Veronica Jorge is out of the office this month, so we’re running one of her columns from our archives. Hope you enjoy it!
Hispanola, which means the “Spanish island,” became the first Spanish settlement in America. It is my mother’s native country and today we know the eastern section of the island as the Dominican Republic; a fertile land abundant in mines and minerals and rich in a great variety of fruits, vegetables, grains, and flowers, where the sun shines brightly year round.
The merengue, the country’s traditional music, embraces you throughout the island for dancing is an entirely social activity independent of holidays or festivals. Any gathering includes dancing because Dominican’s don’t just listen to music, they live it. Emotionally, the merengue celebrates life wherein you partake of the rhythms of love, family and friendship. The most skilled dancer moves in unity with their partner, as one.
My mother, Celina Antonia Luna de Jorge, (isn’t that lovely? Like a song in itself), left her beautiful, beloved island, and part of her heart, when she came to America at the age of seventeen. Like most of our ancestors, her family traveled to America in the hope of a better future. I’m happy to say that she found it. (She had me!).
Mom is most fully herself, most fully alive when she is surrounded by her family and cooking us all of the traditional delicious foods of her country. She fills and satisfies us with her peace and joy. And like the savory aromas that waft through the air, she makes our hearts swirl to the rhythms of her warmth and love.
And that’s what I want my writing to be like; a dance of words wherein writer and reader move in sync and taste the flavors of love, friendship, loss and new found purpose, joy and laughter. Writing that, in spite of sorrowful events or hardships, celebrates life and fills the reader with hope that today is indeed worth living.
Happy Mother’s Day, Mom! I love you!
Veronica will be here next time on May 22nd.
Veronica Jorge: Greetings, A Slice of Orange readers. We have the pleasure of speaking today with A.J. Sidransky whose works have received much critical praise. His novel, Forgiving Maximo Rothman, reviewed on this site December 22, 2020, was a finalist in Outstanding Debut Fiction by The National Jewish Book Awards in 2013. Forgiving Mariela Camacho was awarded the David Award for Best Mystery of 2015. The third book in the trilogy, Forgiving Stephen Redmond was released Jan 16, 2021. A.J.’s works are a combination of mystery and historical fiction. A topic in which he excels is the Dominican Republic and the lives of the refugees who arrived there when they fled Nazi Europe. So let’s find out more about this prolific author and his unique stories.
A.J. Sidransky: My interest in the Dominican Republic began when I was a boy. My grandfather’s brother, my uncle Max, had lived there during World War 2. He and my aunt had escaped there when there were no other clear options to leave Europe. My uncle and aunt didn’t have children of their own. My mother was very close to him, and I followed suit.
As a child I studied Spanish starting in the fourth grade. My uncle spoke Spanish, which was a special treat for me. I was able to communicate with him in a language my English and Hungarian speaking family didn’t know. Many years later, as an adult with a wife and child, we moved to Washington Heights in upper Manhattan. Washington Heights is home to the largest Dominican community outside of the island republic.
I joined a gym in the neighborhood that was popular with Dominican weight lifters. I also lift weights. I established friendships with several of the guys there. One in particular, became my best friend. He has a home in the capital, Santo Domingo, where he spends the winters. I spend 3-4 weeks each winter with him at his home, deep in the barrio. I have come to love the people and the country. I often wonder why my uncle left. My love for the country and the culture is best demonstrated in Forgiving Mariela Camacho.
A.J. Sidransky: My emotional attachment to both my aunt and uncle, and to how their experiences touch my emotions and influenced my writing are very much on display in Forgiving Maximo Rothman and Forgiving Stephen Redmond. My uncle Max was my maternal grandfather’s younger brother. They were 2 of 9 children. My grandfather came to the United States in 1923. My uncle escaped from a Hungarian speaking region of Slovakia in 1940. The rest of the family, their mother, brothers, sisters, nieces and nephews as well as over 50 other family members died in the Holocaust in death camps. I am named for two of their brothers.
As I grew older I began to ask questions about the people in the photos on the walls of my grandparents’ home. As I learned about their stories, and about my uncle Max’s escape I became determined to tell their stories. That led first to Forgiving Maximo Rothman. The Interpreter, published in March 2020 also is based on the experiences of another relative who escaped. I believe every story that comes out of the Holocaust needs to be told. I’ve made it my purpose to try to bring some of those to life.
A.J. Sidransky: The short answer is yes. The truth is that while the historical aspects of the stories are based on Max’s experiences, the friendships between Maximo and Jose in Forgiving Maximo Rothman, and the friendship between the detectives Tolya Kurchenko and Pete Gonzalvez in all three novels are based on my friendship with my best friend William Cruz. He is, truthfully, the best friend I have ever had. We are like brothers. We look very different. I am very fair-haired and light-skinned. He is dark in both skin and hair coloring. I’m a good six inches taller than him, and he is much more athletic than me. We work out together five days a week; at least we did before COVID-19 arrived. The people at the gym refer to us as los mellizos, the twins.
