I haven't checked the weather, but I know it is a perfect day to chat about adult Jewish literature. I'm Sheryl Stahl. Thanks for joining me here at Nice Jewish Books. Good morning. I am so happy to welcome milta true to the podcast today. She has an amazing tagline Jewish Historical Fiction for those who like a little Yiddishkeit with their period drama. Mirta I so much enjoyed your latest book, Celestial Persuasion.
Thank you. Thank you so much.
In this book, which is a Jane Austen fanfiction, which we'll obviously talk about, we follow the adventures of Avi (Abigail), whose father and brother have died, leaving her an orphan with no means to support herself. So she finds out from her brother's friend Captain Wentworth, so a character that we know of, from Persuasion, that her brother's dream was for her to move to Buenos Aires and open a school for Jewish kids. So she is obviously terrified about this. But she's got really limited options and being one of our famous spunky female characters, she decides to go with her longtime friend and companion, Mrs. Frankel. And some other men who are involved in this quest, most notably Raphael. Gabai. So what drew you to Jane Austen?
So I want to thank you for inviting me. I'm very, very excited to be participating in this program with you. Jane Austen... When I was younger, it was the romance of the stories. It was the growth that you could see through her characters that that story, that arc of her stories showed the characters growing and their self realization, and they're just coming to terms with real life issues, which then as I grew a little bit more once or hopefully, it was her realism that drew me to her work, because she was actually one of the very first I believe, who showed us her her world as she saw it she used with she used humor and sarcasm to talk about some pretty compelling subjects that nobody else was talking about. And she didn't sugarcoat things. And so I felt like that sense of sense of intimacy, she was so genuine to me. I felt like I knew her. And I felt like I could try to emulate her with my own work, following in her footsteps, because I felt like, there really wasn't anybody talking about my heritage. With my cultural heritage. I'm a Russian Jew from Argentina who immigrated to the United States. Right? So how bizarre is that? My heritage and my background, my thought would combine really well. That sort of realism that she's famous for. That's basically what what drew me to her.
So some of those tough issues include, of course, the economic status of women, and limited outlets for them, you know, and also premarital sex and unwed mothers, but focusing like more just the general economic situation. So I think that this is the first book I've read that showed Jews in England in this time period. Can you tell me what Jewish life was like in Georgian Regency periods?
That's the whole reason that I wanted to write these sort of books because if you read Chaucer, Shakespeare Dickens, even Georgette Haier, who is very, very famous for Regency novels, you don't get any of this you don't you have no idea and of course, the word Jewish aristocrats in the Georgian era, the Rothschilds, the Montefiore's the Ricattas is the Brodsky's of Gunzburg. The Cohens are I mean, they were there and they were very important. In elite society, they intermingled with their Anglican counterparts, of course, the small group, but they did exist and they were very important. My story unfolds in a town called Exeter in the county, Devon. And during the medieval times, there was a Jewish community there. These people were expelled in the year 1290. They eventually were allowed back in. And so when I started researching Exeter, I found that that town actually has information back from 1750. Well, the rabbi that was there, Moses Horowitz was the leader of the community in Exeter from 1792 to 1837. And I gave him a small part in my book I actually use a rabbi Horwitz, there was a small but respectable middle class of Jews in Exeter in this time, the Exeter pocket journal which was a local newspaper, noted some Jewish establishments that will silversmiths engravers, pawnbrokers, stationery stores. And in addition to this, something even more important, there were naval agents. Jewish naval agencies were people that did trade with ships. This was a port city. And in 1812, there was an actual royal command to a gentleman by the name of Joseph Joseph. And he was given the permission coming straight from St. James Palace, to do commerce with the incoming ships that the ships that were coming into port and to sell their his wares to the sailors and people on the ship. So there were definitely Jewish people around another really interesting story that goes back to the War of 1812. I found this fascinating, the War of 1812. So there were about 2400 American prisoners of war being held in this place called dartboard. By the end of 1814. A number of these man with Jewish merchants from the surrounding areas of Plymouth, and Exeter, would make this trip to Dart more on a daily basis to sell them food. They were Jews they wanted if they could get it. On one of these trips, there was according to story now, a baker approached this captain, his name was Levi Harvey. And he he was very persistent. He wanted him to take this loaf of bread and Harvey did not want it. Eventually, the baker got the bread through. He had put in a newspaper clipping in the in the loaf.
