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Q&A with Anita Diamant

Welcome to the JWA Book Club! We are excited to gather today to discuss Anita Diamant's new novel, The Boston Girl.

When taking part in our comment-based discussion below, remember to hit "Show Reply" and "Show New Comments" to see the full conversation! Anita Diamant will be responding to questions mainly through the "reply" feature.

Topics: Fiction
50 Comments
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In reply to by IlanaB

Very biblical--look at how children in Torah are treated so differently one from the other.

In reply to by Ricki Henschel

Good point, Ricki!

In reply to by Ricki Henschel

Yes! I love this point. An archetype/trope that feels very relatable. It feels very "Jewish" too, but maybe it is really all kinds of families are this way?

In reply to by IlanaB

Her relationship with Addie is most fraught because she is American from the get-go. But I do think that temperament plays a big role in how people respond to hardship. Betty got out, after all. But eventually she could let Mameh's comments wash over her. Betty has an ego made of steel. I know people like that

In reply to by Anita Diamant

And Betty served as a buffer for Addie-- struck out on her own first, was a role model for doing it different, and was a role model for playing on the floor with her kids.

In reply to by srsilverjd

Exactly. The oldest daughter, the risk-taker, the one who makes it in America and becomes a Hadassah lady. (which is a good thing!)

In reply to by Anita Diamant

Hadassah--That's how you know you've made it! :-)

In reply to by Etta King

My mom, born in Poland, was a lifetime Hadassah member and I never knew that until she died..I knew all of her synagogue friends and they were pat of our broader family, but never met her Hadassah friends until her funeral. That was more than 10 years ago and I am still digesting that. I am a lifetime member now, as are my three girls.

In reply to by IlanaB

Yes! Thanks for bringing this up. I love that as readers, we could empathize with ALL of them, and at times with Mameh, too. The dynamic felt complicated, and very real.

In reply to by Etta King

Right, even though Mameh was a tough character, I felt that she was still empathetic.

In reply to by Tara M.

I found myself thinking "could I ever be like this? have I ever been like this?" while I was reading and I decided the answer was yes.

In reply to by Etta King

I agree. could I have been that strong a young woman?

In reply to by Etta King

And to me she was someone in so much pain that she couldn't even begin to imagine change of heart even as she changed physical location.

In reply to by Ricki Henschel

I think her pain was what drove her.

In reply to by Anita Diamant

Anita -- drove her to what? Do you mean what colored her existence?

In reply to by srsilverjd

Colored her existence. Also fear, which is corrosive. She lived a life of saying "no," which is a tough way to live

In reply to by Anita Diamant

Hmm. I hadn't thought about that before.

I found the history of some of the institutions in Boston fascinating. I was also intrigued by the inclusion of "Orphan Trains" as my book group here in NJ has read & discussed "The Chaperone", and will soon read "The Orphan Train".

In reply to by MiriamEichler

that's really interesting--they're suddenly popping up in so many novels! what role did orphan trains play in "the chaperone"?

In reply to by Tara M.

As I recall, the chaperone in the story had been sent to Kansas on an orphan train as a child. When she agrees to accompany a young, would-be starlet from Wichita to NYC, she attempts to pursue her roots.

In reply to by MiriamEichler

Orphan Train is a good read--and an important part of our history to understand

In reply to by MiriamEichler

The history of the influenza epidemic, too, which I hadn't thought about in quite some time.

In reply to by Erika Dreifus

What amazed me was reading about how nobody talked about it when it was over. Like it was a bad dream

In reply to by Anita Diamant

Really? That seems crazy. I wonder what it is like in more contemporary communities that have been impacted by widespread illness, like Ebola. Does anyone know if there have been oral histories or story collecting projects in communities effected by that health disaster?

In reply to by Anita Diamant

Having worked in the world of medicine for 35 years, I am surprised by your comment that no one talked about it. It is something that is still, a century later, is in discussion among public health physicians and others in medicine and concerns about how it affected people around the world. Some statistics show that more died of the 1918 influenza than those wounded in WWI.

In reply to by sukir49md

That's in the professional world. So many people only found out years and years later that grandma or aunt so-an-so died of flu. Sometimes only by making the connection by the date. And yes, more Americans died of flu than in WW1

In reply to by Anita Diamant

Important for us to realize the difference we have in treating the flu today.