A.J. Sidransky: Let’s start with fathers and sons. First of all, I’m both a father and a son, and I can say with some certainty that my most rewarding experience in life has been parenting. Being a father also made me view my own father and my relationship with him in a very different way than I did before I became a father. Much has been written about the relationships of women; mothers and daughters, sisters, etc. Not much has been written about the relationships between men. Perhaps because men aren’t supposed to show their emotions.
As a man, I wanted to explore those relationships. And not to limit them to fathers and sons, and what we do to each other and why, but also to male friendship, and how difficult it is to establish genuine friendship for adult men. I wanted to demonstrate the fragility of men and how much trust is required for men to let other men see that fragility.
As to forgiveness, well, who hasn’t had conflict in their life? And the key is to resolve it, not to carry it around, because it will destroy you. We all do things that we might wish we hadn’t. We all experience the reverse as well, a betrayal or severe disappointment from someone we love deeply. The only way out is to forgive. But, as another dear friend of mine, a pastor of a church in Harlem has told me, forgiveness isn’t free. We must forgive, but hopefully those we forgive will own their mistakes as well.
A.J. Sidransky: LOL, first of all, a good cry! And I hope a laugh as well. I write about ordinary people faced with extraordinary circumstances. How do they stand up and confront the unimaginable? I want my readers to be in their minds, to experience their emotions, to feel what they are feeling.
Most of all, I want my readers to come away with an understanding of what brought about the extraordinary circumstances to begin with, and to be vigilant not to let history repeat itself, to learn from our collective mistakes, to create a better world going forward. If you read my books and you feel what my characters feel you’re more likely to feel compassion for those today who are faced with similar circumstances. I often tell people to really understand my work they need to read the short story The Lottery, by Shirley Jackson. It’s the most important short story ever written. It used to be required reading in high schools. It should be again. Jackson’s message was very clear. Don’t be so certain of your ideas until you’re the one facing the extraordinary circumstance. That’s what I hope for my readers. Soften your heart, don’t harden it.
A.J. Sidransky: Sure, I’d love too. I have a novella and a collection of short stories that I plan on publishing late in 2021 or early in 2022. The title of the novella is The King of Arroyo Hondo. It’s set in the Dominican Republic today and is based on my observations traveling there over the past 10+ years. It’s a departure for me. No dead bodies, no dead Jews. I hope my readers will enjoy it.
I’m currently working on the second book in my ‘Justice’ series, which began with The Interpreter. The Intern is set in 1953. It’s a thriller and plays out against the execution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. I hope to publish that in late spring 2022. I have two projects planned after that.
The first is called Cuba no Falta Nada, which means in English, Cuba is missing nothing. While the title is Spanish, the book is in English. Based on a real story, it’s the story of two brothers born in Cuba in the 1930s to Jewish immigrants from Poland. One is a communist and the other is not. One stays in Cuba and is an official in the Castro government; the other immigrates to the United States. It tells their story from 1958 through 2001.
After that I’m planning on working on something that’s been on my mind for a long time, a novel about baseball. The tentative title is Fielder’s Choice. Fielder’s Choice is a term in baseball for a certain type of play on a line drive. It’s also the name of the title character, a ‘never-a-star’ baseball player who manages a mediocre major league team. He’s taken a young Dominican player under his wing. The Dominican player is a generational talent. They develop a very close relationship, there’s the father/son thing again. Fielder has to decide whether to push the young player forward to further his career or keep him close. Even men will cry at this one. It’s kind of my Field of Dreams, the same way Forgiving Maximo Rothman was my Dr. Zhivago.
A.J. Sidransky: That’s kind of difficult. I don’t like to talk about myself; I’d rather talk about my work. But here’s a go. I’d like readers to know that I feel that if I can touch one person with my work, change one point of view, make one reader look at life a little differently, I feel I’ve done a good job, I’ve done what I set out to do.
When The Interpreter was in pre-publication, my publisher’s son-in-law saw an advanced reader copy on her coffee table. He liked the cover. He asked if he could take one, and she said yes without telling him about the subject matter. That was on purpose.
For those of you who haven’t read The Interpreter, it’s a novel set during and just after the Holocaust in Europe. And there aren’t any concentration camp scenes because I don’t write them. Anyway, she told me that while he’s a decent man, her son-in-law is something of a redneck, her words not mine. Two weeks later he returned the copy and told her that my book had changed his outlook on a number of things. He’d learned about what happened during the war in a new way. He connected with it. It changed his opinions about things. I didn’t ask what those things were, but I can imagine what they are. If I had not sold one copy of The Interpreter, I would have been satisfied with those results, then and there. My work broke through.
We hope all of our readers have enjoyed meeting A.J. Sidransky. To learn more about him, and his latest works and news, connect with him at: www.ajsidransky.com. You can also write to him at email@example.com. He welcomes email from readers. He can also be found on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
Visit his site. Say hello. And above all, read his books. They will touch your heart!
See you next time on April 22nd
P.S. For those of you who missed it, or want a refresher, here are the links to A.J. Sidransky’s books reviewed on this site.
