern and her contemporaries, including Walt Whitman, Catharine Beecher, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Harriet Jacobs, and Nathaniel Hawthorne, Shame the Devil brings the intellectual and social ferment of mid-nineteenth-century America to life.
“There may be married people who do not read the morning paper. Smith and I know them not … It is not too much to say the newspapers are one of our strongest points of sympathy; that it is our meat and drink to praise and abuse them together; that we often in our imagination edit a model newspaper, which shall have for its motto, `Speak the truth, and shame the devil.’” – Fanny Fern
What they’re saying:
“In her wide-ranging way, Debra Brenegan turns an age of great social and artistic change–for the races, for women, for the country–into a narrative of compelling characters. This novel emerges from history and becomes something more valuable–great literary art. Brenegan’s Fanny, her family, and the cluster of historical characters come to us complicated and whole, demanding our attention.”
—Robert Stewart, editor of New Letters
“Debra Brenegan will undoubtedly receive high praise for her superb portrait of Fanny Fern. Readers will gain an insightful look at this overlooked author and her firsthand account of American society during her time.”
— Historical Novels Review
“Much of this excellent novel is likely based on reality. Brenegan’s use of “faction,” a fiction-ish offshoot of the traditional biography, is the perfect approach for an insightful look at Fern’s inner world as well as the persona she revealed to the public.”
—ForeWord Reviews Magazine
Would you share an excerpt with us?
Sara Payson Willis Eldredge, Boston, Friday, December 22nd, 1848
Isn’t a “seedy” hat, a threadbare coat, or a patched dress, an effectual shower-bath on old friendships? Haven’t people a mortal horror of a sad face and a pitiful story? Don’t they on hearing it, instinctively poke their purses into the farthest, most remote corner of their pockets? . . . Ain’t they always “engaged” ever after, when you call to see ’em? Ain’t they near-sighted when you meet ’em in the street?—and don’t they turn short corners to get out of your way?—Fanny Fern, Olive Branch, March 18th, 1852
Sara pulled the warped door closed behind her, shook her freezing fingers, and climbed the boardinghouse’s steep side stairs, the very stairs she’d recently agreed to wash for five cents off the three-dollar-a-week room and board she paid the landlady, Mrs. Haufen. Deep within the folds of her pocket, the only one left without a hole, was a whole dollar and the other guilty lump—peppermint. Peppermint she’d stolen. She’d sewed practically round the clock for old man Schueller this week, hoping to make more than the usual seventy-five cents for the week’s labor. She’d delivered one extra shirt and figured that since she was usually paid seventy-five cents for two shirts, that she’d make an extra thirty-seven, or maybe thirty-eight cents (it was the Christmas season after all). But Schueller had given her only the dollar, which made Sara tear up, as she so often did these days. When he’d asked her what she was upset about, and she’d told him, he’d smiled in that way that froze Sara’s insides and had said that she could get the extra thirteen cents for as many kisses. The extra money suddenly didn’t matter. Sara pulled the extended bill from Schueller’s clenched grip and stumbled away from his leering grin. Later, she would blame him for her thievery.
She wished she could find other employment. After Charly’s funeral, Hezekiah and her father had each agreed to give her a dollar and a quarter a week. Both devout church goers, they felt congregational eyes flutter from wretched, vocal Sara to their ample purses and knew nobody would understand their mutually agreed-upon assertion that headstrong Sara deserved to reap the hardship she’d sown. Hers was God’s lesson of humility and she wasn’t acquiescing a bit. Given that they knew she’d be able to earn at least fifty cents a week taking in sewing, as her sister Julia did, her room and board would be covered. Never mind the fact that the children needed shoes and clothes and the occasional book or paper toy. We understand about the needs of children, Charly’s mother, Mary Eldredge often told Sara, in her many attempts to coerce Sara into giving up Grace and Ellen to Hezekiah and herself. All the more reason to allow grandparents with means to have a fuller hand in the girls’ upbringing.
Sara knew what a fuller hand meant. It meant total control. It meant allowing the girls to live with the Eldredges and quite possibly giving up all her maternal rights forever. Well, she wouldn’t do it. Not as long as she had strength and a steel needle. She’d get faster at sewing, better. And she’d find more moral employers than the disgusting Schueller. And she’d never steal again. In fact, she’d just applied for a teaching position at quite a nice little school in downtown Boston. Sara felt hopeful because her sister Lucy’s husband, Josiah, was on the school’s board. He’d been in the drafty committee room when she’d had her little interview and had steered the committee away from dwelling too long on her lack of experience with algebra at Catharine Beecher’s seminary. Surely, if he had any say, the board would hire Sara. They would have to.
