Talia Carn­ers fourth nov­el, Hotel Moscow, was just released by Harper­Collins. It is the sto­ry of an Amer­i­can woman who trav­els to Rus­sia short­ly after the fall of com­mu­nism, becomes embroiled in inves­ti­gat­ing a busi­ness crime, and when fac­ing anti-Semi­tism, comes to terms with her par­ents’ Holo­caust lega­cy and her own Jew­ish iden­ti­ty. She will be blog­ging here all week for Jew­ish Book Coun­cil’s Vis­it­ing Scribe series.

A sev­enth-gen­er­a­tion Sabra, I grew up in Tel-Aviv among the Sec­ond Gen­er­a­tion,” chil­dren of Holo­caust sur­vivors. My friends’ par­ents were a decade old­er than mine and spoke Ger­man, Czech, Pol­ish, Russ­ian or Hun­gar­i­an at home. They had sur­vived the war’s degra­da­tions and loss­es, then crawled out of the ash­es and cre­at­ed a sec­ond fam­i­ly, pro­duc­ing one child who rarely had grand­par­ents, aunts, uncles, or cousins. That child became a stand-in for all the dead rel­a­tives, and I described her in my short sto­ry, Emp­ty Chairs.

In these homes, the Holo­caust hung in the air in sepia-col­ored pho­tographs, for­eign lan­guage, food hoard­ing of the for­mer­ly starved, Euro­pean cloths unsuit­able for the hot Israeli sum­mers, or stooped shoul­ders. The chil­dren lived what some­one once described as unde­ci­pher­able child­hood.” It was not the absence of an extend­ed fam­i­ly, but rather in the exis­tence of that extend­ed fam­i­ly — as ghosts. Whether the dead were dis­cussed or were shroud­ed in silence, they for­ev­er exist­ed as cutouts around the fam­i­ly table. 

We were ram­bunc­tious Sabras — in the street. At home, Sec­ond-Gen­er­a­tion chil­dren were polite toward their par­ents who had suf­fered so much. How could a teenag­er gripe about pim­ples when her moth­er, at her age, saw her broth­er shot in the street? They knew that their par­ents’ vic­to­ry over the Nazis was in their suc­cess. They prac­ticed the vio­lin and excelled in school — or they fell apart under the life­long mourn­ing. Our friend Elyahu slid into a life of drugs and drink­ing; I can still visu­al­ize his wound­ed par­ents, walk­ing togeth­er to work — always silent, nev­er smil­ing — and return­ing late to their dark apart­ment, still silent, peo­ple hol­lowed out and inca­pable of giv­ing love to their one, lone­ly son.

My gen­er­a­tion, born after the Holo­caust, was assigned the mis­sion to remem­ber.” When I was ten, our class vis­it­ed the nascent Holo­caust muse­um in Jerusalem. In a dark cave we were shown lamp shades made out of Jew­ish skin and soap made of body fat. There was no spar­ing of the hor­rors for our young souls. No, we were to bear wit­ness to his­to­ry. More vivid­ly, we wit­nessed it through our neighborhood’s meshuggenehs, who roamed our streets, pick­ing shreds of paper, mum­bling to them­selves or shriek­ing to high heav­en. The code word Auschwitz” was whis­pered to explain every­thing that hap­pened there.” There” was dif­fer­ent from abroad,” which was where my par­ents trav­eled on vacation. 

The old­er I became, the less I under­stood the Holo­caust. But in Decem­ber 1992, at the Holo­caust muse­um in Syd­ney, Aus­tralia, I broke down, hys­ter­i­cal. After­ward, I was Holo­caust­ed-out.” I could no longer bear the pain of such hatred.

That’s when the char­ac­ter of Brooke Field­ing, the pro­tag­o­nist of my new nov­el, Hotel Moscow, emerged. She embod­ied my Sec­ond-Gen­er­a­tion child­hood friends along with the many Sec­ond-Gen­er­a­tion Amer­i­can Jews I’d met since mov­ing to New York. They would often con­fide in me that their par­ents’ agony is nev­er far from their minds and hearts; the visions are as vivid as if they’d been there” them­selves, for­ev­er fol­low­ing them like a bub­ble of air they are breathing. 

Unlike the friends in my neigh­bor­hood that shared that same past, Brooke’s friends are clue­less about that part of her. She seeks Jew­ish iden­ti­ty unde­fined by the Holo­caust, but for her, Jew­ish his­to­ry had no real depth beyond the 1940s: the Holo­caust was a start­ing point. Faith? Her moth­er had refused to talk to God until He apol­o­gized for what he did to us.” 

It is there in Moscow, when fac­ing unabashed anti-Semi­tism, that Brooke comes to terms with who she is. Her years of run­ning away from her lega­cy to remem­ber” are over when she feels the pride when being accused of hav­ing a Jew­ish gene” and she flaunts her Star-of-David necklace. 

My Sabra-Jew­ish genes go back to an ances­tor who built the first syn­a­gogue in Jerusalem after the Tem­ple had been destroyed. But while I can’t claim a trag­ic loss or a trau­mat­ic Holo­caust past, I can claim belong­ing to the Sec­ond Gen­er­a­tion, because I was con­di­tioned to remem­ber,” and remem­ber I do. 

For more about the author and the book, please check www​.Tal​i​aCarn​er​.com.

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