Anne Dublin is the author of the new middle grade historical novel Jacob and the Mandolin Adventure. It focuses on a group of Jewish orphans from Poland who emigrated to Canada in 1927 to work on a farm. Her many other books include A Cage Without Bars. She is based in Toronto.
Q: How did you first learn about the Canadian Jewish Farm School and the orphans who arrived there from Poland in 1927?
A: As an author of historical novels and biographies for the last 20 years, I’ve come to realize that story ideas float around the universe, waiting for someone to grab them and write them down.
Sometimes we find these stories by searching for them; other times, they fall into our laps. The idea for Jacob and the Mandolin Adventure came to me through a combination of luck and happenstance.
I had begun researching and writing a historical novel about a Jewish orphanage in Poland after World War II when, out of the blue, I got a phone call from a fellow Torontonian, Dave Fleishman.
“Anne, please meet me for coffee,” he said. “I have a story about my grandfather that I want to tell you.” At first, I refused. I didn’t know Dave and I didn’t want to get distracted. But Dave persisted and I finally agreed.
We met at a coffee shop near my home. Dave told me about his grandfather, Morris Saxe, who had immigrated to Canada in 1902 from Ukraine.
Morris subsequently studied agriculture at the Ontario Agricultural College in Guelph, and served as an interpreter for the Canadian armed forces during World War I.
After the war, he bought two farms and went on to establish several businesses in Acton and Georgetown. In 1926, he founded the Canadian Jewish Farm School.
My book begins in 1927, when Morris received permission from the Canadian government to bring a group of 27 Jewish orphans from Mezritsh, Poland, to Canada. When Dave told me about this group of orphans, their story piqued my interest. And when he added that most of them played in a mandolin orchestra, I was hooked!
Q: What kind of research did you do to write the book, and did you learn anything that especially surprised you?
A: Dave kindly shared two huge binders of research materials and I was on my way! I also did my own research in the Ontario Jewish Archives.
Especially helpful was information I found in the Mezritsh Yizkor (Remembrance) Book. I was surprised and delighted to learn how vibrant life was in this small city in Poland, especially between the two world wars.
I also enjoyed interviewing the adult children of a few of the orphans, and even the daughter of their music teacher.
One unusual thing I did for my research was to take mandolin lessons. I wanted to get a sense of what the instrument sounds like and how it feels to play it.
Q: What did you see as the right blend between fiction and history as you worked on the book?
A: That’s a very good question. I’m always balancing fiction and history. It’s essential to get the history right, but above all, the plot and the characters must dominate. The bottom line is to write an engaging story for the reader.
Q: Is your character Jacob based on one particular historical figure, or is he more of a composite character?
A: Jacob is a composite figure—someone I imagined might have existed, along with some of the other orphans in the story. However, the adults I write about in my Afterword were real. Although I created dialogue and actions, I hope I honored their lives.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I’m not working on any new big projects right now, but I recently completed a teacher’s guide for Jacob as well as a blog post for my publisher’s website. I guess I’m waiting for the muse to hit me on the head.
While I’m waiting, I’m reading a lot of historical novels, especially those by my new favorite author, Jennifer Robson.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: I love telling stories about people and events that are relatively unknown, and sharing these stories with audiences of all ages. I find it interesting that, although my books are for young people, a lot of adults like to read them as well.
Because of the pandemic, I had a virtual book launch in March 2021, and I’m now setting up virtual readings to schools and libraries.
One more item: I’m delighted that Jacob and the Mandolin Adventure will be available as an audiobook in the near future.
For more information about me and my books, here’s my website: Anne Dublin | Author, Teacher, Editor.
Deborah, thanks very much for inviting me to share my writing life on your blog.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb