Elise Cooper recently sat down with Judith Frank to discuss her recently published novel All I Love and Know.
Elise Cooper: Were there autobiographical parts to this book?
Judith Frank: Elements are there. I have a twin sister who is alive and married to an Israeli man. My family moved to Israel when I was seventeen. I was in a country where I did not speak the language so my humor and intelligence could not be conveyed. Also, my twin children were born while I was in the middle of writing this novel. I understood what it was like to change your life to accommodate the children. There was also the experience of marrying out of my religion since my partner is not Jewish.
EC: Is one of the powerful themes of the book how to handle grief?
JF: I am writing about characters that are deeply traumatized. Grief is a horrible thing and people grieve in different ways. Daniel feels he is catapulted back into adolescence. He shut down while he was grieving because he had survivor guilt and ambivalence. He survived and gets to flourish instead of his brother. I wanted to show how all the family members are not at their best and feel threatened by their loss. I had Matt’s best friend die of AIDS because I wanted to intertwine the question about someone who dies from AIDS: Is it as meaningful as someone dying from a terrorist attack? Which death counts?
EC: Did you ever have to personally deal with grief?
JF: My father committed suicide when I was twelve. My mother died while this book was in proof. My sister had breast cancer in 2000. I remember the threat of my sister dying and that was very potent for me. Twin losses are among the greatest losses anyone can experience.
EC: You have the grieving families feel that they lost a part of themselves, including the quote about Daniel feeling he was leaving his dead brother behind. Please explain.
JF: The quote about being buried on different continents came out of my feeling that my identical twin sister and I will be buried separately. That thought just kills me.
EC: Did you compare the relationship between the twins, Daniel and Joel?
JF: To differentiate from each other twins tend to show different personalities. My sister was verbally aggressive while I receded. I would refer to Joel as the outgoing brother and Daniel as the submissive one. But that has to do with their dynamics. He has guilt because he is now able to step forward due to his brother’s death.
EC: There is a scene in the book about social workers who are part of the Israeli government. Their job is to handle grieving families of terrorist attacks. Is that true?
JF: Yes. My sister who is a social worker introduced me to several women who handle grieving families. They have support systems for themselves and rotate in and out of this job. My sister thanked me for the portrayal of social workers. I thought about their job and was drawn to them. Those scenes affected me deeply.
EC: You included among the grieving families Holocaust survivors. Why?
JF: I thought how these people have gone through so much and now had to deal with the loss of their daughter. I am friends with children whose parents are Holocaust survivors. I also included it because I thought it was compelling that the children might stay in Israel to live with their grandparents who had suffered so much.
EC: You also explore the relationship of having a Jew and a non-Jew as partners. Can you explain?
JF: My children call themselves half-Jewish. What is important to us as a family is to have a sense of community, which I tried to convey through Matt and Daniel. When my mother died we had two Jewish communities helping us, setting up Shiva. That was very moving for us. Even though we are pretty secular it was really nice to be surrounded by Jewish people who were willing to take care of us. One of the jokes about Matt is that he really loves Jews and has always been attracted to Jewish men.
EC: You included the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as part of the theme of the book. Do you think you were even-handed?
JF: I think a lot of Jewish people might not think I was even handed, although I did. I put the Israelis traumatized by terror and the social worker scenes into the book. Because of Daniel’s political position it made it a lot harder for him to grieve. If he could feel rage or if he could feel the war on terror was a righteous one it would have been easier. His political views are wrapped up in his sense of justice and empathy. What happens if you lose someone to a terrorist attack and do not buy into the cultural script?
EC: You had quotes from your characters that leaned heavily toward the Palestinian point of view. For example, the tradition in a Jewish wedding of breaking the glass, “to symbolize the shattering of their lives when Joel and Ilana died, and the continued shattering of Palestinian lives.”
JF: American Jews must question their relationship with Israel and what kind of criticism can we level towards Israel. We are at a moment with a lot of Jewish Americans at a turbulent transitional phase about Israel. I am sure some people will be thrilled and some will be angry.
EC: Why did you put this quote in since you never explained its context? “If a Palestinian living in Jerusalem marries someone from the West Bank, they can’t live legally together in either place.”
JF: This is a novel, not history. A lot of gay people wrestle with the institution of marriage. Daniel starts to think about marriage for everybody. He is thinking about himself and sees this as a tragedy of Jewish history. The Jews have suffered such persecution; yet, they have succeeded in building their homeland through the oppression of others. I really wanted to intertwine the lives of the Palestinian and gay people.
EC: What do you want readers to get out of the book?
JF: I wanted to write about a person struggling with his sense of identity and justice. This entire novel is about the consciousness of Jews and Israelis. You can love Israel and deplore its policies. I also hope the readers were moved by a family suffering from incredible grief and sorrow.
Elise Cooper lives in Los Angeles and has written numerous national security articles supporting Israel. She writes book reviews and Q and A’s for many different outlets including the Military Press. She has had the pleasure to interview bestselling authors from many different genres.