Forgiving Mariela Camacho: A Kurchenko & Gonzalves Mystery, Book 3 of a series
by A.J. Sidransky
Black Opal Books 2021
When a tenant reports a terrible odor coming from apartment 7-F, detectives Kurchenko and Gonzalves know it can only mean one thing: a dead body. But despite all of their training and experience dealing with crime on New York City’s streets, the detectives aren’t prepared for what they are about to encounter.
Sidranky’s first book in this three-part series, Forgiving Maximo Rothman, (reviewed by this writer on December 22, 2020), introduced us to Maximo: his harrowing escape out of Nazi Europe, life as a refugee in the Dominican Republic, and the horrific event that forces him to flee to New York City. In book two, Forgiving Stephen Redmond, (see my review of January 22, 2021), Stephen grapples with his feelings toward his father Maximo, his own dark past, and eventual self-discovery.
In this third and final book of the series, Forgiving Mariela Camacho, Kurchenko and Gonzalves take center stage as they discover how closely their Russian and Dominican lives intersect. Now, more than ever, their partnership will be tested and challenged. How well do they really know each other? How deep is their trust in the other? Solving the case and saving the lives of those they love will depend on how well they can answer these questions.
In Forgiving Mariela Camacho, the most powerful of the three novels, Sidransky weaves a tale of passionate once-in-a-life-time-love, deep-rooted hate, the self-debasement dire circumstances impose upon the most pure and, above all, how essential forgiveness is to the human heart.
The author expertly connects the lives of the seemingly disparate characters and safely carries us to a masterful and satisfying conclusion: the redeeming power of love.
As one of the characters states, “We each have our own destiny.” Sidransky’s novel will make you ask, “What is mine?”
Join us next month on March 22nd for an interview with A.J. Sidransky. You don’t want to miss it!
Forgiving Stephen Redmond: A Kurchenko & Gonzalves Mystery, Book 2 of a series
By A.J. Sidransky
Black Opal Books 2021
Stephen Redmond never understood his late father, Maximo Rothman, or the mysterious ‘other life’ he never spoke about. He considers that maybe, like the changing neighborhood, his dwindling religious community, and the old ways that are disappearing, he should let go of the past and move forward.
But when Detectives Kurchenko and Gonzalves arrive to discuss the dead body found sealed in the wall of a building his father co-owned, Stephen realizes that the past has a will of its own and an iron grip. Shaken by the news of such a gruesome discovery, and knocked off balance by a murky memory he often wondered whether it was real or imagined, Stephen drags himself back through the past forty years in search of the truth. But if and when he finds the truth, what will he do with it?
Sidranky’s first book in this series, Forgiving Maximo Rothman, (reviewed by this writer on December 22, 2020), introduced us to Stephen’s father Maximo: his harrowing escape out of Nazi Europe, life as a refugee in the Dominican Republic, the horrific event that forces him to flee to New York City, and his attempt at creating a better life for his son.
In this second novel, we find Maximo’s son coming to terms with his father’s secret life, and facing the buried ghosts of his own past actions, as he tries to heal the broken pieces of his heart in the hope of finding a peaceful and blessed life.
Forgiving Stephen Redmond is a moving and memorable mystery that touches on themes of the relationship between fathers and sons, confronting a past that won’t let go, guilt, love, learning how to forgive others, and above all, the importance of forgiving ourselves.
Forgiving Stephen Redmond will touch your heart!
Forgiving Maximo Rothman: A Kurchenko & Gonzalves Mystery, Book 1 of a series
by A.J. Sidransky
Black Opal Books 2020
Tasked with solving the homicide of Maximo Rothman, an elderly man in New York City’s Washington Heights neighborhood, Detective Tolya Kurchenko is hard pressed to keep peace in the polarized community. The Jews, mourning the loss of one of their own, are demanding more protection. The arrest of Carlos, the young man who helped care for Maximo and now accused of his murder, elicits cries of protest from the Dominican residents.
Kurchenko’s gut tells him that Carlos is innocent. Who then had motive and opportunity?
The detective determines to learn everything he can about Max and the people in his life. For now, the possible suspects are a son, a daughter-in-law, a helpful neighbor, and Carlos.
Reading Max’s journal reveals his past. The bitter loss of his family. Escape from Nazi Europe. And life as a refugee in the Dominican Republic, until he runs afoul of the Dominican dictator Trujillo and is forced to flee to New York City. Moreover, Kurchenko gets a glimpse into Max’s heart: a man who has known danger, deep love, bitter loss, and anger at a God who does not help in times of anguish.
The search for the truth takes on a life of its own, and in the process, Kurchenko discovers a man … just like him. The experience forces him to confront his own past filled with loss, anger and fear. Kurchenko’s murder investigation simultaneously becomes a search for life as he attempts to reconcile with the past, revive the dead parts of his heart, and boldly reach out to lay hold of love.
Shortlisted by the National Jewish Book Awards for Outstanding Debut Fiction, Forgiving Maximo Rothman forges a compelling bond between past and present that transcends culture. For at every time and in every place one grapples with questions of identity, and responsibility for the lives and well-being of those around us and those in our care. Ultimately, in the words of Max, Sidransky’s novel reminds us that, “Life is too short to make enemies of those we love.”
See you next year, January 22, 2021!
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