This article was first published as “Author’s journey to Judaism helped fuel book on interfaith relationships and hidden identities” in The Jewish Tribune. Click here to read it there.
Palo Alto, CA – Many people think back fondly about their college advisors, but Andi L. Rosenthal credits Dr. Sara Horowitz, director of the centre for Jewish studies at York University, for setting her on the path that would eventually lead her to write her debut novel, The Bookseller’s Sonnets (O Books, 2010).
Rosenthal is also certain that if it were not for the undergraduate class on Holocaust literature she took with Horowitz in 1988 at the University of Delaware, she would never have begun her journey towards becoming a Jew.
Rosenthal’s study with Horowitz, who remains a mentor to her, sparked an interest in exploring her interfaith family’s complicated religious past and in discovering and nurturing her innate Jewish identity that had gone unexamined during an upbringing in Catholic churches and schools in New York. She converted to Judaism in 2002.
This personal journey, together with a professional one at the Museum of Jewish Heritage: A Living Memorial to the Holocaust in lower Manhattan (the novel’s setting) from 1999 to 2004, has resulted in a powerful fictional story of interfaith relationships and hidden identities spanning five centuries.
The Bookseller’s Sonnets chronicles the story of a mysterious package from an anonymous artifact donor that arrives at the desk of Jill Levin, senior curator at the museum. The artifact appears to be a diary written by Margaret More, the eldest daughter of Saint Thomas More, legal advisor to Henry VIII. As Levin works with colleagues to authenticate the diary (using clues from letters arriving to her from the Holocaust survivor who donated it), representatives from the Archdiocese of New York move in to lay claim to it in an attempt to prevent its explosive contents from becoming public.
Layered over this interweaving of curatorial sleuthing and historical fiction is Levin’s contemporary struggles with Jewish self-definition and Second Generation family dynamics (the character’s own grandparents are Holocaust survivors). Rosenthal skillfully makes these challenges, as well as the museum’s milieu and day-to-day operations in the years immediately following 9/11 very detailed, textured and realistic.
Rosenthal originally wrote the book in 2005, but it went unpublished until members of the outreach committee at her synagogue, Larchmont Temple in Larchmont, NY, took an interest in it last year and offered to shop it around to connections they had in the publishing industry.
Buoyed by the fact that pre-orders for The Bookseller’s Sonnets, which will be released Sept. 16, are strong as a result of social media and word of mouth marketing, Rosenthal is looking forward to a special launch event scheduled for Oct. 24 at the Museum of Jewish Heritage and a book tour in early 2011 organized by the National Jewish Book Council.
“It’s really a case of dayenu,” said Rosenthal. “It’s been one blessing after another, and I am so grateful for each one.”
She is thankful to many people who have helped her along the way to realizing her literary dreams, but especially to Horowitz, who ignited the pintele yid in her. “She was my guiding star then and she still is today.”
© 2010 Renee Ghert-Zand. All rights reserved.