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”My father’s wife died. My mother said we should drive down to his place and see what might be in it for us.” So begins the latest novel by best-selling author Amy Bloom. In “Lucky Us,” she takes us on a journey through 1940s America. We follow two teenage half-sisters who are disappointed by their families and leave their hometown in Ohio for Hollywood. Amid World War II, they finally settle in New York and create their own unconventional family. It’s a story about love, heartbreak and luck told partly through letters written by the characters. Join Diane for a discussion of “Lucky Us” with author Amy Bloom.
- Amy Bloom author of several best-selling novels including: "Come to Me," a National Book Award finalist, and "A Blind Man Can See How Much I Love You," nominated for a National Book Critics Circle Award, and "Away." She writes for The New Yorker and the New York Times Magazine. She also teaches creative writing at Wesleyan University.
Read A Featured Excerpt
From the Book, LUCKY US by Amy Bloom. Copyright © 2014 by Amy Bloom.
Reprinted by arrangement with Random House, an imprint of Random House ,
a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Amy Bloom is the bestselling author of several novels. Now, after seven years, she has a brand new book titled, "Lucky Us." Two teenage half sisters journey through American in the 1940s, disappointed by their families, they head from small town Ohio to Hollywood. Author Amy Bloom joins me in the studio. And you are welcome to be part of the program.
MS. DIANE REHMGive us a call at 800-433-8850. Send us your email to email@example.com. Follow us on Facebook and you can join the conversation on Twitter using #drreads. Amy Bloom, it's good to meet you.
MS. AMY BLOOMIt's good to meet you, too.
REHMThank you. I must say I'm fascinated as to where the idea for this novel came from. I gather it has to do with a biography of Eva Le Gallienne.
BLOOMWell, it does in its sort of in the essential seed of it, but -- and the biography was terrific and she was an extraordinary character and a great director and a powerful influence in American theater. And I'm sure if you're not a theater buff, no one remembers her or has heard of her...
BLOOM...or thought about her.
BLOOMI do, too. But in the middle of her career, there were two striking things about her besides her talent. One was that she was very comfortable and out as a lesbian, which was unusual at the time, and also that she had been in a terrible fire and had hurt and maimed her hand, her neck and part of her face and had taught herself a whole lot about contouring and makeup and staging and lighting so that she could go on with her career.
BLOOMAnd the fire was really the first seed for the novel and then I began to think about a pair of sisters. And the first piece of the novel that I wrote was actually Gus, the male protagonist of the novel.
REHMInteresting. Because he doesn't come in until a little later so interesting that you should almost begin in the middle and then work your way back.
BLOOMI often begin in the middle and work my way back.
REHMWould you read for us from the beginning of the novel. It's so striking and I think people will enjoy hearing it.
BLOOMThank you. The beginning is called "I'd Know You Anywhere." "My father's wife died. My mother said we should drive down to his place and see what might be in it for us. She tapped my nose with her grapefruit spoon. It's like this, she said, your father loves us more, but he's got another family, a wife, and a girl a little older than you. Her family had all the money. Wipe your face, she said.
BLOOMThere was no one like my mother for straight talk. She washed my neck and ears until they shone. We helped each other dress. Her lilac dress with the underarm zipper, my pink on with the tricky buttons. My mother did my braids so tight, my eyes pulled up. She took her violet hat and her best gloves and she ran across the road to borrow Mr. Portman's car.
BLOOMI was glad to be going and I thought I could get to be glad about having a sister. I wasn't sorry my father's other wife was dead. We'd waited for him for weeks. My mother sat by the window in the morning and smoked through supper every night. When she came home from work at Hobson's, she was in a bad mood, even after I rubbed her feet.
BLOOMI hung around the house all July playing with Mr. Portman's poodle waiting for my father to drive up. When he came, he usually came by 2 o'clock in case there was a fireside chat that day. We listened to all the fireside chats together. We loved President Roosevelt. On Sundays, when my father came, he brought a pack of Lucy Strikes for my mother and a Hershey bar for me.
