THE BOOK OF LIFE - A Cage Without Bars
3:25AM Jun 12, 2019
COLD OPEN: "I was shocked to find out that there are millions of people who are enslaved in the world right now. You might look at their situations and you wouldn't necessarily classify them as slaves. But if people don't have the freedom to move from place to place, or are forced to work without any kind of living wage, or have to live in conditions that are unsafe or unhealthy, then I consider them to be slaves."
THEME MUSIC, INTRO: This is the Book of Life. I'm Heidi Rabinowitz. A Cage Without Bars is a middle grade historical novel that tells the little-known story of Jewish children in the 1500s who were enslaved on the island of Sao Tome. I spoke with author Anne Dublin, who is also the Book of Life's Canadian Correspondent by Skype from her home in Toronto.
Heidi Rabinowitz: Anne, can you briefly describe A Cage Without Bars?
Anne Dublin: Well, A Cage Without Bars is a book of historical fiction. It begins in 1492 when the Jews were expelled from Spain. Thousands of them decided to go to Portugal, and they stayed there for eight months, but after that, the king did something truly horrible. He arranged that the Jewish children would be kidnapped, baptized, put on ships, and sent to the island of Sao Tome, which is just off the coast of West Africa. I tell the story from the point of view of one of the children, 12 year old Joseph who's kidnapped along with his sister, Gracia. He tells the story over a number of years where they were enslaved on the island.
Heidi Rabinowitz: What inspired you to create this story?
Anne Dublin: Well, Heidi, for the longest time, I couldn't really remember where I got the idea for the story. I must have been reading something about it in a book of history or Jewish history. But I kind of put it out of my mind because I was working on another book at the time. But recently, I went through a folder of clippings. And there at the very bottom of the folder, I found an article about the expulsion of the Jews from Spain. And there was one paragraph there about the children who were kidnapped. So I guess that was the germ of the idea. And it just was in the background of my mind for a long, long time. And finally came to the front.
Heidi Rabinowitz: Talk about the research you did in order to write this piece of historical fiction.
Anne Dublin: Well, I found it very difficult to do this research: one, because the events occurred over 500 years ago. I guess first I started by reading as much as I could about the events, I read books, journal articles, magazines, went on YouTube, did everything I could to find out about that period of time, not just about the particular event, but also about slavery at that time. And then I was really lucky, because I contacted a professor who has done a lot of research about the children of Sao Tome and we emailed back and forth. And I also had access to the conference papers, there was a conference in particular about these children and I managed to look at them a couple years ago when I was in New York for the AJL conference. So everything seemed to come together quite well. But you have to realize that a lot of the original documents were destroyed. In the 1700s, there was a huge fire in Lisbon. And so a lot of these archives and records no longer exist. What can you do, you... you read about second hand accounts, you read as much as you can. And hopefully you put it all together to create this book of historical fiction.
Heidi Rabinowitz: Was there anything interesting you learned in your research that didn't make it into the book in its final form?
Anne Dublin: That's a really good question, Heidi. One of the things that really stood out for me was the fact that someone has done some DNA research about the people who are living on Sao Tome right now, and they have found parts of the DNA of those people can be traced back to Sephardic Jews. So this is something that I couldn't even imagine when I started doing my research.
Heidi Rabinowitz: You address a lot of really tough issues in this story that still trouble the world today. There's family separation, there's anti semitism, there's racism. Was that depressing for you to write a story set in 1492, while being aware that the same issues are plaguing us now? And how did you deal with that?
Anne Dublin: Well, I drank a lot of coffee, and sometimes I drank something stronger. I cried a lot when I was reading the books and the journal articles. And I cried even while I was writing some of the chapters in the book. I guess all I can say is that, I hope if someone reads my book, that they will understand better the issues that are going on right now in the modern world, and decide to do something to make things better.
Heidi Rabinowitz: You've written quite a few books, more than 10 I believe. So I know it's like picking your favorite child, but do you have a favorite from among the books that you've written?
Anne Dublin: Well, that's a really hard question, because it's true, each book I've written is close to my heart. I wrote them for a reason; you write not just for an intellectual reason, but also an emotional reason. But I guess if I had to choose one, it would be 44 Hours or Strike. This book is also historical fiction. It takes place in Toronto in 1931. And it deals with The Dressmakers Strike led by the ILGWU. I guess it's very close to me, because I come from a family of tailors and dressmakers. In fact, we came to Canada in 1948. because my father was a tailor. The idea of people striking for better working conditions for higher wages, that really is important to me. It has to do with social justice. It has to do with tikkun olam. So that book really resonated for me, and I hope it will for other people.
