This week, our executive editor, Judith Fein, published a book that has already garnered great reviews and word-of-mouth referrals—THE SPOON FROM MINKOWITZ: A Bittersweet Roots Journey to Ancestral Lands. Writer Caren Osten Gerszberg interviewed Fein in the Q&A below for a YourLifeIsATrip.com exclusive. Read on to discover the story behind the story.
Q: In your book, you recount your lifelong quest--since learning six facts about your grandmother's life in Russia--to return to her village. Why do you think you were interested to learn of your family roots at such a young age?
JF: I think that some of us were born to be musicians, teachers, writers, social workers, or mathematicians. I was fingered by fate to find out the truth about my ancestors, and to honor all of those who came before me. My grandmother spoke with an accent, believed in unseen forces, and came from an exotic country. She didn’t want to talk about her past life. My mother refused to tell me about the village her mother came from. And the more they stonewalled me, the more I wanted to know. I was a little kid, but I followed the six paltry clues I had like a sleuth. In fact, I can honestly say that I was living in a detective story.
Q: Throughout your journey, you were repeatedly "hitting walls" when it came to learning about Minkowitz--such as with your mother and the man on the train in Paris. What provoked your will to continue the search?
JF: I was obsessed. No matter what anyone said or did, I was undaunted. I loved my grandmother. I was on the phone with her right before she died. It was my secret mission to get to her village and find out what no one would tell me. I wanted to know who she was before she was my grandmother. And when I grew up, I discovered that a lot of people were just like me. No one in their families spoke about what happened before they came to America. I was absolutely determined to find out, for myself and for others who had never asked the questions, but who cared, who were curious, who wanted or needed to know.
Q: When you first arrived in the Ukraine, you made connections with older women. How did that bring you closer to your grandmother and your plight to visit Minkowitz?