And it there was some information about this famous victorious battle where the Americans were victorious. In New Orleans, somehow or another this got the captain. I don't know if he got more enthusiastic or his spirits were, you know, enlightening. So he managed to escape. He managed to escape. He got back to his ship, he got to the back to the United States. And it was all thanks to this mentsh from Southwest England. So yes, definitely. We were there. We were there. And we were we were very much a part of society.
Yeah, that's fascinating. I guess when I thought of Jews there at all, I thought of them only in London. But you're saying they're spread throughout the country.
They were spread out. And of course, our images thanks to Dickens of the Jewish peddler, you know, living in a certain area that anti semitism, of course, that was running rampant. I'm not saying that it didn't exist. But there was another side to the story. And my writing is not academic. It's it's meant to be very light, and hopefully enlightening to write because I just wanted to showcase that our people were there in very different circumstances. Yeah,
I found that fascinating. So tell me more about the Jewish immigration to Argentina at that time. And then it sounds like your family story was a little bit later.
Yes. So colonial Argentina, which at the time, it was under the Spanish crown, it was called the vice royalty of Rio de la Plata. The vast majority of Jews that were there had come from the Iberian Peninsula. So they had escaped the Spanish Inquisition, so you had Portuguese, Spanish, and even Italian Jews. Some of them still practice, and some of them were conversos that were, you know, they were hidden, hidden Jews. The laws of the Spanish Inquisition, were on the books until after the May Revolution in when a site is to 1810. So it was still a very touchy place to be a Jew. It was easier than Peru, the laws were much more intense. But the laws came off the books after 1810 When they declared their independence from the crown. After that period of time, between 1810 and 1880, there were more Western European Jews arriving. So architects, engineers, in particular, other entrepreneurs who were coming who just happened to be Jewish, it was a random person coming through wasn't a big, large community, a wave of immigration. It wasn't until around the late 1890s When there was this mass exodus from Eastern Europe, from Russia from Poland. And that's when my family started immigrating, and it was all thanks to a man by the name of Baron Morris Hirsch. He established the Jewish colonization Association and on my mother's side, my great grandfather was one of the first ones that went over in 1899. He came by by himself, his mother put him on a ship and told him get out go. And that was the last time they had communication. But the Jewish community started growing at that point it will, it was a massive wave of immigration, just like here to the United States, just like Ellis Island. And they went, it's not necessarily to Buenos Aires, but to the outside provinces where they needed people to work the land. So they were given they were given a little home and they were given her some plan, they were given some equipment. And that's how they started. And there's a very famous Jewish saying, in Argentina that they I'm trying to translate from Spanish to English, what you reap what you reap is what you sow, so they were sowing wheat in grain, and they were reaping doctors and lawyers and teachers because that next generation from the provinces to Buenos Aires and created this amazing, vibrant Jewish community there.
That sounds so funny, and so onpoint for for Jewish communities. Yes. So I touched on some of that history with Talia Carner a really dark part of Jewish history. Yes, around that time period. But I want to stick back in the regency era and get back to the love story that you have in your book. So Abigail, Avi is an extremely smart young woman who had a she had fallen in love and it ended poorly. And so she had decided that love was not for her, and she was going to focus on her other love. And that was studying astronomy. So I was wondering, I mean, obviously astronomy is a fascinating topic. But why did you make that the objective of this study?
It was my initial purpose. I started out researching what can I allow her to study because during that time period, there were very few acceptable studies for young ladies. Her father was a physician, her brother was a physician, her mother who had passed away was into esoterical type of things, more maybe astrology instead of astronomy. But I started researching and found that there works several female mathematicians and scientists. And so I started looking at astronomy. I discovered a woman by the name of Sarah Guppy, Mary Edwards, Mary Somerville. These are all English women scientists. But then I came across Carolyn Herschel, and what I was attracted to her for many different things, doing some internet research, of course, I found all of the her extraordinary contributions and her brother's, of course, it's all very well documented. But she had two other very interesting attributes which which caught my attention, her Jewish heritage, and her relationship with her brother William. So for me, it was a shared it was meant to be. I took all of that information, and I incorporated it into my Abigail.
