The Boston Girl, between you and me
The thrill of having a book published never gets old.
The Boston Girl is my twelfth and I felt just as excited and nervous as when my first came out; that was The New Jewish Wedding in 1985.
The “nervous” is because I only know whether I’ve hit the mark when I hear from readers. Were they informed? Moved? Inspired? Challenged to think differently?
I read all my email and write back to almost everyone. I’m happy to answer questions or respond to challenges to, for example, the way I departed from Genesis in my novel, The Red Tent. “Almost” refers to the small minority who are dismissive, angry or just plain nasty.
I treasure mail from people who were moved by my fiction. I am deeply honored when told that my Jewish books were useful and helpful for people who are planning a wedding, exploring the process of converting to Judaism, or mourning a loss. In my attic I’ve saved every letter and card I ever received; I keep the emails, too.
But reader response to The Boston Girl is something else. I’ve never gotten so many emails about any book. But it’s not the number or even the glowing testimonials I get. Over and over, readers tell me how they feel personally connected to The Boston Girl by reminding them of a grandmother or great-grandmother, or by making them wonder about foremothers they never met. Some say they are going to ask questions of elders or do genealogical research. Those who have listened to the audiobook read by Linda Lavin say it was like having “their” grandmother speaking directly to them.
The Boston Girl seems to unlock memories, or remind people of memories lost to time. Some readers share details, which makes me feel like a circle has been completed.
Your book made me cry when I reached the end. I was totally surprised by my reaction. Sadness had overtaken me after finishing a deeply enjoyed book before, but I can’t ever recall actually crying. While the tears of joy and sadness were flowing, I realized that completing your book I was saying goodbye to a loved one all over again. I realized that I had subconsciously invited my long deceased grandmother, Gertrude, to join me as the pages were turned. … “Gert” was born in Brooklyn NY, moved to Massachusetts in her early teens and was just five years older than Addie.
As Addie’s life unfolded, I wondered if my grandmother felt, heard, and saw many of the same things throughout the decades. My grandmother’s life matched the age and style of the timeframe you so vividly described. My grandmother also knew firsthand the hateful pain of loss. Her 10-year-old sister died suddenly from Infantile Paralysis. She also lost a 1-month-old sister to diphtheria and a 9-month-old sister to a broken neck. She, like Addie, experienced the sadness of having a mother that was more burdensome than nurturing. Her mother was an alcoholic and her father was emotionally absent, self-centered and minimally supportive. My grandmother also lived in an orphanage for a time.
Addie’s story prompted me to research the heath and social issues of her lifetime and also inspired me to revisit a family history workbook I had began in the late 70’s. Fortunately, I interviewed my grandmother for that book on a tape recorder a few years before her death. She passed at age 92.
Your book was full of special gifts. It brought much enjoyment, m
y grandmothers’ presence to my side; a deeper historical view and it prompted me to relate several stories to my adult daughter about her dear great-grandmother Gert.
Thank you so very much.
Dear Ms. Diamant,
Your book, The Boston Girl, came to me at exactly the right moment in my life. I just finished organizing two large boxes given to me by my father of relics left in my grandparents’ attic. The items were from my mother’s side of the family, starting in 1865. The collection of old photos, letters, postcards and trinkets concentrated on the early 1900’s. I had spent the last weeks deciphering old letters trying to piece together their Irish/Italian lives. It was a fun journey back in history mostly taking place in New York City and New Rochelle, New York.
… I did not want the story to end. I felt you were giving me insight into possibly the same struggles my grandmother and great grandmothers faced during those same years. Their life successes and struggles were very similar to Addie’s. I am grateful to you for giving me a clearer image of the women I am descended from during this time in history. Thank you for writing the story of the lives of women in America.
I wish you well.
Vickie sent photos, including this one taken in 1939. Her great-grandmother Nora is the lady on the far right right, and her grandmother, Helen, is on the far left.
Other readers make powerful personal connections that aren’t “in the family.”
The Cape Cod town of Sandwich selected The Boston Girl as a “community read.” After I had the honor of speaking to an enthusiastic audience at Sandwich Town Hall, one woman gave me a gift. She had been browsing in an antique shop and spotted a brooch that reminded her of the episode in the book when the Baum family loses two little boys to the flu epidemic of 1918. She said, “That scene tore my heart out and I felt the pin would remind you of those wonderful characters you created.”
It will certainly do that. But that pin will also remind me of her kindness, and of all of the readers who write to me, come to readings, buy my books, listen to them, or take them out of the library.
Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
This book opened up an entire new world to me, my mother’s life as a teenager in Boston. She was a generation later than the girls in the book, born in 1943 in Dorchester, but she spent many summers in Nantasket, in a place similar to the Rockport Lodge.
Until we read this book together, she never mentioned it! I’m 43, she’s 72, and she never mentioned it!
She and all of her female first cousins would spend minimally-supervised summer 1950s vacations rooming together, working in the shops by day and roaming the town on days off and at night. They even met a few boys and “got into such trouble!”
This book has been the catalyst for so many conversations between my mother, me, and my daughter, and I ache for the conversations I can’t have with my grandmothers, both of whom lived in the West End in the 20s. This book gives me a window to lives they may have lived.
(And it also gave my mother another excuse to nag me about how I still have time to become a rabbi… oy.)
So, yes, you hit the mark. Bulls-eye.
Dear Ms. Diamant,
This book moved me to tears at the end. I loved Addie–her belief in herself (despite the messages she got from her mother!), her intelligence, and her lovingness. The ending moved me not only because it was beautiful but also because it reminded me of my own lack of family connection–with long passed grandparents who lived out of state, I never had the pleasure of hearing such lovely life stories.
But even while lamenting this gap in my own life, I was buoyed by Addie’s joy in telling her story to her granddaughter. Her story lets me dream about all the women who came before me–whether in my family or not–and how they’ve made the world a better place for us all.
Thank you for writing this story.
Thank-you so much for your contributions to my growing knowledge of Judiasm.
Our book club of 13 women, located in rural Mactier, Ontario will be looking forward to discussing the Boston Girl. Our group has woman from age 25 to ” 9 bloody 6″ years old.
We all enjoyed the Red Tent together.
So sorry to hear of the loss of you buddy, I know the heart and attachment of those little schnauzer dogs. Cherish those loving memories!
I just finished reading Day After Night with tears. I am a Christian and a Zionist and on the board of CJUI. I have gotten to know many Jewish seniors in the Boston Community through the organization. One in particular Helga was a teen during the Holocaust. I just love listening to her Austrian accent and her passion to Never Forget. As a writer myself I would like to capture stories like hers and the one I just read by you.
My sister in law recommended The Boston Girl so while I waited for it I read Day after Night. I will probably be reading all your stuff now because it is so engaging. I would like to recommend it to my Jewish and Christian friends to promote better understanding. I was at a meeting of CCOM (Concerned Citizens of MA) last night at the VFW in Newton. I was surprised that a Jewish friend I was talking to had not read the Red Tent as so many of us have. I enjoyed it too. So perhaps a book club can be part of our co-mingling in CJUI.org
I want to visit Israel and capture stories of the Holocaust survivors. There is not much time left. Maybe we could get CJP to fund a writer’s Tour?
I also liked Boston Girl because my grandmother would have been about Addie’s age and grew up in the Boston area. She even worked at Filene’s and I have childhood memories of visiting her in the Maternity Department. I even worked there myself for a while and remember the older Boston from my nearly 70 year perspective. I wonder if you will have a sequel for Day After Night? I’m looking forward to it.