Friday, April 27, 2007

It's my party and I'll muse if I want to

Today I was shopping at the local dollar store for paper plates for the book launch party, which is in only a few days. There were bright yellow or blue ones, and then there were fancy ones, black with "Happy Birthday" in swirly type on them. I almost bought those, because on Tuesday May 1st we are celebrating not only the extremely protracted arrival of my book but also my great-grandfather's 154th birthday. The birthday plates were much more expensive, however, and knowing my great-grandfather, he would have objected to the extravagance. So plain plates it will be, but the thought is there.

It's funny that I write "knowing my great-grandfather" though he died in 1909 and I, contrary to my childrens' suspicions, was born some decades after that. Jacob Gordin and I have spent so much time together over the years that I do know him. And also, in many ways he was a lot like my dad, whom I certainly knew, and who wouldn't have noticed the plates at all because he would be too busy eating whatever was on them.

He would have loved the book launch, loved all the Russian food my daughter and I bought today, and the fact that his dark-eyed granddaughter is going to prepare it, mountains of sour cream and all. My mother and her sister, who are in their eighties, are coming to Toronto for this event, and so are several far-flung friends. Other friends have been calling, sending emails and notes, even funny email cards with music and animated dogs. So many people are happy for me. Something new has arrived in the world, and everyone who knows me understands how much that matters to me. And in a way matters to them too; when each of us achieves something after a long struggle, we all do too.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Holding the Taj Mahal of books

India is a country of the most extreme contrasts, full of exquisite treasure and garbage, magnificent, appalling. Agra is typical - an unspeakably filthy town where in the parking lot men battle over tourists, shouting and shoving. From the parking lot you go through extensive security and more aggressive touts pushing postcards and souvenirs. And then you stand weeping in front of the most beautiful building on earth, the mystical Taj Mahal, graceful, serene, lovelier than any photograph. Perfect. And then you go out again through the touts, the skinny dogs and cows, the garbage and mud.

I kept a diary throughout the trip of course, and am working at transcribing it to see if there's a story. I mean, of course there's a story, but is there one to publish? The short answer is yes.

The day after I returned, woozy with jet lag, the doorbell rang; it was a FedEx man with a box. "It's heavy," he said. "It's books." "I know," I said, heart pounding. I slit open the box and there they were, my author's copies of the most gorgeous book in the world, the Taj Mahal of books. Syracuse has done a wonderful job - the book is as well produced as I could ever have imagined. The cover, font, chapter headings, spacing - all ideal. It has the right heft, solid but not daunting. I wonder if the world will agree. The next day I sat down and read the thing, and at the end was able to say that I found no typo's, and as I read I didn't scream in agony once. A wince or three - I wish I'd said that better, oooh, turgid here - but not, to my surprise, excruciating.

I wonder if the world will agree.

Two weeks later, I am still waiting to find out. It's a curious kind of limbo, this period when the book is out in the world but no one has read it yet. I've had two important reviews: from my friend Gerry Caplan and from my daughter. Gerry seemed genuinely to like it, and thrillingly, Anna told me that one day she read for five hours straight. "It's good," she said. High, high praise; I expected her to be bored with the factual, biographical parts. Now I'm preparing for the book launch, issuing invitations and copies of the book, mailing, phoning, checking, making lists, finding bits in the plays for the actors Paul Soles and Kate Trotter to perform.

But in the scramble part of me is still standing, in tears, before the Taj Mahal.