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As with all my books, I didn’t have any idea of where it was going to go. I wanted to try to reconstruct this, the Columbian Exposition, this beautiful, beautiful place, that somehow my character wormed her way into. She was drawn to him almost despite his wealth, which is a flip. And she took it to FSG and she asked two editors what they would do with it. There are so many good books that don’t get published, better books than anything you’ve ever read!And there was one other thing playing in the back of my mind—I’m a very bad storyteller, and I have to get my ideas from somewhere, like from other books or articles—which is that I read about a woman who worked in a cigar factory, Rose Pastor Stokes. Instead of a having a woman trying to make herself physically appealing to attract wealth, she has a libidinous motive. And John Glusman, who had just had a child—so he was in the fatherly mode and the book is about parents—he loved the book, and so I worked with him for two books. “Full many a flower is born to blush unseen.” So what happened with as part of a two-book deal, and they waited very, very patiently for years for another book. So I thought about the small presses I’ve always liked, and Sarabande was up there.As the World’s Columbian Exposition is built up, unveiled, and torn down, they each take starkly different paths towards addressing the injustices of which they become more keenly aware.Brown and I met one afternoon in downtown Chicago, after she had spent the morning teaching at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where’s she on the faculty. But a couple of weeks ago I came across this long, memoiristic piece I did for Gayle Publishers for their Contemporary Authors series, and I mention there that my daughter had just graduated from college, which happened in 1989, and that I was thinking about this book about Jewish farmers. I feel like I can’t write a story or the novel until two disparate ideas come together.That’s why Costco must have thought people here would be interested, all these people still have a sentimental attachment to the fair. I read a couple books by Florence Kelley, who’s the other character in the book alongside Jane Adams who was based on a historical figure. Not only are these people leaving Europe for a new land, they’re going to agricultural lifestyle they’re totally unfamiliar with, too.There’s a wonderful set of books called The scene where Asher goes to see where the anarchists and socialists and the so-called proletariat are gathering, that was influenced by descriptions of those types of meetings. Jews weren’t even allowed to own land where they came from.The others were all temporary, which is an incredible thing to imagine. Why don’t you place this thing in Wisconsin and have her [the main character Chaya] come to Chicago?
Some of the things that were said at the time about Italians, it’s worse than anything you even hear today.
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The other thing is that here in Chicago, and I love this, everyone whose family is from Chicago has a souvenir passed down from a grandmother or a great grandmother—handkerchief, a souvenir spoon, something, that they have from the fair. Rumpus: One of the things I liked about the novel was not only the deconstructing of the Cinderella myth, but also the deflating of the agrarian myth—that all can be healed if we go back to the land. Brown: This book is about a double immigration, in a way.
She was a radical, a communist, and eventually she became a journalist, and she ended up marrying a very wealthy man. Rumpus: I was drawn to that part of the book, how you complicate the Cinderella aspect. Their eroticism was nicely done, and what drives the wedge between herself and her brother. And I brought this book to them, slightly different, but, this book. Because, I had actually sent it in earlier form to an agent—not my original agent Virginia Barber, who had gotten out of the business by then, but to someone who she had trained—and she said, “I can’t send this to your editor, it will only depress him.” And so I folded! I was just reading an interview in the with Penelope Lively, who’s a wonderful writer, and she said “it’s a good thing I had success early because I don’t know what I would have done with rejection early on. When the FSG editor said this book isn’t what people are looking for, I told myself, I’m too old to drag my book around from one publisher to another to hear the same thing. We [Brown and her agent Gail Hochman] sent it and the editor Sarah Gorham asked if she could call me, and I thought she was going to call and let me down easy but she said “I love it,” and we were off and running. They may or may not get the attention that I’d like in New York, but they take the book seriously. Brown: With my first novel , I realized that the kind of research I like to do is soft research. I read and absorb and use what’s worth remembering.
The whole idea of this kind of Cinderella wedding, I thought, could throw into very strong relief so many questions I’m interested in: Is there a way to stay true to your class as you let yourself live very comfortably? There buy Chaya a beautiful dress—but I loved the detail that he didn’t think about the shoes. Brown: I didn’t want to make Gregory too much of a Prince Charming. Brown: By the way, I just found out last week that they’re going to do an audiobook. I had a new editor there by this point, and she read it and wasn’t the least bit interested. This isn’t your thing.” Rumpus: This isn’t your thing! But what’s interesting is that there’s not as much as you would imagine about Jews in agriculture.