Novelist Dara Horn seems to have had much the same experience. In an exasperated takedown, she details the article's "unsubstantiated nonsense" and speculates that "If you are an American Jew who uses the Internet, I suspect that you, too, have already seen this article … It was sent by your friend, or your mom, or your friend's mom …"
Her conclusion? "… the immense attention paid to this article reveals the degree to which many American Jews are still fascinated to learn where they came from. Unfortunately, it also reveals how the members of a group so highly educated in other respects know so little about their own history that they will swallow any 'fact' from the Jewish past that comes flitting across their screens."
It turns out, a lot. The world those surnames come from is really a whole world, with all the details that a whole world has. And when Dara Horn says American Jews know little about their own history, she's especially right when it comes to those details. My ignorance in this regard was staggering before I wrote The Tsimbalist. With every new page, I had the realization, "I don't know that! How do I find that out?" I went rushing to books, the internet, any place that could help me remove that particular layer of ignorance: memorial books from shtetls; the fiction of authors like Sholem Aleikhem, Isaac Babel, Chekhov, Gogol; academic studies on crime and debt and the liquor trade in Russia; the invaluable writings on Klezmer music by Moshe Beregovski, Yale Strom, Mark Slobin, Robert Rothstein; and … well, you get the idea.
Writing the novel provoked a lot of questions. Some of the answers surprised me. For me, the questions, the answers, and the process in between were, and remain, intriguing.
I'm hoping they may be intriguing to you too. If you think they might be, come here from time to time. One of the things I’ll be doing on this blog is detailing a few examples.
Till next time ...