BLOOMAfter supper, my mother sat in his lap and I sat right on his slippers. And if there was a fireside chat, my father did his FDR imitation. Good evening, friends, he said, and he stuck a straw in his mouth like a cigarette holder. Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. And he bowed to my mother and said, Eleanor, my dear, how about a waltz?
BLOOMThey danced to the radio for a while and then it was my bedtime. My mother put a few bobby pins in my hair for curls and my father carried me to bed singing, I wish I could shimmy like my sister Kate. Then he tucked me in and shimmied out the door. Monday mornings, he was gone and I waited until Thursday and sometimes until the next Sunday.
BLOOMMy mother parked the car and redid her lipstick. My father's house was two stories of red stone and tall windows with fringed-lace curtains behind and wide brown steps stacked like boxes in front of the shining wood door. You father does like to have things nice while he's away, she said. It sure is nice, I said, we ought to live here.
BLOOMMy mother smiled at me and ran her tongue over her teeth. Could be, she said, you never know. She'd already told me she was tired of Abingdon where we'd been since I was born. It was no kind of real town and she was fed up to here hostess-ing at Hobson's. We talked a lot about finding ourselves a better life in Chicago. Chicago, Chicago, that toddlin' town.
BLOOMI sang as we got out of the car and I did a few dance steps like in the movies. And my mother said, you are the bee's knees, kiddo. And she grabbed the back of my dress, licked her palm and pressed it to my bangs so they wouldn't fly up. She straightened her skirt and told me to check her seams. Straight as arrows, I said. And we went up the stairs, hand in hand.
BLOOMMy mother knocked and my father answered the door in the blue vest he wore at our house during the president's speeches. My father hugged me and my parents whispered to each other while I stood there trying to see more of the parlor, which was as big as our whole apartment and filled with flowers. Maybe my father said, what the hell are you doing here? Maybe my mother cursed him for staying away, but I doubt it.
BLOOMMy father had played the gentleman his whole life and my mother must've said to me 100 times that men needed to be handled right and a woman who couldn't handle her man had only herself to blame. When I say men are dogs, my mother said, I'm not being insulting. I like dogs. Behind my mother, I saw a tall girl. My daughter, Iris, my father said, and I could hear my mother breathe in.
BLOOMIris, he said, this is my friend Mrs. Logan and her daughter, her lovely daughter, Eva. I knew, standing in their foyer, that this girl had a ton of things I didn't have. Flowers in crystal vases the size of buckets, pretty light brown curls, my father's hand on her shoulder. She wore a baby blue sweater and a white blouse with a bluebird pin on the collar. I think she wore stockings.
BLOOMIris was 16 and she looked like a grown woman to me. She looked like a movie star. My father pushed us to the stairs and told Iris to entertain me in her room while he and my mother had a chat."
REHMWhoa. And what a chat that turns out to be. Amy Bloom, reading from her brand-new novel. It's called "Lucky Us." So the mother simply deposits.
BLOOMShe does. I know that we have a great regard for motherhood as an institution and a sort of general gloss on all women who have babies. But it is not my experience in the wide world that everybody who has a child wants one and that everybody who becomes a mother is good at it and I wanted to write about somebody who was not.
REHMAnd who had presumably a child by this gentleman, who was a "kept woman," who took care of this young daughter until she could no longer do so.
BLOOMYes. I think she would say until she could no longer do so. My own perspective, which is a little less kind, as the creator of Hazel Logan, is that she chose not to do so.
REHMShe was ready to move on, do other things and to give him the responsibility she felt he so justly deserved.
BLOOMAbsolutely. He was not coming through for her and she was ready to move forward.
REHMNow, the wonderful part is that these two sisters take a liking to each other. They're quite happy.
BLOOMThey are, after a little while. There's some friction at first, you know. Eva says, Iris looked at me the way a cat looks at a dog. But eventually, they become the way some cats and dogs do, which is very close.
