Beatriz Williams’s novel, A Hundred Summers, is a fascinating look into the lives of New Yorkers during the 1930s. The storyline is an intricately woven tale of romance, friendship, suspense, betrayal, and closely guarded secrets, against a backdrop of how the “old WASP New York guard” viewed Jews. The book alternates between 1931, when socialite Lily Dane and Nick Greenwald fall in love and get engaged, only to have the relationship end because her family will not accept Nick, who is Jewish; and 1938, when Lily must deal with confronting her former best friend, Budgie, and former fiancé, who are now married.
Williams told JBC that she was influenced by the plot of Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth, with its “extremely stereotyped Jewish character. This Waspy woman ends up killing herself because she would never lower herself to marry a Jew, even though her financial problems would have been solved. This got me thinking ‘what if they married…’ I became intrigued by what it would be like for Nick, a Jew, to be placed in that particular society during the 1930s.”
Williams, who is not Jewish, wanted to make sure Nick seemed authentic and decided to make him the son of a mixed marriage, with a non-Jewish mother. She depicted anti-Semitism as a subtle strain, not something openly discussed in that Waspish society, by having Nick treated as an outsider because of his religion. She noted, “I felt like an outsider myself, having come from Seattle, making a stopover in California, for my education, and ending up marrying into a family that has been living in New England since the Mayflower. I could identify with Nick, since even today I hear the quiet echoes of anti-Semitism at cocktail parties.”
She hopes her readers will feel she did justice to Nick’s story and wants them to know that in her next book she will explore further how Nick and his family come to grips with his Jewishness after he has fought in World War II.