Sara reached the top of the three-story staircase and tapped at Widow Perkins’ door.
The door opened on the hunch-shouldered, flitty-eyed old woman. “The girls went off with your sister,” Widow Perkins said. “In your room.”
Sara knew Julia was the only one of her sisters brave enough to visit her anymore. What a nice surprise. After her miserable day, Sara was more starved than usual for comfort.
The widow glanced down the dim hall at the closed door of Sara’s room. “I’ve just finished,” she said with a little grin and pulled Sara into the cool, dank room toward the one small window where she’d set her rickety chair to work by the light. On the chair were two pairs of small gray socks made of drab, cheap wool, but unmistakably brand new.
“Oh, thank you!” Sara said, nearly crying at the sight. Just last week, she’d had to cut the toes off of Grace’s shoes because her feet had grown so. Little Ellen’s shoes had been cut for a month. The worst part was not the cutting of the shoes, but looking at the raggedy, oft-mended dingy socks poking through the travesty. Another pair of new, warm socks would make the shoes seem tolerable.
Sara gave the widow her dollar and waited for her to count out change from a tattered purse she pulled from under her pillow, mostly in half-dimes. The widow was two cents short, which alarmed Sara—she wouldn’t have enough for the week’s board, as she’d spent her stair-washing half-dime on two extra scoops of coal. It had been so cold lately and Grace had started the week with a cough. Widow Perkins blinked and went back to search under the pillow. Sara inhaled sharply. Gently, she laid her hand on the widow’s frazzled irongray head and proclaimed the socks to be so well made that she wanted to pay a little extra for them, after all. The widow turned from the bed, wrinkled her brow as if in pain, then rested her forehead on Sara’s shoulder and cried, whether in relief, gratitude, or embarrassment, Sara didn’t know. Sara, at least, could borrow the two cents from Julia.
“Merry Christmas,” Sara said to the widow and kissed her good-bye. “I’ll bring you a little something from father’s house on Monday.”
“Bless your heart,” the widow said, and waved Sara off.
Sara tucked the socks into her pocket and felt, once again, the stick of stolen peppermint candy. She swallowed hard at the bile rising from her stomach. The stick had been partly crushed and was, apparently, pulled from the display jar and left on a dusty little “half-price” shelf on the grocer’s back wall. Sara had slipped it into her pocket with such grace it frightened her. Other things sometimes appeared on that shelf and Sara had seen other, poorer, people quietly slip these things into their pockets: bruised apples, nearly rancid butter wrapped in paper, or sometimes, small rough pouches containing a handful or so of molding beans. But, she’d never done it before—stolen. Until that day. After enduring the nauseating leers of Schueller and the disappointment of her pay, Sara had wandered to the little shelf and spied the sad peppermint stick, which had been ignored by the shuffles of drab poverty floating past. Only Sara had pocketed the crumbling sweet. Only Sara would ruin her soul stealing candy.
Sara walked to the room at the end of the hall, the absolute cheapest room in the house, worse than even Widow Perkins’ room, smaller, colder, but with a similar little window overlooking the clapboard side of the next boarding house. She poked her key through the lock and gave the skeletal door a hard push.
Julia was there! She was balanced on Sara’s three-legged sewing stool near the window, had a girl on each knee, and was reading a book.
“Mother!” the girls cried, jumping from Julia’s lap to embrace Sara hugged her darlings close and smiled full at Julia.
“I’ve just come from Lucy’s,” Julia said, indicating the book. “She said I could borrow this to read to the girls.”
“By all means, continue, then,” Sara said. “I’ll listen, too!”
Sara untied her bonnet and hung it on the nail, then reclined on the room’s lumpy horsehair bed, still wrapped in her shawl, to listen to Julia finish a story about princesses and pudding and glittering crowns and roast beef. Decadent food. Brimming tables of crockery and wine. Lace tablecloths and bowls of flowers. Genteel manners reigning supreme. Nobody forgotten. Nobody suffering. No hunger or cold or fear. Sara’s eyes fluttered, her breathing slowed, and then Sara suddenly saw Mother in the tale, sitting at the royal banquet next to sister Ellen. Oh, how radiant they looked, pink-cheeked and happy! Mother wore a turban made of ferns and she plucked one and blew it across the room to Sara, who caught it and tucked it into her bodice front. Beaming sister Ellen just ate and ate and ate.
