Tuesday, January 30, 2024

Q&A with Talia Carner


Photo by Ron Carner



Talia Carner is the author of the new novel The Boy with the Star Tattoo. Her other books include the novel The Third Daughter. She is the former publisher of Savvy Woman magazine.


Q: You’ve said that an inspiration for The Boy with the Star Tattoo was a visit you made in 2018 to the Clandestine Immigration and Naval Museum in Haifa. Can you tell us more about that?


A: More accurately, I was already deep into researching the 1969 boats’ escape from Cherbourg, which is why I visited this museum at the invitation of Hadar Kimche, the retired rear admiral who had commanded this spectacular feat.


What hit me on this visit was the realization of how close, time-wise, was this event to the clandestine immigration before the establishment of the State of Israel—and to the Holocaust that had just preceded it.


In the spectrum of human history, and even in the shorter arc of the Jews’ exile for 2,000 years from their homeland, these three time stamps—the Holocaust, the clandestine immigration, and the escape of the boats—took place in the span of less than 30 years. Only the blink of an eye.


I had known the facts, of course—they had been drilled into me all throughout my school years—but with my now mature perspective, I grasped how extraordinary this history was for people whose life experiences had straddled all three events.


That insight led me to peek behind the scene into the histories of the characters I was developing, and that’s when the story began to take shape and came to life with side plots and depth.   


Q: The writer Kelly Rimmer said of the novel, “The Boy With the Star Tattoo is a heartfelt testament to the power of determination and belonging.” What do you think of that description?


A: Part III of the novel is titled “Belonging.” The accompanying epitaph, borrowed from Somerset Maugham, The Moon and Sixpence, quotes a very interesting phenomenon that I found to be more true to Jews than to any other ethnic group: “Some men are born out of their due place. Accident has cast them amid certain surroundings, but they have always a nostalgia for a home they know not.”


The need for belonging is one of humanity’s primal instincts, whether on the micro level to a core family, or on the macro level to a particular segment of humanity.


For 2,000 years, Jews had been praying “Next year in Jerusalem.” They had been yearning for this land from which their ancestors had been cast by invading armies.


But beyond the sense of belonging to the land, there is the strong bond that is rooted in being a part of what we call among ourselves “the tribe.” Most of us share an ethnic identity regardless of how we observe, or not, religious dictates.


It became apparent yet again after the recent October 7 Hamas slaughtering, raping, and kidnapping of Israelis and the war that ensued.


So many Jews whose daily lives had had no Jewish relevance or content suddenly felt the horror in a personal way. I’d catch a stranger’s glance in the supermarket, and at that instant we united in a mourning that wasn’t evident to the outside observer.


In The Boy with the Star Tattoo, I show how the most secular or agnostic Jew may feel the sense of attachment to our people’s fate—past, present, and future.


Q: How did you research the novel, and what did you learn that especially surprised you?


A: The research was more intense and deep than any work done for my previous novels. The numerous interviews, the many books I read, the meetings in person or via Zoom with scholars, historians, journalists, tour guides, archivists, and naval personnel were interwoven with what turned out to be five trips to France.

Three of these trips were absolutely necessary, and the other two were the icing on the cake, yet the information I gathered in each of these extra trips yanked me out of my research orbit into a new track of investigation.


And when I couldn’t travel—such as during the pandemic—I visited villages of the Loire Valley with the help of drones (!) .


What surprised me was not how I was stumped by some questions relating to Youth Aliyah, but how academics, archivists, and authors of nonfiction books about this topic had no answers to these questions either. I spent a lot of time digging deeper until I found satisfactory explanations.


I must add that this experience reinforced my belief that the purpose of good writing was not necessarily to spill out “what I know,” but rather that the journey into what I didn’t know was far more interesting, thought-provoking, and, at the end, better served the story and the reader.


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


A: I must admit that I had relatively little knowledge of the Holocaust in France. My exposure from history books, films, and Hebrew poetry had focused on the tragedy of Eastern Europe communities.


Perhaps because “only” 25 percent of the Jews of France had perished during the Holocaust, somehow it passed under my radar. Furthermore, I had been “Holocausted-out” and certainly did not wish to ever write about it.


I managed to avoid delving into it in The Boy with the Star Tattoo as my storyline led to a Catholic woman and to the more beguiling setting of Château Valençay.


In the process of researching, though, I read dozens of memoirs and had to consult with experts on questions of the political and religious mood in France as it related to the Third Republic, followed by post WWII’s Fourth Republic. Most of that stuff stayed out of the novel, because my topic was about what happened afterward to Jewish orphans.


That said, I couldn’t unknow the facts and tragedies I’d learned.


You asked me earlier about “belonging.” Now that the information is lodged in my psyche, my heart also belongs with the Jewish refugees from the pogroms of Eastern Europe who had found a safe haven in France after WWI, only to be betrayed.


In France, they were sent to their death not by the Nazis, but by the French people, whose smoldering amber of anti-Semitism only needed a huff of Nazi air—not even Nazi presence—to reignite.


The romantic France I’d known all my life, starting with my French high school, where we adored French poetry, theater, and literature—even nicknamed or jived each other in French—has been forever tinted for me under this dark cloud of history.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: Do you mean beside planning dozens of in-person presentations and Zoom talks for The Boy with the Star Tattoo? My book tours have so far lasted three years each—or until I burned out, whichever happened first.


In the midst of this very busy time, a surprise protagonist has recently found me, with an incredible story reflecting a major social issue. My problem is that the story that has hit me takes place in a country I had purposely avoided visiting.


I am not yet ready to say more, but I now keep myself open as I’m curious to see where the protagonist’s journey will take me.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: Let’s keep this one secret, but fans of my 2011 novel, Jerusalem Maiden, may brace themselves for a pleasant surprise: Esther’s granddaughter, who only had a cameo appearance in the epilogue of Jerusalem Maiden, is the protagonist of The Boy with the Star Tattoo.


The two novels are totally unrelated and take place 44 years apart, but in this new novel readers get to meet Esther again, in a minor role as Sharon’s aging grandmother.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Talia Carner.

No comments:

Post a Comment