So along the way, she's traveling with this Raphael Gabai, who's involved in the colonization and in the independence movement in Argentina to become independent from Spain. And they immediately have not exactly a flirtatious, they immediately get on each other's nerves, which we know is going to lead to something.
Yes, of course.
So, and Raphael had also had a previous bad experience in love. Do you think that people who've been hurt before are naturally drawn to each other?
That's very interesting question. I think it could very well be that maybe their souls recognize something in one another. But I think like in most cases, your ego, you need to let go of your ego. And look at the sharks that force work its magic. And I think eventually, we see that unfolding, very similar to what we see in Austin's Pride and Prejudice with Darcy and Elizabeth, they both have issues that they have to grow and let go of and similarly to persuasion Captain Wentworth has that same sort of pride and ego he's sometimes not a very nice man in that story. And and Ann had to do some growing as well and letting go her things that were holding her back to be able to speak her mind freely. So yeah, let the beshirt force.
Yeah, that was one of the kind of fun side things is that your story was complete on its own, but then it had some linking characters that linked it to Austin's Persuasion.
Oh, like Captain Wentworth, and Avi. Since she sets up a pen pal correspondence with him. And since he had acted on her brother's behalf, she said she felt a sisterly bond to him, and so she counseled him to give Anne another chance.
So how did you make those stories linked together? How did you come across a plan that wasn't changing the original story yet brought the characters in?
Right? My whole intention was to work in conjunction with Austin's world, I've done this in other books I've done the Meyersons of Meryton is based off of Pride and Prejudice. It's not my intention to change or reimagine the Bennets or Mr. Darcy as Jews. I just want to have a Jewish representation within Austen's world. So, like you say, celestial persuasion doesn't change her characters. But it does take the reader on a journey out of England where they meet new people and new cultures. And hopefully, I'm hoping they'll fall in love with another starcrossed couple. So it is fanfiction. But like you said, it is it stands on its own. Jane Austen once wrote, I must keep my own style and go in my own way. So I hope that's what I've done with Celestial Persuasion. It is a standalone novel I've tried to emulate in honor her, but I have a very unique story. And based off of my research of what I found that was going on in Argentina in colonial times, and that in their Regency period, there was so much in common with England, I helped to tie these pieces together. And it was very easy. Once I had the initial idea of taking Captain Wentworth and just going back before he comes back to England and meets up with him, it just sort of opened up for me was was not hard to imagine it, there's a lot of commonality that in my mind, I could see these things working together.
One of the things that Avi had to grow, was to lose her prejudice of Rafael, because she thought of him as this arrogant soldier. But he has this whole other side of where he wants to settle in the country and become a farmer and Gaucho, which exactly aligns with what she would love to do in terms of having her astronomy studio and be able to continue her studies. So you got both the urban and rural aspects of Argentina at that time. So I thought that was a very interesting,
Definitely, I think now that you've said it in those terms, for myself speaking personally, many times, I used to go to Argentina all the time growing up as a child, my dad worked for Pan American Airlines. So we would fly that we would go constantly back and forth to Argentina. And as much as when Osiris is a beautiful, beautiful city, it's called the Paris of South America, the architecture is amazing. Everything is amazing there. But I couldn't wait to get out of the city and go to the provinces where I have family still living, and be out in the open and that small town feel the people are just wonderful. The tape is beautiful. So I didn't realize it until you just said it. Yes, definitely. It has both parts that want to say this part of it. And then in the story in particular, they're in a completely different area. They're out by the province of Santa Fe, in the towns of Rosado, and in that area over there.
And at the time, that was a couple of days travel for them by carriage.
So a long ways. A long ways. Yeah. So you obviously knew something about the history. But you said that you also did a lot of research. So I was wondering what in your research surprised you.