Mary Stace was there, too, and the babies, and Lucy’s boys, but where, oh where? Sara whirled in dream circles, looked madly around and around and then she saw them, Charly, magnificent in black velvet, wearing his white satin wedding vest and holding little Mary’s hand. Little Mary was hopping up and down in the most exquisite shining silver shoes, pointing at Grace and Ellen sitting on Julia’s knee in the corner of the palace. Little Mary had a basketful of sweets she wanted to share with her sisters and so Charly let her run before folding the then-sobbing Sara into his hearty arms and whispering to her, “All is well, all is well, all is well . . .”
Get your copy of Shame the Devil on Amazon
Want more Debra? Here’s where you can find her:
Shame the Devil facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/shame.the.devil.book
Debra is available for readings or to speak with your group about historical fiction, Fanny Fern, or writing. Please contact her agent, Lynn Wiese Sneyd, LWS Literary Services.
Monday, December 19th, 2011
Join me in welcoming Pamela Sisman Bitterman to Highlighted Author.
You may recognize Pamela from earlier spotlights here on Highlighted Author. She caught my attention with her first feature, Muzungu, and then my heart with her second, When This Is Over, I Will Go To School and I Will Learn To Read. If you missed the previous highlights, please click the titles to check out these true stories. This woman is amazing.
This week Pamela shares her story Sailing To The Far Horizon. I could never dream of becoming a seaman—I get sea sick just standing on the beach and staring out at the water-covered horizon—but she did it, and being the adventurer she is, loved it.
Publicity for Sailing To The Far Horizon includes articles in the newspapers The Log, The Beacon, Beach and Bay Press, The San Diego Union Tribune, The Monroe Evening News, Campus News, and The San Diego Union Tribune, as well as the magazines Expressions, Santana, Cruising World, Ranch & Coast, Forbes.com Book Club, and Soundings.
She was a guest speaker at Sierra Club, Palomar College, Southern California’s Writers conference, American Association of University Women, was guest of honor at Asteres Annual Event, Aboard The Star Of India Tall Ship, Arts That Splash, 39th Annual Local Authors Exhibit, and held Book Tour events and signings nationwide and abroad.
But it doesn’t stop there. The list continues with her radio interviews and television appearances on The Michael Dresser Show, Radio New Zealand National Radio, Nine to Noon Program, KPBS Public Radio, These Days Program, Discovery Channel, Investigation Discovery Program, series Escaped, Share the Candy Radio Webcast, Cruise With Bruce Radio, Travel Wise, Let’s Talk About Books with The1essence, and January Jones BTR.
I’ll let her tell you more in her own words. She’s much more exciting to read. *wink* Pamela, it’s all yours…
Today I am a mom, a wife, a writer, and an explorer who has tried to travel her world with her eyes, arms, heart and mind wide open. I am a youthful 6o years old; strong, wise, weathered and seasoned. I hope to be able to proudly proclaim myself to still be all the aforementioned and more, in the years ahead. I have worn many hats along the road thus far; teacher, student, counselor, naturalist, sailor, mediator and more. I have been on quite a journey, with tremendous love and laughter, sadness and loss, beauty and wonder, struggle and survival. Great joy, and great heartache. Life. I would want very few do-overs. I am grateful for everything. I have been fortunate! My life continues to be an ever evolving work in progress, as do I. My first book, Sailing To the Far Horizon, is graphically biographical. It encapsulates me as product of the first thirty years of my rather unconventional life.
Muzungu, the story of my unlikely escapade throughout Kenya, picks up on that journey a couple decades later. I also wrote a children’s book about this experience titled “When This Is Over, I Will Go To School, And I Will Learn To Read; A Story of Hope and Friendship For One Young Kenyan Orphan“. It was illustrated by the orphans I worked with in Africa. Both are the personal accounts of my work and travel through Kenya as the epitome of Muzungu, the Swahili word for white man. Literally translated, Muzungu means “confused person wandering about.” Fit me to a tee! In between the adventures that were the subjects of my first and my later books were my marriage and children, my persona as wife and mother – the heart of me; me as my best self. As I explain in Muzungu, during those intervening years, the “yee-hah!” exhilaration of climbing out onto life’s edge had never entirely died out in me. It had merely been lying dormant beneath a meticulously constructed, implied housewife persona, a twenty-five year stint of nurturing-mother prioritizing for which I had absolutely no regrets. Everything had turned with the seasons, as they should. And a bygone time had finally come back around, although to what purpose under heaven remained to be seen. My future also remains to be seen, and to be told. Can’t hardly wait!
