David Samuel Levin­sons sto­ries have appeared in Prairie Schooner, West Branch, and the Brook­lyn Review, among oth­ers. He lives in New York City. Anto­nia Live­ly Breaks the Silence is his first nov­el. He will be blog­ging here all week for Jew­ish Book Coun­cil and MyJew­ish­Learn­ing.

I knew I was going to ded­i­cate my first nov­el, Anto­nia Live­ly Breaks The Silence, to my mater­nal grand­par­ents long before I ever set out to write it. Or let me rephrase that: until I was tasked with ded­i­cat­ing the nov­el, I had no idea just how clear it had been that I would ded­i­cate it to them. Dur­ing the years it took me to write the nov­el, I nev­er thought about the ded­i­ca­tion, nor did I think much about my dear­ly depart­ed grand­par­ents, though in ret­ro­spect they were always with me, whis­per­ing their sto­ry into my ear. 

No, the nov­el isn’t about them, not lit­er­al­ly any­way, but it does touch upon cer­tain themes — dis­place­ment, trau­ma, assim­i­la­tion, ambi­tion — about which I would nev­er have plumbed had I not known the inti­mate details of their strug­gles. Mar­i­anne and Stephan — Mimi and Steve to their friends — were both born in Vien­na, where they met and mar­ried. Both full-blood­ed Jews, their Jew­ish­ness nev­er played a sig­nif­i­cant role in their upbring­ing. They were Jew­ish, just not reli­gious, and rarely attend­ed schul. 

Long before their con­ver­sion to Catholi­cism in 1930, long before they fled Aus­tria in 1936, it seemed they had already begun the slow, ardu­ous process of shed­ding them­selves of their Jew­ish iden­ti­ties to live a Jew­ish-less life in Amer­i­ca. They arrived on Ellis Island in 1938, after hav­ing spent time in Istan­bul, then Gene­va. They bought a house in Man­has­set, NY, and there raised my moth­er and my aunt as good Catholic girls, nev­er once allud­ing to the war, or to what they left behind in Europe. 

Like my grand­par­ents, who loved Vien­na and missed it every day, many of the char­ac­ters in Anto­nia Live­ly Breaks The Silence yearn both phys­i­cal­ly and emo­tion­al­ly for a place to which they can­not return. How then, my nov­el asks, do we make a home else­where? How then do we find hap­pi­ness in a strange place when we have been stripped, or have stripped our­selves, of our iden­ti­ties, that which made us who we were? 

I wrote the nov­el to answer this ques­tion, among many oth­ers, for myself. When you read it, I hope you will find an answer or two for yourself. 

Learn more about David Samuel Levin­son here.

DAVID SAMUEL LEVIN­SON is the author of the nov­el, Anto­nia Live­ly Breaks the Silence and the sto­ry col­lec­tion, Most of Us Are Here Against Our Will. He has been nom­i­nat­ed for the Push­cart Prize and has received fel­low­ships from Yad­do, the Jen­tel Foun­da­tion, Ledig House, the San­ta Fe Arts Insti­tute, the Sewa­nee Writ­ers’ Con­fer­ence and the Mar­guerite and Lamar Smith Fel­low­ship for Writ­ers. He has for­mer­ly served as the Emerg­ing Writer Lec­tur­er at Get­tys­burg Col­lege and as the Fel­low in Fic­tion at Emory University.