REHMNow, fascinating to me that you spend your early career as a psychotherapist and I'm sure you saw many, how shall I put it, troubled families. And here, you focus on two sisters. Tell me why.
BLOOMI think the focus on the sisters really doesn't come from my clinical background of a long time ago. I think this focus on my sisters comes from the fact that I have a sister and she's my big sister and an excellent big sister. And we -- she's almost six years older than I am and we hardly knew each other when I was a little kid and we really spent very little time together.
BLOOMI couldn't really tell you how come an neither of us really know, but, you know, she was...
REHMYou lived together, yeah.
BLOOMOh, yes, we lived together, but she was off doing big girl activities and I was doing baby activities. And then, she was in junior high and our paths just didn't cross that much. And somehow when I was about 12 and she was about 18, we found each other.
REHMOh, how lovely.
BLOOMAnd, you know, have not really been apart very much ever since. So I think that that was really the push for me and also I am always interested in the relatives and the relationships that work out and the ones that don't and what we do in the face of the ones that don't work out. And it seems to me that people who are lucky and smart have the opportunity to make another family.
REHMAnd, of course, you must have brought your understanding of humanity gleaned from your psychotherapy into not just this novel, but writing in general.
BLOOMWell, I certainly hope so. But the truth is, having taught psychotherapy as well and having supervised a lot of therapists, to a large extent good therapists are born. They're not made.
BLOOMYeah, you have to be interested in other people.
BLOOMAnd you have to find them interesting in a way that flora and fauna might not be interesting to you. And so the great thing that training as a psychotherapist gave me, it seems to me, was the emphasis on observation and on learning not to finish people's sentences.
REHMLearning to listen. Amy Bloom, her new novel is titled "Lucky Us." Short break and when we come back, we'll talk further about her characters, take your calls, email. I look forward to hearing from you.
REHMAnd welcome back. If you just joined me, Amy Bloom is here in the studio. She is, of course, the author of the New York Times best-selling book, "Away." Now, after seven years, she has a brand new book. It's titled, "Lucky Us" and follows the adventures of two young sisters, actually stepsisters, but nevertheless sisters who make their way from small-town Ohio to Hollywood where Iris becomes something of a movie star, Amy. That was quite a leap.
BLOOMWell, it was a leap. Although, I have to say, it's a leap for which there's lots of historical precedent, because she doesn't become a star, she gets a contract...
BLOOM...to become a player, which means that she will be in crowd scenes, in a group of five, the five girls walking down the sidewalk, the three girls at the soda fountain, the two girls waitressing at the restaurant. And she just moves up a little bit until she has a line and then two lines, and then an exchange with the second lead. And that is her meteoric rise, and that is as far as she gets.
BLOOMBecause sometimes bad things happen. And one of the things that happens to her that is good is that she falls in love. And what is bad is that she falls in love with somebody who is deeply untrustworthy and ambitious and who is actually a character who appears in a way and resurfaces in "Lucky Us." We meet her, in a way, as Reizel (sp?), the manipulative cousin. We meet her again in Hollywood, having changed her name to Rose Sawyer, America's sweetheart Rose. And Rose basically tosses poor Iris under the bus in order to advance her own career.
BLOOMAnd Iris is blackballed forever and doesn't quite understand at first, because she's only 19 years old, that there will be no second chance. There will be no opportunity to explain or revise. It's just over.
REHMHow old is Eva and how old is Iris when they start out?
BLOOMThey are about five years apart. And so they are 12 and 17 when they meet.
REHMYeah. And I was thinking back to you and your sister at 12 and 19, sort of finally finding, discovering each other and thinking about that gap. My own sister was five years older than I and there was a huge gap between us, one that was not resolved. But in your case, even those insurmountable teenage years were surmounted.
BLOOMWell, they were. And I have to give the credit to my sister who basically went off to college and said, I am not leaving you behind. And so I became sort of her mascot and her sidekick even as she went off to college and I would get to go visit her on weekends and sleep on the floor of her dorm room, which I think was a little unusual, but very entertaining for both of us and we discovered each other. And I feel that that was such a gift in my life.
