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Five debut authors discuss hope and self-preservation at Brooklyn Book Festival

Brooklyn BookBeat

September 17, 2018 By Sara Bosworth Brooklyn Daily Eagle
From left: Tadzio Koeb, Katherena Vermette, Jaap Robben, Moriel Rothman-Zecher, Chaya Bhuvaneswar and moderator Uli Beutter Cohen discuss the authors’ debut novels, centering around themes of hope, dual identity and self-preservation. Eagle photo by Sara Bosworth
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In Katherena Vermette’s debut novel “The Break,” a small indigenous community is forced to grapple with change and community identity after the shock of a violent assault. The story is told from ten different perspectives, each character recounting their versions of what led up to the night in question. “I wanted to show how we take care of each other,” Vermette, who is part of the indigenous Métis community in Winnipeg, told an audience outside Borough Hall.

The dual theme of tenacity and caretaking carried through the “Who? New!” panel, where Uli Beutter Cohen of Subway Book Review spoke with Chaya Bhuvaneswar, Tadzio Koelb, Jaap Robben, Moriel Rothman-Zecher and Katherena Vermette about their debut novels.

Robben, who has written several children’s books, makes his first foray into the world of adult fiction with “You Have Me to Love,” a story about a son helping his mother search for a father he already knows to be dead.

In Rothman-Zecher’s first novel, “Sadness is a White Bird,” a man waiting to join the Israeli army must reconcile with his Palestinian relatives.

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The two men spoke about the role of hope in their stories. Rothman-Zecher, a one-time political journalist, said he made the switch to fiction because it was easier to seek for human decency through the creation of characters than it was to find hope in the political sphere.

Robben, on the other hand, who originally aimed to write another children’s book with “You Have Me to Love,” said he ended up making the switch to adult fiction because there “was not enough hope” in the story.

Koelb’s first novel “Trenton Makes,” about a woman in New Jersey who kills her husband and then assumes his identity, is about a different kind of hope, the strange American strain of optimism and self-preservation. The “American Dream,” Koelb told the panel and the audience, has never been about what can be created for the community, but instead has always revolved around what we can do for ourselves.

Vermette and Bhuvansewar (“White Dancing Elephants”, who both wrote about violence against people in marginalized communities, gave a clear message about the tenacity of those who have become casualties of American-style self-interest. “We’ve survived violence before, and we’ve survive it again,” said Bhuvansewar, “and we will not be forgotten.”


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