Listen in on her interview with Ms. January Jones on BlogTalk radio. She comes on for the second half of the show.
You can also listen in on these shows:
Sailing to the Far Horizon
Of the legions of wayfarers who shared in the tall ship Sofia’s diverse and colorful history, only seventeen were on board when she went down. Of those who survived to tell the tale, none has . . . until now.
More than twenty-five years ago, Pamela Bitterman began her journey on board a 123-foot, sixty-year-old sailing ship being readied for its second global circumnavigation.
Bitterman’s initial voyage, during which Hurricane Kendra chased the schooner miles off course to Bermuda, did not impel her to retreat home. Instead, she immersed herself in this created space between the life of a tall ship sailor, world traveler, and adventurer. Her narrative describes rare gatherings with Cuna Indians in the Gulf of San Blas, the discovery of original ancient tikis hidden away in the Marquesas, and a treasured offering of traditional tapa cloth from island natives. Bitterman’s experiences also give readers insight into a time of civil unrest in Latin America, including a frightening road trip through Mexicoand Central America, and the chaos during the final stages of the treaty that returned control of the Canal Zoneback to Panama. The drama ensues with the arrest of the entire Sofiacrew in two different countries, a bout with dengue fever, and a near-mutiny in New Zealandbefore the final voyage.
The details of events from this journey endure as vividly today as when Bitterman was a naive “shellback” swabbie, later ship’s bos’un, and finally acting first mate. In the end, she was merely one on a life raft of grateful survivors.
Sailing to the Far Horizon draws on original journal entries, photographs, and excerpts from official Coast Guard documents that chronicle the fascinating enigma that was theSofia and its dramatic end.
One woman’s true story of life, loss, and survival at sea.
“I keep reminding myself that I have seen the pictures, heard the stories, read countless books. There is an exotic world out there comprised of brilliant wonders and fascinating cultures, promising endless horizons and illuminating adventures, inducing me with wholly unique challenges, and daring me to accomplish awesome leaps of faith. The Sofia is my ticket.”
What they’re saying:
“…the reader can’t help but mourn the loss of the ship and the crew’s improvised lifestyle, as well as feel the joy, danger, and discovery that the author experienced and never forgot.”—Danise HooverCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
“When Pam Bitterman talks of her experiences on the adventurous but ill-fated Sofia in her late twenties, you can hear that this is a story she feels she can’t keep to herself. Lucky for us, she hasn’t because the result is a book in a class by itself…Bitterman came away with not only a plethora of fascinating tales of world exploration and personal dynamics, but also the wisdom of on who has truly grown through adversity.”—The Log
“Although Pam wrote Sailing to the Far Horizon 25 years after the sinking the story is alive and fresh as much is based on her journals kept during her roughly four-year voyage. Her writing is very descriptive, taking the reader through the adventures and near-disasters as she lived them. . . . A well-told tale and wonderful reading.”—Santana Sailing Magazine
“The human stories embedded in this book, poignant and painful, reveal the way that a ship boils people down to their essentials. You really get at the heart of who someone is on a voyage, even before you add the defining element of tragedy.”—Jim Delgado, host of National Geographic Television’s The Sea Hunters and executive director of the Vancouver Maritime Museum
Sailing to the Far Horizon
Sinking; The Life Rafts
On this fifth day [hopelessly adrift in life rafts following the sudden and violent sinking of our tall ship, the Schooner Sofia] we realize that we are no longer seeing distant ships off on the horizon or the occasional plane soaring overhead. And we hear far fewer heralding cries or have welcome visits from curious shorebirds venturing out to examine our unnatural presence. Already well outside the shipping lanes, we have been carried steadily out to sea, on our way to nowhere. When incurably wide-eyed and ever-hopeful Chris asks Evan [our skipper] if we still have a good chance of being saved, Evan fixes on his imploring stare and answers with accuracy and uncharacteristic gentleness. “No Chris, not much,” he replies. Evan then lays his head on my shoulder and sleeps. In nearly four years of countless highs and lows across half the planet, this simple gesture is the most sincere and spontaneous intimacy that my captain and I have ever exchanged.