Heidi Rabinowitz: I found a list of creative interview questions on Book Fox, a website for authors. And so now we're going to randomly pick one of those questions and use it. So go ahead and pick a number between one and 50.
Anne Dublin: Okay, I guess number 27.
Heidi Rabinowitz: Okay. 27. What is the best way to market your books?
Anne Dublin: Well Heidi, I guess I'm pretty much of a traditionalist. My favorite way is to actually go out and talk to people about my books. I'd like to look at them face to face, hear their questions, engage with them in some kind of discussion about the issues, or problems or characters in the book. I know I should be using social media more, and I try my best. I'm on Facebook, I have a website. But really my favorite way to market the books is actually to speak with people about it.
Heidi Rabinowitz: Anne, you've been helping me on this podcast, on The Book of Life for many years, acting as our Canadian Correspondent and recording interviews with Canadian authors about their Jewish books. Can you talk a little bit about that experience?
Anne Dublin: Heidi, I love being the Canadian Correspondent of The Book of Life. It allows me to meet other authors or musicians, or journalists, and talk about their books and explore this whole world of Jewish culture and literature.
Heidi Rabinowitz: Which interview was the most fun to do?
Anne Dublin: Hmm, I'm not sure which interview was the most fun to do. I have to think about it. Oh, yeah. Okay. I know. I know, most fun was when I went downtown Toronto, and I interviewed David Sax, who had just written a book called Save the Deli. It's a fun book. It's a book where he interviewed different owners of delis and tried to find out what makes a deli so popular in many places. It was a great launch. You walked into the restaurant, it was a restaurant, it was Caplansky's deli on College Street. And they were serving corned beef sandwiches on fresh rye bread. You could smell these wonderful sandwiches, this food, and people were so excited to have a launch at a place like that at a an important deli in Toronto.
Heidi Rabinowitz: So when you said Caplansky's, I Googled it and I see that their College Street location actually closed. But apparently they have location in Terminal Three of the airport. So it says "Come fly with meat." So it's interesting that the book was called Save the Deli, but the deli in which they launched is no longer there. That's kind of ironic.... Can you give us an overview of Jewish publishing in Canada today?
Anne Dublin: Well Heidi, that's a really hard question. Because I don't know everything about publishing in Canada or Jewish publishing in Canada, for that matter. I'd say it's doing well. There are a few smaller publishers that unfortunately have gone under. But luckily, we have government subsidies that help publishers stay in business. And I also am very pleased about two major Canadian Jewish book awards. One is called the Canadian Jewish Book Award and it's sponsored by the Koffler Center, and the other is the Canadian Jewish Literary Awards. And they both give awards in different categories, like children's literature, Holocaust, Yiddish, adult fiction, nonfiction, and they have a wide scope of awards that they give to honor our Canadian Jewish authors. Now, I should say, the Canadian Jewish Literary Award: you don't have to be Jewish, but the content has to be Jewish. With the Koffler awards: you have to be Jewish, but the content doesn't have to be Jewish. So that opens up the box to a lot of possibilities.
Heidi Rabinowitz: It's time for our tikkun olam moment. Anne, what action would you like to invite listeners to take to help heal the world?
Anne Dublin: Oh Heidi, there's so many ways that we can try to make the world a better place. But I guess I should focus on two of the websites that are in my book, the ones where people can go and actually do things to fight against slavery. One is in the United States. It's called Free the Slaves and it's www.freetheslaves.net. And the other one is a movement called the Anti Slavery International. That's in England and the website is www.antislavery.org. If people go to either one, then hopefully they'll find things that they can do to help fight slavery. Because slavery still exists all over the world. And millions of men, women and children are still slaves.
Heidi Rabinowitz: Anne Dublin, thanks for being The Book of Life's Canadian Correspondent and thanks for speaking with me about A Cage Without Bars.
Anne Dublin: Heidi, It was a pleasure. Thank you for your great questions. And let's continue this wonderful work.
TEASER: Hello, my name is Aria, and the next episode of the podcast Book of Life, I want to dedicate it to PJ Library because it's the people who usually write my favorite books.
THEME MUSIC, OUTRO: Don't be a stranger. Say hi to Heidi 561-206-2473 or BookofLifePodcast@gmail.com. Check out our Facebook page or our Facebook discussion group Jewish Kidlit Mavens. We are occasionally on Twitter too. There are lots of ways to support the show through Patreon and through donations to our home library, The Feldman Children's Library at Congregation B'nai Israel of Boca Raton, Florida. You can find links for all of that and more at BookofLifePodcast.com. Our background music is provided by the Freilachmakers Klezmer String Band. Thanks for listening and happy reading.