By Christina Sahovey
In an effort to appeal to a wide range of ages and reach more people through Holocaust education, the Holocaust Center is pleased to launch a new program – our very own book club! As it is still in the early stages, we will see how things develop – whether we will have the “classic” book group style of sitting around a table discussing the latest read, or have more formatted programs. In addition, we are also hoping that the selections for the book club will appeal to a wide range of readers, with the ultimate goal of making this an intergenerational programming initiative. We hope you’ll join us!
The first book of the program is Wordwings written by local author Sydelle Pearl. The book is aimed at young adult readers, but we believe it will appeal to a broad swath of ages. The protagonist is 12-year-old Rivke Rosenfeld, an orphan living in a synagogue in the Warsaw Ghetto with her younger siblings in January 1941. In an attempt to deal with the trauma she is experiencing, Rivke begins writing stories and other recollections in the margins of children’s books.
Sydelle Pearl herself will be here at the Holocaust Center to discuss her work on Sunday, May 6 at 4:00 pm (register here!). Sydelle will discuss her research and writing journey, and will also read passages from Wordwings. A dessert reception will follow along with your chance to purchase the book ($20, cash or check only) and have it signed by the author. In advance of the event with Sydelle, we asked her a few questions about the process of writing Wordwings…
Holocaust Center: What sparked your interest in the topics covered in “Wordwings,” and/ or your interest in Holocaust studies in general?
Sydelle Pearl: Twenty-one years ago I visited the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and saw a milk can that was used to store documents that became part of the Underground Archive of the Warsaw Ghetto. Seeing this milk can made a huge impression upon me and served as the inspiration for me to write my novel, Wordwings. I wondered about the stories that could have been hidden within this milk can.
HC: Was your book difficult to research? How did you go about researching and writing it?
SP: In my novel, I have a Selected Bibliography. This is a sampling of books I read and thought about during my writing journey; there are many more resources that do not appear on this list. I read as much as I could–about the Holocaust in general and the Warsaw Ghetto in particular.
I was especially interested in the plight of children and so was drawn to resources that could provide me with this perspective. The bleakness of the subject matter made my research journey heartbreaking, compelling, and urgent.
At a certain point, I began to write. I can recall hearing the voice of my character of Rivke in my mind. I knew she was writing in her diary. The process of how Rivke, her sisters, and her grandfather came to me is mysterious and magical. My characters feel very real to me.
HC: What was the most challenging aspect of writing your book?
SP: It was exceedingly difficult to find a publisher, but I never gave up!
HC: What was the most rewarding aspect of writing your book?
SP: It is especially moving for me to present author visits in schools. It is thrilling to do book signings and interact with people who purchase my novel.
When I was recently doing a signing at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC, I met people from all over the world!
HC: Throughout Wordwings, there is a theme of art as a form of escapism and resistance. Were there real-life art pieces created during the Holocaust that you used as inspiration?
SP: Thank you for this question!
I believe wholeheartedly that art is a powerful form of resistance.
There was one book that I encountered that shows a portrait of a child that was made by Gela Seksztajn, the Warsaw Ghetto artist who created over three hundred works of art that became part of the Warsaw Ghetto Underground Archive. The book is The Living Witness: Art in the Concentration Camps and Ghettos by Mary Costanza.
Twenty-one years ago when I began embarked on my research and writing journey for my novel, the internet was not the resource that it is today, so that picture in the book was quite important to me. Today, you can find out a great deal about Gela Seksztajn’s artwork by googling her name. Google was founded only twenty years ago.
Special thanks to Sydelle for answering our questions so thoughtfully! And we hope to see you on Sunday for the inaugural event of the Holocaust Center Book Club, and for your chance to meet Sydelle in person.