Kinship Across Boundaries
I first felt a kinship with Marta Merajver because of her claim to be a citizen of the world, and her description of her literature and exploring issues people preferred not to deal with. To be a citizen of the world is to identify across cultural, geographic, and linguistic boundaries. I cannot claim Marta’s international identification, but my fiction focuses on a peculiarly US version of the same phenomena. The Inheritors (www.judithkirscht.com) centers on an ethnically-mixed woman’s search for identity in a Chicago neighborhood shaped over generations by waves of immigrants. Her search through stories of women whose love carried them across national, cultural, and class boundaries brings her into increasing conflict with her first great love, a Mexican American who wants her to forget her gringo roots. This battle between sticking with one’s own—with its concurrent mistrust of outsiders—and moving beyond unspoken boundaries shapes the book and, in my mind, the city and the nation.
I set the book in 1980 so that its heroine, Alicia Barron, would be both a product of the Sixties, with its ideal of breaking boundaries and an outsider to the university built in the middle of her ethnic community. By the Eighties, however, the Sixties radicals had settled into a balkanized community of their own, inclined to portray all outsiders as “establishment.” This tendency, born, I think, of the need for security, of dynamic movements to stabilize and then close themselves off has always fascinated me. I also see intermarriage as the chief dynamic force carrying people beyond those boundaries. Alicia, because she is ethnically mixed is quintessentially a product of the USA as are the ethnic and class hostilities she encounters.
I find that themes akin to Marta’s run through several of my novels, published and unpublished. In my first attempt many years ago, the hero searches for his first love, a Native American-Caucasian girl who ran off and married his brother. In my first published novel, Nowhere Else to Go (www.judithkirscht.com/books), the children of an integrated neighborhood in a university town find their relationships torn apart by the racial upheavals of the Sixties. In still another, yet unpublished novel, the heroine’s family disintegrates following the evidence of pedophilia—one of those issues which, as Marta says, people would rather not deal with. My most recent novel, still in draft form, deals with a pair of middle-aged women the town believes are lesbian.
The problem, of course, is how to draw people into reading our books, if they rather not deal with such issues. If people read only for escape, then they won’t pick up our novels, but I believe there are those, and they are many, who want to read books that explore the anguishes of their time rather than run from them. So let us keep the faith and keep writing books like Marta’s Just Toss the Ashes, the story of a son’s search for understanding of his mother’s suicide