Wednesday, October 18, 2023

Q&A with Deborah Kasdan



Deborah Kasdan is the author of the new memoir Roll Back the World, which focuses on her family, particularly her late sister Rachel. Kasdan spent 35 years writing about technology and business, and she lives in Connecticut and Massachusetts.


Q: What inspired you to write Roll Back the World?


A: When Rachel died -–she was 59—I felt a pressing need to tell her story. My older sister was a strong, courageous woman, who endured decades in a psychiatric system that couldn’t help her. Although she survived, she became an outcast from society.


I wanted people to understand she was part of a family that loved her, even though we couldn’t care for her. This urge to honor her life was unlike anything I had felt before. I couldn’t ignore it. 


Q: The Kirkus Review of the memoir says, in part, “Intricate and affecting, Kasdan’s debut finds hope in the saddest of stories.” What do you think of that description, and what do you hope readers take away from the book?


A: I think that's a very insightful description. One of my challenges in writing this memoir was weaving Rachel’s story together with mine, my parents’, and my other three siblings. The dynamics, and the individual journeys we took, make for an intricate tapestry. I don’t know if it’s the saddest story ever told but it’s certainly no beach read.


And yes, I do find hope. Rachel was marginalized most of her adult life because of her illness, but shortly before she died she found a community to embrace her. Their compassion, in the spirit of tikkun olam, gives me hope for the future.


I hope readers will take away that same sense of compassion and understand how much the simplest acts of outreach can mean to individuals and their families. 


Q: How would you describe the relationship between you and your sister Rachel?


A: In the book I call Rachel my lodestone; as we moved from city to city I followed her lead in so many areas—friends, books, clothing, music, ideas. 


But our personalities were different. She yearned for adventure and travel, and she didn’t mind riling up our parents to get what she wanted. I admired her while I was growing up, but I preferred to keep my head down and avoid major conflict with our parents.


She respected my choices as I respected hers —until it became clear she was no longer acting rationally. 


Q: What impact did it have on you to write this book?


A: While I was writing, I needed a lot of emotional support, and was fortunate to find it. I began to see the price I paid for pushing back painful memories.


I gradually gained resolve and confidence in being open about my family's experiences. I’ve never been crazy about the word “cathartic” but in the end writing the book was just that.


Best of all, it made feel close to Rachel. She was an avid writer, a budding poet. I think she would be proud of me for writing this book.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I’m writing a novel based on my mother’s stories about growing up during the Great Depression. She and two siblings were abandoned by their father, and their immigrant mother was unable to care for them.


My mother lived in the Chicago Home for Jewish Orphans in Hyde Park from the age of 7 to 17. She enjoyed the perks—free movies, concerts, ball games, and lots of friends. She was extraordinarily smart and feisty, and never let poverty make her feel deprived.


Q: Anything else we should know? 


A: My parents, who raised four children during the Cold War, were so left-wing that they attracted the attention of the FBI, who wanted my parents to give them names of people who might be Communists. An FBI agent always made sure to “greet,” or confront them when we moved from one city to another.


In 1960 two agents knocked on our front door one evening while we were watching Khrushchev address the United Nations on television. I thought it was funny at the time. But I think Rachel, being older, took the incident more seriously.


I suspect that her first-hand experience of actual surveillance turned into irrational fears when she became ill.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

No comments:

Post a Comment