Natasha Solomons’s latest book, The Gallery of Vanished Husbands, is a portrait of Juliet Montague’s life from 1958 to 2006. She chooses her own future by challenging her world both culturally and religiously. Natasha’s main character looks upon herself as an outsider and strives for an independent identity without losing the closeness of her parents and children.
Elise Cooper: Every fictional author has a part of themselves in their character. Is there a part of you in Juliet?
Natasha Solomons: Just like Juliet, I have a complex relationship with my Jewish identity. My mother is Jewish and my father is not. I was brought up in a completely secular household. It is a generational thing because my mom was also brought up that way. After her parents escaped from Germany during World War II they tried to assimilate into the English culture as much as possible. However, my background is different from Juliet’s because her family came to England much earlier to escape the East European Pogroms.
EC: Your main characters have been Jewish and you include in your writings many Jewish traditions from Yiddish words to the celebration of Shabbat. Why?
NS: Every time I sit down I say to myself I am not going to write about a Jewish heroine but then looking back I have. I think it’s because I am fascinated with it. My husband is Jewish and his family is traditional which has had an influence on my writings. I am constantly drawn to my Jewish culture, which is reflected in my work. As an author I need to write about what feels true for me.
EC: Why did you refer to Juliet’s parents by their last names, Mr. and Mrs. Greene, when the other characters were referred to by their first names?
NS: I had Juliet’s parents represent the more formal era while contrasting that with Juliet who in many ways rejected their life, including falling in love with Max, a non-Jew. Juliet wants something different from her parents’ lives. The story of Juliet’s personal journey is about loving and admiring your family but not fitting into their world. Although she doesn’t share the religious values of her grown-up daughter, Frieda, or her parents, she obviously adores them. Even though she had the money to move away she remains in the heart of the suburban Jewish community. What is most important to her is her family, so in that way she is incredibly traditional. She puts them above everything else.Continue Reading