In reply to by Anita Diamant

It was a nightmare that did end. I'm sure you remember when we did not talk about cancer, as it was a death sentence, and in too much of our society we still don't talk about mental disease...that which destroys us that we don't understand is difficult to talk about, I think.

In reply to by Erika Dreifus

Very timely today, when the issue of anti-innoculations could give rise to other new epidemics.

In reply to by MiriamEichler

In reply to by Tara M.

About the Orphan Trains?

In reply to by MiriamEichler

I have read "Orphan Trains" and loved it. My book group is reading it for May.

I was struck by the tension between mameh and Addie, how Addie stuck by her mom, how there was never a resolution, and then how Addie led such a productive life despite the fundamental disconnect.

In reply to by srsilverjd

I loved that she learned to be her own person, through her friendships and those she chose as family, and that she struggled and was saddeneed and always felt a loss due to her inability to connect with her mother...but she had what some call today "grounded hope" that kept her going. That spoke to me.

In reply to by Ricki Henschel

"Grounded hope." Nice phrase. What does it mean?

In reply to by Anita Diamant

There is a new book out called Super Survivors that looks at individuals who survive life threatening events, from almost lynchings to war to cancer and more. What the researchers found is that those who survived had in common what they called grounded hope, which is not a positive attitude but the ability to believe that there are options and they could work to make them happen. Certainly not all who have grounded hope survive, but all of these individuals shared that basic life philosophy. It is a good read and an intersting perspective.

In reply to by Ricki Henschel

thank you

In reply to by Ricki Henschel

Me too, Ricki.

In reply to by srsilverjd

The tension between old world and new world plays out. But Mameh is damaged by the terrible losses she suffers, too. Addie finds support and guidance from many mentors, starting with Edith Guerrier. Many people can name people like that who changed their lives.

Erika, we are having enough trouble handling it today. I imagine historically the city would have just been one of walkers. Perhaps horsedrawn carriages would have been helpful.

In reply to by IlanaB

carriages full of snow...

Can you talk about your thoughts inluding addressing depression and suicide?

In reply to by Ricki Henschel

The immigrant experience is so often described positively.I think among Jews in particular. But coming to American was devastating for some, who never adjusted. Some just kept within doors or their own small communities, others succumbed to despair.

Anita, was there anything that you decided or otherwise had to leave out from this story--historical or more personal to Addie--that you can share with us now?

In reply to by Erika Dreifus

I left TONS of stuff on the cutting room floor, but that always happens with historical research. I was fascinated by the women who worked at Simmons College, Women's Industrial and Educational Union, Crittenton, the settlement houses. A whole interlocking directorate of progressive era women. Some wealthy, some middle class

In reply to by Anita Diamant

Yes, I thought Gussie probably had a very interesting story to tell, herself! Was she based on a real figure, btw?

In reply to by Erika Dreifus

Gussie was a composite of several women. Grandmothers of friends, a trustee of Rockport Lodge into the 1980s. And I had to so something with my discovery of the Portia School of Law (now New England School of Law) an all female school that had night classes and immigrant students

In reply to by Anita Diamant

I was FASCINATED with settlement houses as a kid. Lillian Wald is a Jewish woman who was very involved in the settlement house movement and the beginnings of social work. I also love the examples of women working together across classes from this time period that we don't see (or at least talk about) as much today. The Women's Trade Union League was a great example of that. The upper class women that joined the strike lines were sometimes called "The Mink Brigade" because they wore furs on the picket line. Love it. Here is a picture of women from the WTUL at the Uprising of the 20,000 in 1909. http://www.laborarts.org/exhib...

In reply to by Etta King

Etta, thanks for posting this. I love that women of all classes had political issues that drew them together.

In reply to by Etta King

Etta. I gotta get some of these photos. Can we talk later?

How to cite this page

Metal, Tara. "Q&A with Anita Diamant." 10 February 2015. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on October 22, 2019) <https://jwa.org/blog/bookclub/book-club-meeting-boston-girl>.

The front cover of Anita Diamant's The Boston Girl (Scribner, 2015).

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