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Rivka’s War: At the Intersection of Fact, Truth and Fiction

THERE REALLY WAS a Battalion of Death led by Maria Bochkareva, as characterized in Rivka’s War. I mined Bochkareva’s autobiography and journalistic sources of the period to provide a faithful account of her and the exploits of her battalion. The same is true of other historical figures: wherever possible, I used their words and sought to remain true to historical fact—except, of course, where fact interfered with the truth of the narrative. Here’s a rundown of the characters in Rivka’s War.

Characters Taken from LifeFictional Characters
Tatuyeva
Lieutenant Filippov
Yashka and her family
General Brusilov
the Tsar and his family
Rasputin
Kerensky
Lenin
Trotsky
Mrs. Pankhurst
General Polovtzev
Klipatskaya
Vera Mikhailovna
Kornilov
Belonogov
Pugachov
Petrukhin
the Aaronsohn family of Palestine
Allenby and his son
Barty
General von Sanders
the Lefkovits family
the Aaronsohn family of Russia
Nachum
Dudie and his family
Shaul
Olga
Medzvedova
Gennady (Filippov Too)
Tsipi and her family
Shoshanah
Avram ben Yohanan

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Why I wrote EVEN YOU

EVEN YOU WAS BEGUN by my partner, Mary Lou Kallman, who died in 2003, leaving a hundred or so first-draft pages of Jessie’s narrative. She thought the semi-autobiographical story couldn’t stand by itself, without some sort of framing tale. It’s one of life’s hideous ironies that my grief at her death provided the material for just such a frame.

Jessie’s story was engaging and important, and I didn’t want to see it die with Mary Lou. We two had worked closely together (we co-wrote Playing for Keeps under the pseudonym Jack Kendall), so it was natural for me to honor her by taking on the novel’s completion. Over the years, she’d told me a great deal about the joys and terrors of her childhood in Tulsa. But when I traveled there and retraced some of her steps—I found inconsistencies. What was true in her narrative? What was fiction? And what the vagaries of memory? This confusion bore fruit as I worked my way through EVEN YOU.

Here’s what was hardest about writing EVEN YOU: I never stopped struggling to stay true to Mary Lou’s vision, but I knew at the same time that I, alone, was responsible for creating this work.

I think she’d like it.

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From The Columbia Paper: a Q&A on November to July

Q. HOW LONG did it take you to write November to July?

A. TEN YEARS.I began thinking about it when I wrote Rivka’s War. My novels generally go through a half-dozen drafts, but November to July went through many more than that. I kept re-casting the story, kept deciding it wasn’t working, kept putting it away to write something else, telling myself I should just forget it. But I couldn’t let it go – or else it just wouldn’t let me go – until finally, I found the way to tell it.

Q. WHAT WAS the most challenging part of writing November to July?

A. DEALING WITH THE POLITICS. What went on at the peace conference in a matter of six months was immense. I narrowed it down to a few representative issues that still have reference to our world today. There was still much to explore. I wanted to shed light on how men of good conscience and with the best intentions could go so wrong – but at the same time, I couldn’t let the political details swamp Eleanor’s story, so I stuck to matters involving Eleanor in one way or another. 

Q. WHAT MADE you happiest about writing November to July?

WRITING – just writing. Although it’s always hard and often frustrating, writing is the most fulfilling thing I do. It makes me happy by keeping me alive to every detail of life. Regarding November to July in particular, I think the happiest part came from focusing on how people whose worlds are in shreds around them can manage to build a new future for themselves.


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