Alison Pick said she always knew something was amiss.
The Torontonian spent her youth celebrating Christmas, not knowing of her family’s secret:
Her paternal grandparents were actually Jewish Holocaust survivors. Pick’s grandmother lost her entire family. They raised their sons, Pick’s father and uncle, as Christians when they immigrated to Canada and never spoke of their family’s traumatic past.
Piecing the clues together over the course of her life, Pick said she had always felt a deeper connection to the Jewish community without understanding why. She was brought to Ottawa in 2012 as keynote speaker at a workshop for second generation Holocaust survivors after Mina Cohn, chair of the Shoah Committee of the Jewish Federation of Ottawa, read Far to Go, Pick’s Man Booker Prize-nominated novel about a Jewish family during the rise of Nazism in Europe.
In researching that novel, which also won the Canadian Jewish Book Award for fiction, Pick met Jews who strongly influenced her characters and the storyline, and her decision to continue investigating her family’s past with her father, especially after her grandparents passed away.
Between Gods, Pick’s newly released memoir, details how she reacted to these major life events while coping with depression and converting to Judaism. She will return to Ottawa, October 28, to read from her memoir and give a talk with other authors on writing about their lives during the Ottawa International Writers Festival.
“It impacted who I am now really in every way. I was researching my novel, Far to Go, and I was beginning to explore Judaism and have a very strong emotional, visceral reaction to it,” she said.
“And it was just, coincidentally or not, at a time when I was also experiencing a bout of depression, and I came to think that the repressed Holocaust trauma in my family history was sort of intimately bound up with my experience of depression,” she added.
Pick said she considered herself to be “half-Jewish,” as only her father’s side of the family had a connection to Judaism, and considered converting as a return to her heritage. The conversion process documented in her memoir details the challenges of wanting to convert while engaged to a supportive Gentile, who later also decides to convert. They are now raising their young daughter in a Jewish household.
“I think what makes a memoir good is when you go into something that is deeply personal, and it seems sort of particular and specific because the vulnerability renders it more universal. People can relate to the emotions, even if not to the exact content.”
Pick she said she felt particularly vulnerable writing the first draft and sharing the intimate details of her life, but, because it takes so long to write a book, her focus switched to the literary craftsmanship of the piece.
“Having it go into the world is vulnerable,” she said.
Pick said she hopes her talk will engage the audience as her work has done in the past.
“I want my readers to feel engaged, I want them to feel a sense of empathy and investment in the story and less focused on a particular thing that I want them to take away,” she said.
Writing Your Life with authors Alison Pick, Donna Thomson and Catherine Gildiner takes place Tuesday, October 28, 6:30 pm, at Knox Presbyterian Church, 120 Lisgar St. Visit www.writersfestival.org or call 613-562-1243 for tickets or more information.