Novelist Jane L. Rosen, author of the lighthearted romp, A Shoe Story (Berkeley, $17) chats with Fiction Editor Yona Zeldis McDonough about what happens when we are offered a second chance.
YZM: Let’s focus on Yiddish since there’s quite a bit in the book. What’s your relationship to it? Do you speak the language?
JLR: After college, I spent a few years working in New York’s Garment Center, specifically in the coat market. Our pattern-maker was a man named Izzy Sloan who survived the Holocaust by hiding in the woods of Slonim in Western Belarus. He spoke English, but agreed to teach me a new Yiddish word every week. I still remember a bisl. I love how Yiddish allows you to express feelings in a word or two that may take entire sentences in the English language. Take the arguably most common Yiddish word, Oy Vey—the perfect saying to show dismay or despair or to empathize with someone’s dismay or despair. I guess you could substitute the phrase good grief, but personally I would rather sound like Mandy Patinkin than Charlie Brown.
YZM: How about the world of Jewish food—what’s your connection there? What was researching that like?
JLR: Living in New York City, there is no shortage of Jewish food (or that of almost any other ethnicity for that matter). When I was a young girl, my mother would take me to the dairy restaurants of the Lower East Side. We would order blintzes, potato pancakes and egg creams and the waiters would toss them onto the table with a grunt. It was all part of the show. Though today these restaurants are few and far between, Jewish food (both deli and dairy) are still alive and well in NYC. There is a lot of talk about herring in the book, and for that I went right to the maven, Sol Zabar, who was happy to discuss the appetizing business with me.
YZM: Esme befriends an older Jewish man; can you talk about intergenerational friendship—what it offers and why it’s important?
JLR: I can talk about the mutual benefit of intergenerational friendships all day long—L’dor Va-dor. In many cases, old people are brushed aside as having nothing to offer, when in fact the truth is very much the opposite—they have stories and experience and a tremendous amount to give. My relationships with older friends have been some of the most beneficial in my life. If you don’t have the opportunity to befriend an older person like Sy, there are many organizations that can match you up with seniors in your area. Like Esme, I bet you will get more out of the relationship than you give.
YZM: In the acknowledgements, you thank your father for his part in the story.
JLR: This was the most beautiful part of writing this book. My dad passed away when I was just eleven, so we never discussed this part of his life. Aside from the fact that men don’t talk about war, they certainly don’t talk to their young daughters about war. Researching my father’s time in the Coast Guard during World War II made me feel a closeness to him that I hadn’t felt in many, many years. I traced the journey of his ship, the LCI-83 from England to Northern Africa to Italy to France and used his letters home to his mother to tap into what it must have felt like for a seventeen-year-old kid to leave Brooklyn for the first time and to face what he did.
YZM: Shoes often have an almost talisman power for women and they play a big part in this novel; were you tapping into that and why? Was the Cinderella story anywhere in your mind?
JLR: Women love shoes. From the first time they wobble around in their mother’s heels to the first time they are allowed to buy a pair of their own, shoes are aspirational. They save for designer boots and thrill at the prospect of finding a pair of stylish stilettos while thrifting. And yes, they dream of Prince or Princess Charming placing a glass slipper on their bare feet, signifying they have found their “sole” mate.
YZM: What’s next on your horizon?
JLR: On Fire Island, out May of 2023. This book is the most close to home that I have written and I am very excited to share it with both my fellow Fire Islanders and the world!