We need to patch the raft yet again, a prospect now both futile and horrific. We are being barraged by a family of sharks. They rub their sandpapery bodies along the thin, grainy raft floor, bumping us about like we are on a carnival ride. By the second day in the rafts, I was forced to announce to my captive audience that, whether we liked it or not, I was menstruating. Amid a chorus of alarmed male sighs, the other women raise their hands in a reluctant but resigned “me too” acknowledgement of undeniable feminine unity. As is so often the case when women live together, our cycles had synchronized. Nature delivered us yet one more cruel jab: There would be blood in the water. The sharks are now our nearly constant companions, a patient and persistent entourage. Patching the leaks is no longer an option. Besides, our raft is almost beyond repair. Our having to go into the ocean for good is imminent, and we all know it.
During my watch that evening the clouds part, inviting one final splash of magic sunset to streak the heavens. But it is unlike anything I’ve ever seen, and I have certainly experienced my share of magnificent, unbearably brilliant sunsets, the kind that might make a holier person drop to her knees in reverent awe. This one sunset, however, truly might be divine. The sky is emblazoned with a flushed splatter of such intense iridescence that it does take my breath away. Suddenly, I discover that I’m feeling fiercely bold and crystal clear, so I whisper, “God. Is that you? Are you here to help me? If the answer is yes, then do. Please do! But if this isn’t you, or if you aren’t gong to help, well, it doesn’t really matter. Because I’m going to get out of this. Understand me. I will not die here! Help me if you want, but either way I will survive. If this is really you, though, and you choose not to help, then you had better know that I will never, ever, forgive you for doing this now to my family.” One of my hands is clenching the port flap tightly around my chest. The other hand is stretched out into the night, reaching toward the incomparable sky - the once in a lifetime sky – and this hand is raised in a fist. Right or wrong, I am not begging to be saved. I am giving notice.
Later, as I try to get comfortable resting against Joey, he whispers that he doesn’t think Evan is going to last much longer. Then he takes a chance, asking me. “Would you let the skipper marry us at sea?” And I understand. “Oh… yes,” I murmur, adding “now let’s try to get some sleep.” But we of course have no privacy, and the raft erupts into spams of applause and volleys of congratulations.
On that fifth night adrift I overhear Joe suggest to Evan the long-shot, last-ditch most drastic, possibly fatal tactic of implementing saltwater enemas - a more efficient and benign way of absorbing seawater than ingesting it. We glance warily at the only tool available for infusion, our pathetic little foot pump. Its offending gray plastic nozzle, grotesque, creased, and exposed, attaches to the end of the end of the clear flexible hose that protrudes from the ribbed plastic paddle and greasy bellows. The instrument lies inert and discarded – for the moment – on the putridly soiled floor of the rubber raft. Evan winces visibly. It is on this night that we each succumb to personal reflection, perhaps for the first time since we’ve gone into the sea. Tonight the atmosphere in the rafts is melancholy, filled with the whispers and murmurs of individuals reconciled to making their peace.
When exactly does living make this turn, come around the bend, and begin its inevitable descent into dying? Is it different for each of us, dictated by something specific and personal? If we are called upon to express our druthers when facing the end, do we choose to submit, go gently, and accept defeat, or do we insist that we will triumph simply because we intend to fight to the death? On this night my thoughts run along these lines, curious, philosophical, raw. I notice, however, that I am not frightened. And within this bizarre realization I find my greatest comfort.
It is late, probably around1 A.M., when young Chris, on watch in our raft, chirps up cheerily that he has spotted a ship. Yeah, yeah, we all groan, another ship, one of the dozens we’ve sighted so far. OK. A few minutes later Chris alerts us that the vessel appears to be – yes, definitely is – coming closer. No one is inclined to rally. It is late, maybe too late. We are spent and fearful that our fragile optimism might not survive another throttling. Reality has insidiously begun to grab our blind faith by the throat. Better not to look just yet. Besides, if we’ve managed to settle into a painfully tolerable position, we are reticent to relinquish it for one more false alarm.
“guys, I really do think this ship is coming nearer,” Chris continues animatedly. He can be reassuringly or irritatingly indefatigable, depending on the circumstances. On what now marks our sixth day adrift, we sigh and condescend to encourage him to keep us appraised. His spirit is still astoundingly resilient, a priceless life force that no one wants to risk injuring.
