NEWPORT – It was a picture-perfect beach day on Aug. 9 as book lovers gathered for Hadassah’s sixth annual Books on the Beach event. With the ocean sparkling in the background, the sold-out crowd of 200 filled a room at OceanCliff, for lunch and talks by two popular authors.
Talia Carner and Barbara Shapiro entertained the crowd with the stories behind their latest books.
Born in Tel Aviv, a seventh-generation Sabra, Carner is the author of the novels “Jerusalem Maiden,” “China Doll” and “Puppet Child.” Her work is influenced by her participation in women’s organizations around the world. She is a supporter of global human rights and a lecturer at international women’s economic forums, as well as serving on the board of the Hadassah Brandeis Institute.
Carner’s latest novel, “Hotel Moscow,” was born out of two missions to Russia as a consultant to help women improve business skills. The first trip occurred in May 1993, after the fall of Communism in that nation. She was there to help women – both educated and not – who had little knowledge of capitalism.
“These women had grown up where capitalism was a dirty word,” she said.
That first trip, which she characterized as “life-changing,” led to another. And on that second trip, she said, she arrived just as the uprising against President Boris Yeltsin was in progress.
Carner said she found herself on the run in a harrowing attempt to get to the American Embassy. Everything in Moscow was shut down and in chaos. And even after years of an official “no-religion” policy, she said she encountered rampant anti-Semitism, as many still felt “the Jews were behind it.” From these experiences, she said, she wrote “Hotel Moscow.”
Barbara Shapiro, who writes as B.A. Shapiro, joked that her story “didn’t involve being chased in Russia.”
The author of eight novels, Shapiro says her best-selling “The Art Forger,” her seventh novel, was “the first one anyone read.” She spoke about the trials of coming up with a book that she wanted to write and that she could convince a publisher to publish.
“Writing is my fourth or fifth career,” Shapiro said. She has directed research projects, worked as a systems analyst/statistician, headed the Boston office of a software development firm and taught sociology and creative writing.
But she really wanted to write books.
So she would write, and give the manuscript to her agent, who wouldn’t like it, she said. So she’d get another agent. And the process would go on and on. Part of the problem was that her novels didn’t fit into a particular genre.
“What a writer really needs is a working spouse with benefits,” she told the crowd.
Her latest book, “The Muralist,” came from an interest in the Works Progress Administration and Eleanor Roosevelt.
“I write about what I want to know,” Shapiro said.
She often hears that writers should write about what they know. “But I ran out of what I know about 10½ years ago,” she said.
“Eleanor Roosevelt is my favorite person. The more research you do on her, the better she gets,” Shapiro said.
The result of her research on the WPA and Roosevelt, “The Muralist” weaves history, mystery, intrigue and love into a story that takes place on the eve of World War II. As Shapiro said, “I’ve created my own genre.”
At the end of the program, there was an opportunity to buy the books and have the authors sign them.
Books on the Beach raises funds to support the work of Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America.
FRAN OSTENDORF is the editor of The Jewish Voice.