Ear­li­er this week, Mol­ly Antopol wrote about Chaim Potok’s The Cho­sen. Her debut sto­ry col­lec­tion, The UnAmer­i­cans, was pub­lished this week by W. W. Nor­ton & Com­pa­ny. She has been blog­ging here all week for Jew­ish Book Coun­cil and MyJew­ish­Learn­ing.

I imag­ine many of us can remem­ber exact­ly where we were when we encoun­tered a favorite book — when we felt our lives had been irrev­o­ca­bly changed by a sto­ry. I had just grad­u­at­ed col­lege and was liv­ing in Jerusalem when I came upon Edith Pearlman’s first book, Vaqui­ta and Oth­er Sto­ries, in a used book­store on Yoel Solomon Street (the store unfor­tu­nate­ly no longer exists). Lat­er that day, sit­ting on the grass in Inde­pen­dence Park, I fell in love with her char­ac­ters: pas­sion­ate and coura­geous, self-aware and some­times soli­tary. The sto­ries often­times exam­ined what it meant to live in the post­war dias­po­ra, bring­ing us into the lives of peo­ple in set­tings as dis­parate as Jerusalem, Boston and Cen­tral Amer­i­ca. The sto­ry I loved most was the title sto­ry, in which a Pol­ish-Jew­ish doc­tor serves as min­is­ter of health under a dic­ta­tor­ship in an unnamed Latin Amer­i­can coun­try. The year I read Vaqui­ta was the year I first start­ed writ­ing — and over the next decade, while I worked away on my own sto­ries, I con­sis­tent­ly turned to Pearlman’s oth­er col­lec­tions for inspi­ra­tion: How to Fall, Love Among the Greats, and pub­lished a few years ago, a gor­geous anthol­o­gy of her select­ed works, Binoc­u­lar Vision.

At this point in my life, I’ve only lived in the world as someone’s daugh­ter (rather than someone’s moth­er) and many of the writ­ers I’ve often felt the deep­est kin­ship with — Grace Paley, Alice Munro, Cyn­thia Ozick, Natalia Ginzburg, to list a few — write so inti­mate­ly and com­pas­sion­ate­ly about moth­er­hood. I feel this about Edith Pearl­man in spades. I’ve nev­er met Pearl­man, but I’ve looked to her sto­ries in the same way I might have turned to a beloved and trust­ed rel­a­tive for advice. Many of the most impor­tant things I’ve learned about writ­ing I gleaned from read­ing Pearl­man: that some of the best, and most sat­is­fy­ing, sto­ry col­lec­tions aren’t woven togeth­er by char­ac­ter or by a par­tic­u­lar place, but by some­thing as ephemer­al as theme — dis­place­ment, heart­break, the secrets we keep from the peo­ple clos­est to us. That sto­ries can be as expan­sive, com­pli­cat­ed and emo­tion­al­ly messy as real life — and that it is immense­ly sat­is­fy­ing to read about that messi­ness when it’s depict­ed through lean, pre­cise prose; mean­ing­ful sen­tences that are poet­i­cal­ly com­pressed. And most of all, that while sto­ries remind us that life is filled with both hope and heart­break, my task as a writer is to make sense of the most painful and com­pli­cat­ed parts, con­trol­ling that pain through lan­guage and shap­ing it into a nar­ra­tive, rather than let­ting it con­sume me.

Mol­ly Antopol is a recent Wal­lace Steg­n­er Fel­low and cur­rent Jones Lec­tur­er at Stan­ford Uni­ver­si­ty. She’s a recip­i­ent of the 5 Under 35 award from the Nation­al Book Foun­da­tion. Her debut sto­ry col­lec­tion, The UnAmer­i­cans, was pub­lished this week by W. W. Nor­ton & Com­pa­ny. Read more about her here.

Mol­ly Antopol’s debut sto­ry col­lec­tion, The UnAmer­i­cans, was pub­lished by W.W. Nor­ton in Feb­ru­ary 2014, and in six oth­er coun­tries. She teach­es cre­ative writ­ing at Stan­ford Uni­ver­si­ty, where she was a recent Wal­lace Steg­n­er Fel­low. A recip­i­ent of the Nation­al Book Foun­da­tion’s 5 Under 35 award, she holds an MFA from Colum­bia Uni­ver­si­ty and lives in San Francisco.