Bookpleasures.com is pleased to have as our guest today, Natalie David-Weill, PhD, author of Jewish Mothers Never Die: A Novel.
Norm: Good day Natalie and thanks for participating in our interview
Please tell our readers a little bit about your personal and professional background.
Natalie: I spent my childhood between New York and Paris. After a PhD in French Literature at NYU, I moved back to Paris and became a scriptwriter for French TV.
Jewish mothers never die is my first novel. I live in Brussels and have three wonderful children.
Norm: How did the process of writing the novel differ from writing screenplays for French television thrillers?
Natalie: I’m comfortable with dialogues because of the screenplays I wrote for many years. And there are a lot here as seven mothers talk and talk endlessly about their beloved sons…
There is more to a novel than just dialogues –description, inner thoughts.
It was a new experience to have complete freedom. A bit daunting but how exciting!
Norm: What motivated you to write your book and why did you chose the mothers of Sigmund Freud, Marcel Proust, Albert Einstein, the Marx Brothers, Albert Cohen, Romain Gary, and Woody Allen?
Natalie: At first, I wanted to write a documentary, comparing the Marx Brothers’ and Einstein’s mothers, both German, Jewish and extremely ambitious for their sons. I wanted to understand how they influenced their sons, all successful but in such a different way.
One producer told me it was too literary, so I started a book, adding the others, some I knew, some I wanted to get to know.
After my first draft, I realized I had forgotten Freud, who had invented the Oedipus complex. So I started again.
Norm: The book was originally written in French. Are you satisfied with the French translation and did you help Molly Grogan translate the book?
Natalie: The translation is great. What’s wonderful when you read your own book in another language is that you discover it. Sometimes it’s better than the original, sometimes you wish you had written it differently.
There’s a real temptation to rewrite entire passages.
Norm: What was the time-line between the time you decided to write your book and publication? What were the major events along the way?
Natalie: To sell the idea of a documentary I had thought of many stories around Jewish mothers, so years passed and I was still wondering if these mothers were at all responsible for their sons’ success. Was there a recipe? I couldn’t let go, so I decided to write a novel.
It took me three years to get it published.
I began researching for about a year. And after another year of writing, I gave a first draft to an editor at Robert Laffont. Then I rewrote it.
Norm: What do you want your novel to do? Amuse people? Provoke thinking?
Natalie: Both. As soon as you say the two words “Jewish” and “Mother” together, people start laughing.
There are so many great jokes on the subject. But are they really “good mothers”?
There’s a difference between requiring success and wishing for your child to be happy.
Norm: Where did you get your information or ideas for your book?
Natalie: I read the authors’ works, biographies, critics, watched their movies and I imagined what I didn’t know, once I had gotten a sense of their characters.
For example, no biography ever mentions Minnie Marx’ favourite dish. I had their pictures pinned on my office wall and I often looked at them for inspiration.
Norm: It is said that writers should write what they know. Were there any elements of the book that forced you to step out of your comfort zone, and if so, how did you approach this part of the writing?
Natalie: When I began writing the novel, I was more comfortable sticking to historically accurate facts. I got out of my comfort zone when I started inventing parts of the mother’s personal lives; the details of their relationship to their husbands and children. I felt like I could be betraying them.
Norm: Where can our readers find out more about you and Jewish Mothers Never Die: A Novel?
Natalie: Everything is on the Internet as you know, radio and TV shows, conferences, articles, but in French. The best thing is to read the novel.
Norm: What is next for Natalie David-Weill?
Natalie: A “real” novel, without historical facts, famous people and very few Jewish mothers.
Norm: As this interview draws to a close what one question would you have liked me to ask you? Please share your answer.
Natalie: What is your favorite passage from your book?
“ Jeanne Proust sighed noisily several times. 'If Jeanne is sighing, that can only mean one thing,' Minnie Marx observed, stopping the dance and catching her breath. She’s worrying about Marcel again. Rebecca halted as well but kept time to the music with one foot. But we agreed! No more talking about the children!”
Norm: Bon chance avec votre roman et merci.
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