Meet Amalie Price, suddenly a widow at 40 who’s facing eviction, a newly alienated teenage son, and the need to find work that pays more than her secret translations of French pornography. In record time she takes on the New York City bureaucracy, leads a tenant protest, and becomes increasingly engaged in social issues, to her own surprise and the amazement of both her inscrutable son and wacky sociologist father. Along the way she manages a new job and fights off–or succumbs to–a variety of men in hot pursuit: a composer who bases his music on cuts of meat, her messianic boss, and a lawyer who relies on his dog for legal strategy. The story is set in Manhattan’s seething upper west side in the 1980s.
The Inquisition and the expulsion of the Jews from Spain is still an immediate memory for many of my characters. They try to recapture the Golden Age by clinging to Ladino, their archaic language, and enthusiastically appropriating anything that resembles their former lives in the Ottoman Empire: a view of the sea, a mode of dress, courtship rituals. Because they aren’t able to assert themselves in their patriarchal families, the women often resort to innuendo and subterfuge. With their superstitions, myths, and contradictions, the people fight to retain the old ways or else struggle to free themselves of them, sometimes with bizarre consequences: a female corporate executive agrees to perform the evil eye exorcism to rid her mother of depression; a father impersonates his son as a job applicant; and a woman’s belief that she is descended from Christopher Columbus colors her life.
The massive terror of November 9, 1938, Kristallnacht, forced the German Jews to abandon their hope that the Nazi persecution would cease. Those who could fled their country, the land where they “were so beloved,” and proud of their German heritage. More than 20,000 of them came together in Washington Heights in New York City and created an enclave nicknamed the “Fourth Reich” by their neighbors.The book takes Manfred Kirchheimer (my husband), himself one of those refugees, on a personal quest for answers from his family and friends in the community. In a series of interviews they recount their stories: stories of bewilderment at betrayal by friends and neighbors, terror and grief as relatives disappear and families are uprooted, and amazement that this could happen in the highly civilized culture of Germany. Faced with these testimonies, readers will ask themselves: “What would I have done?”