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Author! Author! An Interview by Veronica Jorge with A.J. Sidransky

March 22, 2021 by in category Write From the Heart by Veronica Jorge tagged as , , , , ,
A.J. Sidransky

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.

Veronica Jorge: Welcome, A.J. You describe yourself as a dyed in the wool New Yorker, born in the Bronx, and life-long Yankees fan. So how did you develop such a deep interest in the Dominican Republic? 

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.

Veronica Jorge: Since an aunt and uncle of yours were among those refugees who lived in the Dominican Republic, can you share with us how their experience touched your emotions and influenced your writing?

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.

Veronica Jorge: You travel on a regular basis to the Dominican Republic. So I take it you really love the island. Do you also identify with Maximo because of the friendships you’ve made with Dominicans?

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.

Veronica Jorge: Two recurring themes in your novels are forgiveness and the relationship between fathers and sons. Why are these of such importance for you? 

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.

Veronica Jorge: What do you want the reader to come away with after reading your novels? 

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.

Veronica Jorge: Do you have some new projects that you’re working on that you can share with us?

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.

Veronica Jorge: Tell us one or two things you’d like your readers to know about you. 

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.

Veronica Jorge: Thank you A.J. for spending some time with us and allowing us a glimpse into your world and your writing.

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 aj@ajsidransky.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!

 Veronica Jorge

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.

Some of A. J. Sidransky’s Books


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