Wednesday, May 3, 2023

Q&A with Corie Adjmi




Corie Adjmi is the author of the new novel The Marriage Box. She also has written the story collection Life and Other Shortcomings. She lives in New York City.


Q: In your Author's Note for The Marriage Box, you write, “It took me twenty years to write The Marriage Box, twenty years to get the tone just right.” Can you say more about why you wrote the book, and the process involved in getting the tone right?


A: While The Marriage Box is fiction, the story is based on my real life. I grew up in New Orleans in a reformed Jewish community. When I was 16, my parents decided we’d move to the orthodox Syrian Jewish community in Brooklyn, where they both were raised.


The move was traumatic and writing about my experiences felt therapeutic. But it took years to get enough distance from my intense emotions. I needed time to process in order to create something more universal, and even entertaining, about a difficult period in my life. Humor turned out to be a great tool.


Q: How was the book's title chosen, and what does it signify for you?


A: In the 1980s, The Marriage Box was a real place, a designated section at the beach club my family went to. The 16-year-old Syrian girls would lounge there, hoping to get a date or potential husband. The community expectation was that girls would be married by 18. In the Sephardic Jewish world, getting married and starting a family are top values.


I chose this title because my 18-year-old protagonist, Casey, is expected to find a husband in The Marriage Box, and later in her marriage, she feels trapped, “boxed in.” I liked the double meaning.


Q: The author Lisa Barr said of the book, “Corie Adjmi's fabulous novel The Marriage Box is an unputdownable tale of Old World traditions-meets-New World desires.” What do you think of that description?


A: I loved reading Lisa’s description of The Marriage Box. She absolutely captured what the novel is about. The Marriage Box explores what it’s like for a person to seek individuation when they must go against the group in order to do so.


Challenging community and family expectations, and pursuing your own path, can be lonely and painful. Sometimes people comply, sacrificing their own dreams and desires because belonging is a very real and powerful human need. The Marriage Box is the story of one woman’s struggle to find her own way.


Q: What do you hope readers take away from the novel, and what do you hope they learn about the Syrian Jewish community in the United States?


A: Chimamanda Adichie has a TED Talk called The Danger of a Single Story. In it, she explains that having a single, limited view of a group of people leads to stereotyping. I’ll take that one step further. When people think of people as “other” it leads to hate crimes. Studies show that knowing a Jewish person is strongly linked to Jewish acceptance.


Literature opens our eyes, expands our worlds, and lets us into the lives of others. The Sephardic community—its culture, traditions, rituals, the food—is as different as it is alike other Jewish communities around the globe. I hope The Marriage Box serves as an introduction to this world and adds to the point that the Jewish community is diverse and not only one thing.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I am working on another novel. The story is not based on my life, and it was fun to create with no limitations and just let my imagination run wild. The process was faster with this manuscript as I learned a lot while writing The Marriage Box. The book is called Always Some Beauty and it’s a family drama.


I’ll say this about it. I was motivated to write this story after reading a newspaper article about an adored teacher who groomed and abused students for years at a private high school in New York City. As a teacher and mother to five, I was disturbed by the article and needed to explore how something like that could happen. At the same time, I was reading David Schickler’s Kissing in Manhattan and watching his television series, Banshee. I was totally inspired.  


--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Corie Adjmi.

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