I didn't realize how much influence England had to the Viceroyalty because obviously this was a Spanish territory. But I didn't understand until I started picking out things. How can I make this work? Well, it as it turns out, the liberator of Argentina will say the San Martin was connected with Lord Duff who was the fourth Earl. And so that opened up a whole world for me that we never knew in my entire life. And all the time that I've been researching Argentina for my genealogy and my background. I never went that far back because we weren't there yet. But I found that Lord Duff was at his peak patronage of will say this San Martin. It changed the whole trajectory of how their cause for independence unfolded. There were many British people involved in that. The British had tried to invade outsiders twice and twice they were they were kicked out. But it wasn't necessarily the same type of colonial ambitions as they had another parts of the world. It was very much monetary. It was a very big resource of money. Actually, Argentina, in the late Georgian and especially the Victorian times, was one of the richest countries of the world. It was not this third world like banana republic at that time. They were the breadbasket of England, of all of Europe. It was definitely the parents of South America
I did not realize that at all.
Yes, they were the leading country, they had all kinds of natural resources, much more than just the beef and the leather, the grains. They were feeding the world, especially during World War One, but that's much much ahead of time. Another person that I discovered was a woman by the name of Mariquita Sanchez. She was this trailblazing woman, a leading Patriot definitely supported the cause of freedom and her forbidden love affair with her eventual husband, who was also an Englishman, JACOB THOMPSON reminded me very much of an Elliot and Captain Wentworth because she went against her parents will. And there's a whole part of the story, which I don't want to give away. But it was fascinating to me. And there is a very famous portrait of one of her salons in Argentina, where all the ladies are dressed in the Regency gowns, and they're the gallent, naval officers, and they're in her home. And it was May 14 1813, when they sung the very for the very first time the Argentine national anthem. And that portrait that painting was really the inspiration for me to start writing this whole story because it all connected the, you know, the gallant naval officers and the end of the Regency were and them that were off in exile. I mean, I had to connect it there was there was no other choice but to connect.
Yeah, so I'll just mention that those are two real life characters that you inserted into this story.
Absolutely. Real life.
So were there any fun tidbits of research that did not make it into the book?
Not necessarily fun? But serious?
Interesting. That's what I should have said.
During the Viceregal period, there were a number of black and mulatto, enslaved people. They made up about a third of the population.
A Third? Wow.
Yes. Normally, when people think of slavery in South America, they think of Brazil, there are not a lot of black people in Argentina. But during this Regency period, they were there. Between 1776, which is an important date for the Americans by 1810, which is an important date in Argentina 1500, approximately 1500 manumissions were recorded in the city. So they were released from slavery. And this was very much brought upon, because of the British attempts to invade the territory. There were many black people who bought against the British. And so the people have in the area there decided that they have won their freedom that they should be free, because that's what they were fighting for freedom against the crowd. So after the main revolution of 1810, they passed this thing in English, it sounds a little bit funny, but it was called the free womb. And what it ended up granting freedom to people who were born of enslaved mothers, and eventually, fairly quickly, it's slavery was ended in in the new, the new founded country of Argentina.
That's so interesting. That's one thing that I've loved about doing these podcasts is I am learning so much about the the world's behind the books of the authors I've been talking to. So thank you for that.
My pleasure. Yeah, I've published five books now. And it is really a source of great. I'm very proud of what I do. And it just, I'm happy with what I've done. Again, it's not academic work, but I feel like I'm putting a different story out there. Nowadays, everybody is interested in very hardcore things. My books are clean. There's no sex. There's there's a little bit of violence because it's the war torn country. But it's not blood and gore as you as you noticed. You've read it.
Which I appreciate it. Yes.
I just wanted something that you could read maybe in a sisterhood meeting or with your with, with your friends and not be embarrassed talking about and it just gives a different light. We're so used to, at least here in the United States. I think people tend to think of Fiddler on the Roof type stories of our ancestors living in shtetls or they think of the Holocaust, which is such a horrific period of time, but I think we need to maybe I'm not saying to forget it, God forbid ,we will never been, we're never going to forget, we should never forget, we should continue to talk about it and teach people. But there's another side of our history. There's another side of our people, where I know my grandparents used to say, Yes, this happened that happened. Life was fought hard and horrible in Russia. But we're here we're living, we're thinking ahead. We're making sure that your life and your grandchildren's lives are going to be better. We're laughing. We're enjoying life. And I think that's some to talk about as well, our accomplishments and how they've, you know, here in the United States, and, and in Argentina, what they were able to achieve is monumental, given the circumstances of how they arrived to these adoptive countries. So yes, I'm very happy about independent publishing.