BLOOMAnd it's not that it's a relationship without its ups and downs, and I also wanted to write about that. I wanted to write about sort of the waxing and the waning, and what is involved in being close to another human being, whether they are a sibling or a parent or a spouse or a child, that it is never, you know, a bolt of silk that unfurls in front of you.
REHMYeah. How did your sister help you to grow?
BLOOMI'm a great fan of my sister's. I think that she's a remarkably straightforward person. People often say to me, oh, Amy, you know, you're so straightforward and you're forthright. And I say, oh, wait until you meet my sister because, you know, I'm the creampuff. And I love and admire her clarity. She's a terrific lawyer. And when I was in college, I went and watch her practice law, because she was the first woman public defender in Connecticut.
BLOOMAnd I was just awestruck and then horrified when I realized that the person she was defending was probably guilty. And I thought, oh, this is not the career for me. But nevertheless, you know, her ability to think and to organize and to move forward. And her, you know, her general undaunted-ness has been wonderful for me to see and wonderful for me to follow.
REHMHow do you think you have helped her to grow?
BLOOMI'm inclined to think that that's probably for her to say. But I think that she values sort of my insights about people. And I think beyond all of that, our basic position with each other is that we are on each other's side always.
REHMI have friends I consider in that same regard.
BLOOMYes, it's a great thing to have in life.
REHMTo learn from and to be whatever I am to them. And for that, I mean, it's just such a great and important gift to have that kind of friendship. These two girls work sometimes together and sometimes not together. Tell us about how they move on.
BLOOMWell, I think the beginning of their relationship Iris is the big sister and Eva is the sidekick, absolutely. But Iris is also deeply ambitious and a deeply passionate person and doesn't always make the best decisions. And when some of those decisions change the course of their life together, you know, it's like a river forking. Iris goes one way, Eva goes another. And that's painful for both of them, but also probably inevitable because Eva is in the process also of becoming. And the person that she's becoming is not her sister.
REHMHow do they simply walk away from their father's house?
BLOOMI don't think they walk, I think they run. And I think that they are fueled by Iris' rage. This is a girl who has worked very hard to make $5 here and $3 here, and two bucks there, hitchhiking to elocution contests and, you know, trouncing other girls in some rhetoric contest 45 miles away, which is no small distance in 1940. And she is just furious.
BLOOMThat her father has stolen her earnings more than once. And this is, as she says to her sister, this is my Hollywood and Vine money. And when Edgar steals the money for the third time and Eva catches him, Iris says, that's it, we're going.
REHMWhy is he stealing money from his daughter?
BLOOMWell, he's stealing money because he needs it, which is...
REHMBut why? Doesn't he have a job?
BLOOMWell, he does have a job, but it's not a very good job. And he got the job by marrying the college president's daughter. And the college president is now retired and the daughter is dead and his salary is small, and he is a man who likes, as Hazel said, nice things.
REHMNice things. And Iris, her ambition takes her, as you said, to Hollywood, leading Eva all the way. How did they get there?
BLOOMThey get there by bus, because that's the only way they could possibly get anywhere. And it takes 60 hours to go from where they are in Ohio to Hollywood. And really, although it is Iris that fuels the departure, it is Eva who insists on being taken along. Eve says to her, I'm going to make you look good. People are going to feel sorry for us, old people are going to buy us meals, guys are going to leave you alone because they don't want to be bothered by your pesty little sister.
BLOOMTake me, too. And, really, Iris gives in. it wasn't her intention at all. She had planned to go by herself. But Eva will not be left behind, and off they go to Hollywood.
REHMWhat about school?
BLOOMWell, as you may notice in the novel, at one point Eva says, you know, she was entering 11th grade. She was 13 years old. She had skipped a couple of grades.
REHMShe's very bright.
BLOOMShe's very smart and very small, and therefore often underestimated. And what she says is that she and Iris both felt that Eva needed more education like a cat needed more fur. And she actually never goes back to school until much later in the novel when she finds her calling.