Finally, after his fourth or fifth insistent pronouncement, Chris manages to raise our skipper. Evan is not doing well. His metabolism has always been jet fast, leaving him with little or no physical reserves to feed off. I reckon he’s already lost half his muscle mass. Also, he’d gone into the water wearing only a t-shirt and trunks. The t-shirt is one of his favorites, one I’d recently see him tie-dye himself down in theSofia’s galley. Apparently, the dyes are not colorfast, nor are they nontoxic. They are acting as a catalyst for the corrosive effect that the saltwater and abrading latex are having on Evan’s bony torso. He is rubbed raw and bleeding at every knobby point of his skeletal structure. It is a dreadful sight. I’ve observed him getting weaker and fading physically, frighteningly fast, but he never acknowledges this. He remains steadfast, in command, in control and invincible, or so he leads us to believe.
With Chris’s most ardent plea, “Hey Evan, you really might wanna have a look at this,” the captain crawls to the lookout port of his raft and sticks his head out. He remains there, silent for several seconds, as Chris prattles on incessantly. “So what do you think? Am I right? Closer, right? What should we do? Should we holler? Should we fire off a flare? Hey Evan!”
When Evan finally does speak, everyone is listening. “Lower the canopies,” he orders slowly and calmly. “commence shouting for help. When the ship is in range, I’ll ignite a flare. It’s our last flare, gang. If the vessel doesn’t spot it, and no one aboard her hears us, then you must all prepare to immediately abandon the rafts. This ship is powering full steam ahead on a direct, unfaltering course, and unless we can raise her crew, she’s aiming to run right clean over the top of us.”
In an instant everyone in the rafts is up, on full alert, and screaming for our lives. We yank the canopies down, as a jubilant chorus of shrieking voices – weak, hoarse, joyous, and frantic – rises up into the night. “Help!” “Save us!” “Please!” “Over here!” “We’re here!” “We’re right here!”
The mammoth ship’s engines are thundering. Great gray clouds of diesel exhaust billow across the ocean’s surface. The propellers are kicking up so much turbulence that the sea is boiling. The vessel is monstrous. It is steaming down on us. It is all that we can see, hear, or smell. And it isn’t slowing down. It isn’t altering course. I think again, be careful what you wish for.
Evan raises the flare high in his right hand, supports his shaky forearm with his left hand, and over his shoulder he speaks his final directive. “If this doesn’t work, mates, dive into the water and swim for all you’re worth!”
Then he squeezes the trigger. The crimson fireball sails over the bow, trailing a fuzzy streak of rouge across the ship’s foredeck before becoming eclipsed from our view by the vessel’s towering pilothouse. It is a spot-on perfect shot. We wait, cocked, every fiber of our beings poised to go, praying to stay.
You can find Pamela at her website: www.pamelasismanbitterman.com
Monday, July 18th, 2011
Join me in welcoming Gail Jenner to Highlighted Author.
Because I love history, I have chosen to focus primarily on writing historical fiction, regional nonfiction, and historical drama. In addition, I taught secondary history and English for over 20 years and also conducted regional writing workshops for teachers and students. My desire has been to “open the door to history” for those who haven’t appreciated the incredible stories of the past.
I am fortunate to be the wife of a fourth generation cattle rancher, Doug Jenner, and we live on the family’s original homestead in a small mountain valley in Northern California, only 40 miles from the Oregon border. We call this area the “State of Jefferson.” The links to my husband’s family’s rich and varied history have inspired me to seek out many other little-told local stories that are quickly disappearing. In that regard I consider myself more of a chronicler and storyteller than historian, although my degrees are in Anthropology, Social Science, and English. Moreover, I am the 2011 President of the Siskiyou County CattleWomen and in that role I’ve encouraged other ranching wives to gather and collect their family stories. Ranching is a family enterprise and I feel honored to be part of the less than 2% of the American population involved in agriculture. At present, our children have begun working as the 5th generation on this ranch and members of the 6th generation have begun to share in its history and traditions. It’s “living history” that surrounds me!
