Women — their strength and their stories — are major themes of The Bank of America Festival of Arts, Books and Culture of the Katz JCC, which runs from Nov. 11 to 18.
Not that men aren’t participating; they are. Stuart Eizenstat, who served in the Carter and Clinton administrations and was ambassador to the European Union, presents his new book The Future of the Jews: How Global Forces Are Impacting the Jewish People, Israel, and Its Relationship with the United States. Sportscaster Len Berman discusses The Greatest Moments in Sports: Upsets and Underdogs. And David Javerbaum, a writer for The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, dishes about his “autobiography,” The Last Testament: A Memoir by God.
But it’s women and their stories of sisterhood, struggle and survival that dominate the Katz Book Festival’s scheduled events. One woman’s story inspired All That I Am, the new semi-novel by Anna Funder. “I had to fictionalize parts to make it fit cohesively into one book,” Funder says, “but the main characters and their stories are true.” Those stories shed light on a little-explored part of Holocaust history: the resistance efforts of German Jews who escaped the Nazi regime and mobilized in London.
Funder was told the story by one of the women who lived it: Ruth Blatt. They met when Funder was 19 years old and living in her native Australia. “Ruth — who is Ruth Becker in the book — was a member of the German-Jewish resistance and an incredibly brave woman,” Funder explains. “As the Nazis were coming to power, Ruth and her friends were living in Germany and, as part of a left-wing group, fought the regime. Ruth was imprisoned from 1935 to 1939, then fled to London. In London, they continued to try to alert the world to the Nazi regime’s crimes against Jews and others — including their own families and friends.”
The romantic, political and creative drama of All That I Am has won the book a slew of awards in Australia, where it was first released. Among them are the Miles Franklin Prize, the country’s most prestigious award; the Barbara Jefferis Prize; the Indie Best Debut Fiction; the Australian Book Industry Awards’ Book of the Year 2012; and the Nielsen BookData 2012 Booksellers’ Choice Award.
Some struggles and survivals are internal. Carrie Fisher, the actress and author of the best-selling memoirs Postcards From the Edge, Wishful Drinking and Shockaholic will discuss her battle with bipolar disorder and addiction at one of the book festival’s spotlight events. Fisher thrives in sobriety, possibly because she’s made of strong stuff. Her mother is Hollywood legend Debbie Reynolds.
Fisher is also part of other Hollywood legends; she co-starred in the original Star Wars series and in When Harry Met Sally. Nora Ephron, the acclaimed writer who died in June 2012, wrote the latter film. Nora Ephron’s sister, Delia, will be at the book festival to discuss her new novel, The Lion Is In.
The Ephrons are American Jewish literary royalty, which Delia Ephron says is no accident. “My mother tagged me and my three sisters ‘The Ephron Girls’, and that’s how the four of us think of ourselves,” she says. “My mother was obsessed with books and the most important thing in my family was reading. Her religion was books. My mother also had a wonderful career as a screenwriter. So not only did she enforce in us a love of words, she showed us that we, The Ephron Girls, should put them to work.”
They have. Delia Ephron has a writing career that spans genres and decades. She wrote Hanging Up, the book and screenplay; the screenplays for You’ve Got Mail, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, Bewitched and the award-winning Broadway play Love, Loss, And What I Wore, which she co-wrote with Nora. Her themes of friendship and sisterhood meld in The Lion Is In, the story of three women who launch new stages of their lives.
“The pivotal line is, ‘Who I am is not a life sentence,’ ” Ephron says. “Women no longer have to be unfulfilled and unhappy. The book is the crazy adventure of how we find the power to change our lives.”