REHMSo they meet Gus in New York. Tell us about Gus.
BLOOMI love Gus. I have to say I love Gus.
BLOOMWell, again, it has to do with what Eva says about him, which is that he is the kind of man who would rescue you from a burning building and go back in to get your pet. And he just strikes me as having a lot of the qualities that I really like in people and that I specially men and that you find in certain kinds of men. He is just warm and smart and tough and honest. You know, and not above a certain amount of trickery and chicanery on his own part, but that's mostly in the interest of survival.
BLOOMAnd he's also a great observer in the novel of the bigger world, which Iris and Eva tend not to be so aware of. But Gus, as someone who is German American during World War II gets to see an entire different piece of America and bring that forward to us in the novel.
REHMBut talk about somebody who gets thrown under a bus and we're not going to give away that portion, but here you're describing this man who really is genuinely sympathetic, kind, understanding, who does everything he can to demonstrate that kindness, and yet he gets thrown under the bus.
BLOOMYes. Well, you know, I think it's, you know, Shakespeare said, you know, comedy is one in which all of the good people are rewarded and it ends happily. And I would say this is not a comedy. It's both. And, yes, he is a good person, but he is definitely the wrong person in the wrong place. And in that case, it happens to be a German American in America at the beginning of World War II, which was a very difficult place to be.
REHMAnd throughout the novel we are reminded of that very fact that the country is at war. There is rationing. There is all kinds of reminders that the country went through some pretty bad times. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's open the phones. If you'd like to join us, questions, comments, 800-433-8850. First to Paula here in Washington, D.C. Hi, you're on the air.
PAULAGood morning. What a wonderful program, as always.
PAULAAnd what a treat to hear you. You are so lovely and talented with what you do with your questions and your guest is wonderful.
PAULAOh, it was such a treat to hear that reading. And in the words of Gwendolyn Brooks, I had the opportunity to meet and work with her many years ago and she wrote me this lovely note that said, "I salute your talent." I can't find my talent. I want to write and I'm a frustrated writer. I can write academically, but I can't do what your guest is doing. It feels so lovely to hear you talk about the development of the characters and the scenes.
PAULAAnd so, when we look at this idea of creativity and imagination and your use of rhetoric -- I'm a speech teacher and you're talking about all these things that are so exciting and wonderful, I want to know, how did you allow yourself to reach that point that you can write and release this and share your wonderful talent because you really are talented. You've drawn me into your story and I can't wait to get the book.
BLOOMOh, good. That's very kind of you. I think that -- you obviously have this great interest in the stories that you want to tell and there are characters that you want to express. And sometimes, the thing you have to do is not hold yourself to too high a standard as you get going. It is much more important to write than to write well at the beginning. You have stories you have to tell and they are academic, then you should go ahead and put them on paper.
BLOOMIf you can't bring yourself to put them on paper, talk into a tape recorder, so that you begin to get the material out and then you can work on shaping so that it can be read by somebody else. But part of it is that a lot of people have sort of an internal editor and it stops you before you even get going. And I would say, try to kill the editor and get the words out.
REHMJust try to get those words out and begin. I think that business about that self-editing process is so important because there is that voice that says that's no good. Did you ever have that as you began writing, transitioning from psychotherapy to writing?
BLOOMI have that voice in my head all the time, every time I start. I usually sit down at my desk, which is a kitchen table and stare at the screen or stare at the pad and what I think to myself is, doomed, doomed, doomed. So the voice doesn't go away, but you learn how to push it aside and not think about who's going to read it or what people are going to say. My job always is to serve the story and serve the characters. And everything else is secondary.
REHMSome people, some writers I've talked to have said that, as time goes on, the characters begin speaking to you and then the flow become so much easier. Is that what happens to you?
BLOOMYes, I wouldn't say that they speak to me. I remember Alice Walker was famous for saying that when she would lie down at night the characters would come sit at the foot of her bed and talk. And that has never happened to me. But...
REHMDon't you wish?