To date, I have completed two novels, four regional histories, and two screenplays. My first novel, ACROSS THE SWEET GRASS HILLS, won the 2002 WILLA Literary Award Winner for Original Softcover Fiction, by Women Writing the West, and my second novel, BLACK BART: THE POET BANDIT, co-authored by Lou Legerton, placed in The Jack London Novel Contest. This novel represents the first fictionalized historical novel written about Charles Boles’ life before and during his life as California’s most successful stage bandit and Wells’ Fargo’s nemesis, who — after serving 4 1/2 years in San Quentin — disappeared into history.
Three of my regional histories, co-authored with Bernita Tickner, focus on the State of Jefferson; the fourth features the history of Western Siskiyou County, California. The volume, THE STATE OF JEFFERSON: THEN & NOW (Arcadia Publishing), placed as a finalist in the 2008 Next Generation Awards for Best Regional Nonfiction. IMAGES OF THE STATE OF JEFFERSON (Arcadia) tells the history of the 1941 struggle for statehood as well as the fascinating history of the people who have carved out a livelihood in this region, including the local tribes, ranchers, loggers, miners, packers, and others. More than 200 photos are featured, including many from private collections. It is now in its second printing and continues to sell well all over the “State of Jefferson.” All 3 of my Arcadia titles, plus ACROSS THE SWEET GRASS HILLS and BLACK BART: THE POET BANDIT are available at http://www.amazon.com/ as well as Barnes & Noble, etc.
Presently I am also writing for NPR/Jefferson Public Radio’s historical series “As It Was,” and for JEFFERSON BACKROADS, a regional publication. Because of my connection to the State of Jefferson (mythical in many people’s eyes, but certainly a desire in the minds of many in Southern Oregon and Northern California), I was interviewed by Half-Yard Productions for a series by History Channel on “How the States Got their Shapes: Culture Clash” (premiered July 5). To connect with this episode, readers/listeners can log onto http://www.hulu.com/search?query=culture+clash&st=0&fs= This weekend I will also be interviewed on NPR’s “WEST COAST LIVE” (see http://www.wcl.org/)
My latest book, HISTORIC INNS & EATERIES IN THE STATE OF JEFFERSON, by Old American Publishing, is a great traveler’s and historian’s volume. It features 30 locations in and around Southern Oregon and Northern California that have historical significance. In addition to history, there are vintage photos (many from private collections), and a chapter of recipes, contributed by a number of the featured inns and eateries. A few of the locations included are the Wolf Creek Tavern; Crater Lake Lodge; Oregon Caves Chateau; Winchester Inn; Ashland Springs Hotel; Etna Brewery & Pub; Weaverville Inn; and the Benbow Inn. For ordering information, visit my website at http://www.gailjenner.com/ or http://www.oldampub.com/.
I began my official writing career writing for newspapers and magazines and have written for a variety of publications, including Better Homes & Gardens, Everyday with Rachael Ray, Country Woman, Range Magazine, Decision, Living with Teenagers, Parents of Teens, Keys for Kids, Insight and many others. In addition I’ve contributed children’s stories to three anthologies published by Tyndale, a number of entries for the 5-volume Encyclopedia on Colonial America by M.E. Sharpe, Inc., and I co-authored a teacher’s curriculum guidebook for Simon & Schuster. In addition to the awards listed above, I’ve placed as a finalist in a number of other competitions, including The William Faulkner Literary Short Story Contest, two Writer’s Digest competitions, and several screenplay contests.
Images of the State of Jefferson
The State of Jefferson exists as more than a fantasy. According to Jim Rock, a Siskiyou County historian, the real “State of Jefferson” is characterized by a state of mind, not a state with borders, and today’s Jefferson staters can be found in counties along the Pacific coast, the Nevada state line, down in the Sacramento Valley or out in central/eastern Oregon. Jefferson’s struggle for statehood, however, is lodged in history. The first legal attempt occurred in 1852, when a bill was introduced into the California State Legislature at Vallejo.
Though the bill failed, the notion did not, as noted in the January 14, 1854, edition of The Mountain Herald (Yreka, California): “The citizens of the County of Siskiyou and State of California are requested to meet at the Yreka Hotel, in Yreka, on Saturday evening, the 14th of January next, at 6 o’clock P.M., for the purpose of taking measures to secure the formation, at an early day, of a new Territory out of certain portions of Northern California and Southern Oregon; and also to appoint delegates to a general convention for the same purpose, to be held at Jacksonville on the 25th of January next.” Twenty-three men signed the declaration that followed, including pioneers such as E. Steele, C. McDermit, M. B. Callahan, M. Sleeper, J.M. Shackleford, W. Davidson, and A. V. Gillett. In 1859, gold miners from the same borderline counties tried to maneuver state lines in order to avoid paying taxes. Petitions were circulated, calling for the establishment of a county with names such as Klamath, Shasta, or Jackson. In 1860, Oregon tried to claim part of California by stepping 12 miles over the border until the northern boundary was established at 42 degrees north by Lieutenant Williamson.