Well, I'm, I'm very happy that you're focusing on other areas of Jewish experience. I don't have a hard and fast rule about this. But I'm tending away from Holocaust literature for just that reason. It's not because there's anything wrong with any particular book. And there are some excellent ones out there. But I just want to focus on Jews, as you said, Jews living their lives, in other times in places that that doesn't sum up the whole of our experience.
So is there anything you would like to answer that I haven't thought to ask?
You know, I think we've we've touched upon the most important pieces of the story. I did weave in a lot of historical facts and figures into the story. I try to even just the fact of Abigail's traveling to Argentina, she was on the same ship, that George Canning you that's what it was called. She was on the same ship with San Martin she made that 50 day travel, that is very well documented of when San Martin returned because he was in England at the time, when he returned to Argentina. She was on the ship with him. And there are numerous people that were on the ship that were real life people. So I thought that was a lot of fun that I read that story in there. I wove a friendship between Abigail and Mariquita. I had a blast that I really hope that the readers enjoy it. And there's a surprise ending, which sort of came to me at the very end, I wasn't sure how it was going to work out. But I surprised myself. That's really worked out. So yeah, I hope people enjoy it and take take a chance and pick it up and read it.
Yeah, I loved it. And I love that you had the historical material in there. But I never felt like I was being beaten over the head with it. It doesn't at all feel like a history lesson.
So do you have any works in progress that you'd like to talk about?
Maybe is there just sort of in the background formulating I'm still working full time. And we've had a change in our schedules after the the shutdown, the COVID shutdown and sort of reimagining the work model, the business model that we have. So my life is drastically changed as far as my work schedule. So I don't really have a lot of free time to sit down. Once I start writing, I really need to know that I can sit down and write for hours uninterrupted. If I know that I'm going to have to stop and it's very choppy. I can't I can't get into it. So at this moment, I don't have anything planned. But you never know. You know, stories out there.
Certainly. Yeah, there's plenty of stories, but there's not plenty of people who actually put their tush in the chair and write. So I'm always impressed with that aspect.
Well, thank you, I hope for a lot of tushes to sit down and read the book. That's the whole part the writing of the book is is not necessarily easy, but it's easier than the marketing and the promoting because there are so many good books out there to choose from. It's it's hard. It's a hard it's competition out there is difficult. So I'm so appreciative for this opportunity to talk about it.
I'm glad you reached out to me. So lastly, if someone used your book as a call to action for tikun olam for repairing the world, what would it be?
Wow, that's a good way to say this I'm I've been Argentina's Liberator once said, you will be what you should be, or you will be nothing. I think that's very powerful. Towards the end of my book, Abigail and lieutenant and the lieutenant speak about their life's purpose. I think before any one of us takes on the subject of tikun olam, we need to answer another important question and that's of our own life purpose. I think if we discover our passion and pursue it We can use those talents and tools to go out and make the world a better place. Like San Martin said, Don't shy away from the person you should be. And I suggest that the next step repairing the world comes after you find out, you know where your talents lie. And not to be put off by the magnitude of the task. I mean, repairing the world, my goodness, but I think our sages said it's incumbent upon us not to complete the work. It's but we're not at liberty to desist from doing it. So I think that would answer your your question. I hope my book would sort of point people in that direction, find your passion, and stick to it.
That's great. Well, thank you so much for talking with me about your books, Celectial Persuasion. And I hope you get the time to sit down and write the next one when the ideas come along.
Thank you. Thank you so much. I really appreciate this time with you. And I invite everyone to take a chance. And I'm on Amazon, Goodreads, Instagram. So by me, come find me send me an email, pick up a book and we can continue the conversation.
Wonderful. And I'll put all those links in the show notes when I post it.
Great. Thank you so much.
All right. Thank you.
Bye bye Sheryl.
If you are interested in any of the books we discussed today, you can find them at your favorite board and brick or online bookstore, or at your local library. Thanks to Dee Yan Kee for use of his fraleigh which definitely makes me happy. This podcast is a project of the Association of Jewish libraries. And you can find more about it at www.Jewish libraries.org/niceJewishbooks. I would like to thank AJL and my podcast mentor Heidi Rabinowitz. Keep listening for the promo for her latest episode.