BLOOMDon't you wish? Absolutely. Anytime, I'd be happy to listen. They don't talk to me, but they talk and I can hear their voices. And once I can hear their voices, I can begin to see them and feel them and allow them opportunities to come to life, which is really what you hope. It's like blowing on embers. But once you catch a little bit, it is easier. But before you have sort of caught fire, it is just a painful slog.
REHMAnd the only way to write is to write.
BLOOMAlas, yes, it is.
REHMNo other way to do it.
BLOOMNo, I keep looking.
REHMAmy Bloom and her new novel is titled, "Lucky Us." When we come back, more of your calls, your comments. Stay with us.
REHMAnd welcome back. Amy Bloom is with me. We're talking about her brand-new novel. It's titled, "Lucky Us," and really recounts the story of two stepsisters who move across the country, one with her eye on Hollywood, the other, the keeper, and their adventures as they go. Part of the book contains letters and, Amy Bloom, if you would read the letter from Iris to Eva that was unsent.
BLOOMYes, I have a great interest in letters that are not sent, letters that are not read. This is from Iris after the war, referring to a time earlier at the beginning of the war. "Dear Eva, you think it'd be hard to get a man plucked out of his everyday life on Long Island and shipped off somewhere, you'd think it'd be at least awkward. You had read that whole article about Ezio Pinza aloud at breakfast. Famous opera singer, basso cantante.
BLOOMAnd before this, famous only for his voice and for his first wife having sued a soprano at the Metropolitan Opera House for alienation of affection, according to you and TIME magazine, he married another American girl. Not the alienator of affection. And they had a daughter. And the article said that he was released after two months at Ellis Island and that he went back to singing opera right away.
BLOOMThat's what stuck with me. He didn't spend a day in jail. He wasn't even arrested. He just went away for two months. Do you know, at the end of the war, Ezio Pinza sang "The Star Spangled Banner" for General Patton and General Doolittle and for the man who had ordered his arrest? This also, courtesy of TIME magazine. I was so scared, I thought I'd vomit on the bus.
BLOOMI walked past the railroad station to put enough distance between it and me. I always run into people I knew at that end of town. I had a handful of dimes of my bag. I put a handkerchief over the receiver. A man answered and I thought they must all sound like J. Edgar Hoover with his high flat voice. I couldn't remember the agent's name five minutes after I hung up.
BLOOMI made up a character for myself for the phone call. I was a single lady from Hartford, Connecticut visiting friends in Great Neck. I worked in a bank. I told the man that Gus Heitman (sp?) might be, maybe a German spy. I said that I knew that everyone had to do their part in the war effort and my voice shook like I was on a train. I said I hoped I was doing the right thing.
BLOOMThe man did not say you lying bitch. He said that I was doing my duty. He repeated Gus' name and the address of his repair shop and he thanked me twice. I was sweating like a whore in church, not surprisingly, and I wiped my face with my mother's blue lace hanky and I threw it in the trash can at the train station."
REHMSo whether the letter was sent or not, Iris had turned Gus in.
BLOOMBecause she was in love with his wife. I wish I could make it less bald, but that's entirely why and that is the kind of thing that happened during war time. It is the type of thing that happens when you have a country in a xenophobic mood.
REHMYou just want to get rid of everyone who seems other.
BLOOMYou want to get rid of the others in a big way. And, in fact, we interned 11,000 Germans who lived in this country. Not prisoners of war, not people who were coming to this country from Germany, although we did actually, by mistake, in the way of tragedy and farce. We did actually manage to imprison a number of Jewish refugees from Germany not quite understanding what the relationship was between the Jews and the German government at the time.
BLOOMBut eventually, we did release them.
REHMOf course, we heard so much about the internment of Japanese, but not as much about the internment of Germans.
BLOOMNo, not as much about the internment and also not about the offer that was made to Germans in those internment camps to self deport, which was the phrase of the time in which they were offered an opportunity to go back to Germany, I will say, just in time to be bombed by the allies.
REHMYou did a great deal of research on those internment camps. Tell me about that.