Almost fifty years later, on March 31, 1910, in a letter addressed to the editor, we see Jefferson mentioned as the possible name for a new state. C. K. Klum wrote: “We have had men who exhibited a wisdom and prescience for our welfare that places us under a debt of gratitude, and their names should be given to our new states. Jefferson, in accepting Bonaparte’s offer for the sale of the Louisiana Purchase without any constitutional authority, as he admits, for doing it, placed us under such obligation. Acting without loss of time, he at once organized and sent off the Lewis and Clark exploring expedition to cinch and bind the bargain.”
In 1935, John Childs, a Crescent City judge, declared himself governor of a new state as a protest against poor roads, neglect, and perceived injustice coming out of Sacramento. From this simple protest arose a more formalized “revolt”, which began in Port Orford, Curry County, Oregon, the recognized birthplace of today’s State of Jefferson “movement.” Mayor Gilbert E. Gable and others stormed into the county courthouse, claiming that the natural resources of Oregon’s coastline as well as the Siskiyou ranges had been neglected for far too long and that Curry County should be transferred from Oregon to California. Perhaps to appease the crowd, the judge appointed a commission to study the likelihood of annexation. Immediately Gable sent a letter to California’s governor, Culbert L. Olson, who responded with modest enthusiasm. Oregon’s attorney general also responded, saying that Curry County “could annex itself to a dry lake” if it so desired. Nonetheless, Gable appointed himself interim governor and announced his platform: the new state would not impose sales taxes, income taxes, or liquor taxes, but would rely on its resources as well as a healthy red-light district to bring in revenue. John Childs joined the effort.
The concept of a 49th state so appealed to Yreka, Siskiyou’s county seat, that the Chamber of Commerce persuaded the Board of Supervisors to consider it. Yreka became the designated state capital. The Yreka 20-30 Club drafted a Proclamation of Independence and staged a protest along Highway 99.
The name, Jefferson, was selected after The Siskiyou Daily News ran a contest. J. E. Mundell of Eureka, California, submitted the winning name. A seal was created: a mining pan etched with a two Xs to signify the double-cross by Salem and Sacramento politicians. It is still used on flags, banners and memorabilia by “residents of the State of Jefferson”. Articles, editorials, letters, appeared in local papers and large publications, including the San Francisco Chronicle and Examiner, Life and Time. Writers, photographers, even newsreel companies, were sent to document the movement.
One young reporter, Stanton Delaplane, of the Chronicle, interviewed area residents. As he traveled despicable roads and experienced the harsh conditions, he wrote a stirring series of articles and won a Pulitzer Prize for his journalism. December 4th, l941 became election day for the state’s governor’s race. John C. Childs won. His inauguration was celebrated with a parade through downtown Yreka, led by a bear named “Itchy,” a rally and speeches. But who could have foreseen the future? Three days later, on December 7, 1941, Pearl Harbor was bombed and the nation went to war.
Following World War II, the dream was reborn. Regional politicians, business people, and rugged individualists once more clamored for a fair share of their state’s money and attention. Today, the same notions are bandied about, and occasionally, a headline sends a ripple of excitement through the small towns that make up most of the region. But there is other evidence that the dream lives on: Southern Oregon’s PBS Radio Station is officially named the Jefferson Public Radio Station; signs along Interstate 5 and local highways indicate they are part of the official “State of Jefferson Scenic Byway or Highway”; businesses sell Jefferson State memorabilia. There is a State of Jefferson Chamber of Commerce, although its meetings are more social events than political ones. The Pioneer Press, a Western Siskiyou County newspaper with its office in Fort Jones, California, is the official headquarters and flies the “state” flag daily. Most importantly, are the attributes of this enduring, mythical State of Jefferson. From its primitive, beautiful natural wonders, to its turbulent history and unusual people, Jefferson inspires residents to question its destiny and visitors to remark on its unique, independent “Jeffersonian” state of mind.
Want more Gail? Here’s where you can find her: