By: Andrea Simon In Floating in the Neversink, author Andrea Simon transports her readers to 1950s Brooklyn where we meet 9-year-old Amanda Gerber. Mandy, as she’s known to her friends and family, is faced with a summer away from her best friend, Francine as her family heads to her grandmother’s summer home in the Catskills. […]
An Interview with Andrea Simon
Andrea Simon is the author of three books. Check back tomorrow for my review of Floating in the Neversink. In our interview, we discuss all three of her works, currently available on Amazon.
Q: Let’s start off with your most recent work. Can you sum up Floating in the Neversink in 20 words or less.
A sensitive Jewish girl comes of age during summers in the Catskill Mountains, interspersed with life in Brooklyn, from 1955-1961.
Q: You’re also the author of two other works. Can you tell us a little bit about them?
Bashert: A Granddaughter’s Holocaust Quest is a memoir/history evolving from my investigation into the fate of my relatives who remained in my grandmother’s Belorussian village of Volchin during the Holocaust. My visit to the village and region led to surprising discoveries that I call “bashert,” a Yiddish word for fated. I also learned about a little-reported massacre of 50,000 Jews in the nearby forest called Brona Gora. While the original hardcover of Bashert was published in 2002, a paperback version with a new Foreword was published in 2019.
Esfir Is Alive is a historical novel emanating from the research I did for Bashert, including a three-paragraph testimony from a 12-year-old Jewish girl who was the only recorded survivor of the Brona Gora massacre, having climbed naked out of the mass grave. Her story inspired me to imagine her life before, during, and after this horrendous experience.
Q: What inspires your cover art? As a photographer, do you prefer to use your own work for your covers?
Whenever I work on a book, I think visually of the cover. I may consult my photos for inspiration or take new pictures to help create an appropriate image. Sometimes, I have reference material that supersedes my own work.
For Floating in the Neversink, I photographed the river and its iconic bridge. I selected one and used digital features to posterize it. Then I researched items from the 1950s, including a black inner tube, car, and shoes. A talented graphic designer inserted the items in the scene and selected an appropriate typeface. The aim of the photo was to evoke the time period and leave a girl’s items on the large rock without signs of the owner, leaving an air of mysterious disappearance.
For Bashert, I used an original photo of my Volchin cousin, Ester Midler, looking forlornly in the mirror. It was a natural choice for me as her beauty and innocence speak volumes.
For Esfir Is Alive, my publisher found the doll’s photo from an archive. The title character had a beloved doll, which played an important role in the book. I felt that the cover needed something more and added the yellow Jewish star to be placed on the doll’s chest. Several viewers have remarked that the cover catches them by surprise. This was the reaction I wanted.
Q: What inspires you to write about the Jewish experience?
Although my grandfather was an orthodox rabbi, I grew up in a secular household amidst a large multi-generational Jewish family. I was particularly close to my two grandmothers, both portrayed in Floating in the Neversink, and one in Bashert. They were both compelling and provocative women with fascinating immigrant life stories. I loved hearing the relatives’ banter and origin stories and was entranced by their Yiddishisms and other cultural manifestations. So, it was natural for me as a writer to describe the world around me, which happened to be immersed in Jewish culture.
Q: Of your three books, which was the most challenging to write?
Probably Bashert since people in the delegation I traveled with to Eastern Europe originally asked me to write the script for a documentary. Unfortunately, this was after the trip and we didn’t have all the necessary footage. My further research led me to more discoveries, including important historical documents, coupled with my personal revelations. I was not a historian and found it difficult to present all this information in a format that would not only do justice to the historiography of the era, but also to the autobiographical aspects of my research. I finally found a workable style that took on a natural rhythm, following a chronological path that alternated between the present and past.
Q: Your book, Bashert, a Granddaughter’s Holocaust Quest, is a memoir about discovering your grandmother’s Russian roots. What was your biggest takeaway from the experience of writing that book?
As far as my family goes, the biggest takeaway was the meeting of Hanna Kremer, a former Volchinite who lived in Long Island, New York, a train ride from me. Upon my visit, we discovered that she was the best friend of my murdered cousins. She had photos of them, and I had photos of her relatives.
As far as the history of the massacres in Volchin and Brona Gora, I was continually amazed at the monumental numbers of Jews torn from their villages and cities and murdered in mass pits while locals saw their neighbors disappearing and even participated in helping. Complicity is often the worst crime.
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Q: What kind of feedback are you getting from readers on Floating in the Neversink?
I’m getting different feedback, depending on the age and experience of the reader. Those who grew up in the 1950s appreciate the cultural references. Those who are from Brooklyn recall their own similarities. But those who have summered in the Catskills have a palpable nostalgia that is very deep. I see in several Facebook Groups devoted to the Catskill’s heyday that the members have a longing for a time when intergenerational families spent time together, a time that is forever gone. I particularly appreciate the comments from younger readers who say they had a best friend or cousin, or who had a close relationship with a grandmother, and they can identify with Amanda, the protagonist.
Q: What is your next writing project?
I am now working on a collection of personal essays, Nobody Sprays Me in Bloomingdale’s, that I have been writing for the past thirty-plus years. Some pieces are funny, others serious. They also vary in length and style. Putting them in a logical order, either chronologically or thematically, has been difficult. My writing group has been extremely helpful in making suggestions. Like many of my projects, it doesn’t fit neatly into an editorial category.
Q: What is on your current reading list?
I am currently reading Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo, which won the Booker Prize in 2019. Next on my list is the novel, The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel; and Dad’s Maybe Book, Tim O’Brien’s memoir.
Q: Can you provide your web address and links to your social media profiles for the audience?
Q: Any closing remarks?
I am very appreciative of Heidi for conducting this interview and for reviewing Floating in the Neversink. I hope that Heidi’s followers will want to read this book and/or my others. We authors often work in solitude, and I am always happy to read readers’ comments and share experiences.
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Read my review of Floating in the Neversink:
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