BLOOMYou know, I didn't know any -- I mean, I'm embarrassed by my own ignorance. I didn't know anything about the internment of Germans in this country during World War II. And I was just beginning to research that period and came across a first-person account by somebody who had been an 11-year-old. His parents had been in New Jersey. They had lived there for 30 years.
BLOOMAnd he had -- I think they had gone back and forth from Germany so he hadn't been born in this country, but he had been in this country since he was a year old. And describes his life in the camps and that -- I just was fascinated and so I began to research more about it. And it was very interesting. Also, Truman was very concerned that Germans would blend in so easily with, as they would've said then, regular Americans, that they had decided that they would keep the Germans in the camps until at least two years after the war ended.
BLOOMSo I believe the last German was released from the camp in 1947.
REHMWow. All right. Let's go back to the phones to Leann in Gilford, Connecticut. You're on the air.
LEANNGood morning, Diane Rehm and Amy Bloom. I'm so much enjoying this conversation you're having.
REHMGlad to have you with us.
LEANNWhen I heard Amy say that people don't often remember Eva Le Gallienne, I wanted to say, I do. I grew up in Westport in the 40s and I was in a theater group run by Claire Olson (sp?) when I was an early teenager. And one summer, we put on "Midsummer Night's Dream" at Eva Le Gallienne's outdoor theater in the evening and I believe that was behind her house in New Caymen (sp?), if my memory serves correctly. Do you know about that, Amy, did that come up?
BLOOMAbsolutely, absolutely. I'm sure your memory is entirely correct about that.
LEANNA-ha. All right. And then you went on to mention Ezio Pinza and I was with my mother on a train station in London when I was 10 years old and suddenly, she cries out, look, there's Ezio Pinza and handed me my diary. And I've got his autograph. I had no idea, of course, who he was, but those were the days when we carried autograph books and those things with us traveling. And so that was interesting to mention, too.
LEANNAnd then, one more thing, my second -- my first brother, younger than I, was born just at the outbreak of the war and my father, who has a Swiss-German name, would not pass on his name to that first brother. The second brother was born just after the war and he would pass on his family name to that brother.
LEANNWhich has -- that has been a sore point, I think, yeah. And I sure (unintelligible)
REHMI'm sorry. I didn't catch that last part.
LEANNI think that probably did happen often.
BLOOMOh, absolutely. I think those were very difficult decisions that parents made about protecting their children and protecting themselves.
BLOOMFrom the idea that they were the other and they were the enemy.
REHMAmy, this cover has got to be the most unusual I think I've ever seen. Let me see if I can describe it for our listeners. It would seem that it is either on a stage or looking out a window, curtains hanging, draperies hanging on either side in red, a deep pink peony at the bottom and at the top and on a tightrope walking across must be 20 feet high is a lion, a male lion, a beautiful lion.
REHMNo, I think it's a female lion. I take that back. And on top of that lion is a zebra balanced perfectly. Looks like another female. And on top of that zebra is a barely noticeable bird. Tell me about this cover.
BLOOMI can only talk about the cover really in terms of the artist who's a woman named Deborah Van Auten who is an enormously talented painter. And this painting is called "Earth Rise," because what you see to the right of the zebra is the earth where one normally see the moon. What struck me about this was when I looked at the painting, what I thought to myself is, lucky that the lion doesn't fall off the tightrope.
BLOOMLucky that the zebra doesn't get eaten by the lion. Lucky that the bird gets to ride. And that -- I sent it to my editor and said, what do you think? It just seems right. And there was sort of a lot of back and forth, but the general feeling was, yes, if we can make this work, we would like to make this work.
REHMWow. Well, but in some ways, these two girls are lucky, but in other ways, not so lucky.
BLOOMAbsolutely. Luck, to me, luck is not just good luck, you know. It's like the blues songs, you know. Sometimes if it wasn't for bad luck, you wouldn't have any luck at all. And that is certainly true for these characters sometimes.
REHMWell, and each of the chapters has its own title.
