I believe the dead can inhabit us if their stories and lives are powerful. I wrote The White Space Between in honour and memory of my mother-in-law (my shviger in Yiddish), who was a survivor of the Holocaust and lost virtually all of her large, vibrant family in that atrocity.
Though there is nothing redeeming about the Holocaust or any atrocity, there is a shard of hope, healing, and faith in the act of writing.
As a woman, as a writer, as a woman writer, I hope to be a force of connection, a force of connection between the dead and the living, the past and the present, the lost and the found .
This gripping mother-daughter story and love song to Montreal reminds us that the memories and secrets we hide and bury are the very pieces that make us—and our loved ones—who we are. A lyrical and page-turning journey that will burrow under your skin into your heart, lingering long after the covers are closed.
A GLIMPSE OF FAMILY HISTORY
My mother-in-law, Brana Hochova, was one of nine children born to a Hasidic Orthodox Jewish family in Solotvino, or Slatinske Doly, as she called it, a small rural village in the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains in Czechoslovakia. Her father, Mehel and her mother, Chanca lived in the front room of Grandfather Yankel’s house on Synagogue Street. Her father, Mehel, was known for his extraordinary height, 6 foot, 5 inches, and in fact, his last name, Hoch, means tall in German. My husband, Michael, is named for his grandfather Mehel and has, indeed, inherited the “tall gene” standing 6 feet, 8 inches in his stocking feet. ((No, he doesn’t play basketball! Yes, I am short!) Our children have also inherited the legacy of tall stature.
Brana was one of three children in her family who survived the Holocaust. The remainder of the Hochs were murdered at the hands of the Nazis.
My mother-in-law, Brana, was imprisoned in several concentration camps including Mauthausen and Buchenwald. She died at 52 years old, much too young, a legacy of the camps. One of her younger sisters, Sylvia, was hidden on farms by righteous Gentiles. One brother escaped into the British army.
All three of these survivors have now passed on.
Though my novel is not literally my family’s story, it is inspired by them, and written in honour of them and the millions of families like them: the hunted and the hidden, the lost and the found, the survivors and their children, and our children.
Some historians claim there are no survivors of the Holocaust if to survive means to come through unscathed.
But if we look at the word survive and take it apart: “sur” means over and “vive” to live. Survivors, their children, and their children’s children will likely re-live the experience, over and over and over again, both a blessing and a necessary burden. We will never forget to remember.
WHAT'S THE NOVEL ABOUT?
A family’s story lies buried in the soil of a graveyard in Prague, in the old neighbourhoods of Montreal, in the serenity of a small New Jersey town, and in the memory of Jana, a woman finally asked to bear witness.
Far from the landscapes of her earlier life, Jana raised her daughter, Willow, on the beautiful scrapbooks she kept of her own childhood in Prague, before World War II. But her stories end with the beginning of the Holocaust, and Willow knows little of her mother’s life during the war and its aftermath. Jana’s memories of this time are so guarded that Willow is uncertain who her father is—the answer left behind in Montreal, the city where Jana first settled after the war.
A gifted marionette-maker and puppeteer, Willow is a loner and artist who finds more comfort in her creations than in human relationships. Her mother’s struggle to spare her the pain of the past has left her incomplete and longing to find her missing history.
When both Willow and Jana find themselves back in Montreal, the past can no longer be hidden. New loves are found and lost loves rekindled, as mother and daughter journey to Prague to unearth the secrets that can no longer stay buried.