BLOOMIt does. I love the music of that period, of the '30s and '40s. It's just an enormously exciting period and the growth of jazz and so many terrific singers and every single song title is -- and every single chapter is a song title. Some of them more obscure than others, but it was a great part of the writing and that researching to listen and just sink into this music and be lifted up by it.
REHMHow wonderful. All right. Let's go back to the phones to Scott in Takoma Park, Maryland. You're on the air.
SCOTTHello. Thank you very much for taking my call.
SCOTTI was listening to the program, I must admit, initially kind of just was kind of in the background, but I heard the thing about the German internment. I was aware of that, but I grew in a small town in Pennsylvania where the hierarchy of the town was dominated by long term Germans. I mean, my family came to the United States in the 1600s.
SCOTTMy last name is Schadel (sp?) . My mother's name was Dietrich. On the block that I lived on in this small town during periods of World War II, three escaped German POWs lived there through the end of the war. The soldiers heard, workmen at the camp, speaking Pennsylvania Deutsch, some spoke better German because there are a lot of local German-speaking Lutheran churches.
SCOTTThey escaped and if they were some farm boy from Germany or some child who was, you know, drafted in the German army and the Americans knew about it. And as long as these weren't real, not (word?) SS or anything like that, they perfectly (unintelligible) they watched these people. They had people watching them, but they just worked at day laborers and lived in the homes of people that helped them.
BLOOMThat's an amazing story and a really interesting contrast to what happened so some people who were long time residents of the United States and also of German background. So that's a fascinating story.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's see, Patricia in Silver Spring, Maryland, has a question. You're on the air.
PATRICIAHi. Thank you for taking my call.
PATRICIAMy question is was it hard to keep out modern 21st century jargon out of the 1940 scenes. I noticed that you'd said in recording the letter in reference to, I'll be a single lady, well, that is a 1940s reference, essentially. And today, we would've said, you know, a single girl. So was it hard to keep out the modern jargon.
BLOOMI really wasn't hard. I think there's something about if you do enough research and you pay enough attention -- and I did also watch a lot of movies of the '30s and '40s -- it becomes alive. And so it was no different for me than living in the world now. It's just -- you sort of enter it and my goal was to make it not seem like a historical piece, but to make it feel as if it was happening right now.
BLOOMIt's just that were visiting the country of the past.
REHMAnd you actually bring in the little blue books. Talk about those little blue books.
BLOOMOh, I love the little blue books. My dad was a great fan -- my dad was a journalist and he was a great fan of the interesting fact and the obscure notion and in general an admirer of autodidacts of all sorts, which certainly included both of my grandfathers who both left school when they were about 10. And little blue books were designed in the early part of the 20th century for working people.
BLOOMAnd at that time, that would've meant working men. They were the size of your back pocket and they were a nickel and then a dime and it was everything you could ever want to know in the world. So the titles ranged from the short stories of Balzac to proverbs of Japan to what every married woman should know, written, by the way, by Margaret Sanger, to the history of the east, written by Will Durant, to the stories of O'Henry, to how to make candy and the underlying principles of Christianity.
BLOOMAnd you could subscribe. And I believe when it finally began to wrap up, which was in the '40s, I think they had published 5,000 titles.
REHMOh, my goodness. Did you collect any of them?
BLOOMI did collect a few.
BLOOMI couldn't resist. You know, you find them in archives and occasionally on EBay sort of under the heading of ephemera, right, of those paper things that will not last.
REHMWhat was the paper?
BLOOMIt was just a nasty, cheap, sort of slightly heavy blue paper on the outside and quite thin paper on the inside, but it's so easy to see somebody sitting on a break, eating a sandwich, reading the short stories of Balzac.
REHMAmy Bloom, her new novel, "Lucky Us." I feel as though I have been the lucky one this morning. Thank you so much for being here.
BLOOMThank you for having me and it was just a pleasure to talk about the book in this way.
REHMLoved it. And thanks for listening all. I'm Diane Rehm.
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