What inspired me to write the series, Still Life with Memories?
Natasha, the renowned pianist suffering from early-onset Alzheimer's in my book Apart from Love (volume I and II of the series, woven together) kept coming back to haunt me. Her character was not an easy one to develop. The primary challenge is that she has no voice. She is utterly silent, which makes her son Ben hope—at first—that she can be reached, that he can 'save' her.
“There is no way to tell if she has heard me. Her gaze is fixed, as steadily as before, on the same small pane of glass, through which the sun is blazing; which makes it hard to figure out what she sees out there.
I push forward, aiming to view it, somehow, from her angle, which at first, is too hard to imagine:
In my mind I try, I see a map, the entire map of her travels around the world. A whole history. It has been folded over and again, collapsed like a thin tissue, into a square; which is suspended there—right in front of her—a tiny, obscure dot on that window.
And inside that dot, the path of her journey crisscrosses itself in intricate patterns, stacked in so many papery layers. And the names of the places, in which she performed back then, in the past—London, Paris, Jerusalem, San Petersburg, New York, Tokyo—have become scrambled, illegible even, because by now, she can no longer look past that thing, that dot. She cannot see out of herself.
She is, I suppose, confined.”
My novel, The Music of Us (volume III in the series) gives voice to her.
“Once I find my way back, my confusion will dissipate, somehow. I will sit down in front of my instrument, raise my hand, and let it hover, touching-not-touching the black and white keys. In turn they will start their dance, rising and sinking under my fingers. Music will come back, as it always does, flowing through my flesh, making my skin tingle. It will reverberate not only through my body but also through the air, glancing off every surface, making walls vanish, allowing my mind to soar.
Then I will stop asking myself, Where am I, because the answer will present itself at once. This is home. This, my bench. The dent in its leather cushion has my shape. Here I am, at times turbulent, at times serene. I am ready to play. I am music.”
This novel starts out at 1970, when she starts to succumb to her illness, and goes a generation back, to 1941, the time that she and Lenny first fell in love. This is the story of their love.
And my new release, Dancing with Air, shows her at her peak, back in the months leading to D-Day:
Then—just over the plaintive bleating of the sheep and the chaotic blasts rocking the mine—came a different sound. I listened to it in disbelief. It was the most wonderful sound in the entire world: a hum, the low, familiar hum of my Harley.
There it was, a silhouette of the beast, with Natasha astride on top of it, hair unfurling in the wind.
I wanted to tell her how I admired her courage, the risk she took, riding it here all by herself, without my guidance, to get here. I wanted to tell her she should have stayed away. But by now I knew that for me, she would dare take any chance, come what may.
“Oh Lenny,” she said. “You look... I have no words for it.”
Overcome with sudden joy I staggered towards her.
“Come on,” she said. “Let’s go.”
In confusion I asked, “Where to?”
And Natasha said, “Anywhere, my love. Anywhere but here.”
Do I see myself in any of my characters?
At first I decided to model Anita, the girl in the center of a firestorm of passion in My Own Voice (volume I) and The White Piano (volume II) as the-opposite-of-me. Her use of language would be atrocious. She talks in sentences laden with 'like' and the dreaded double-negatives. Anita would become a bold and spontaneous spirit, anything but repressed. She would be promiscuous. Her voice would be shockingly direct.
"In my defense I have this to say: When men notice me, when the lusty glint appears in their eyes, which betrays how, in their heads, they’re stripping me naked—it’s me they accuse of being indecent.
Problem is, men notice me all the time.
How can a girl like me ever claim to be innocent? Even if I haven’t done nothing wrong, I’m already soiled, simply because of their dirty thoughts."
I do not even know how it happened, but once Anita started talking in my mind—which she did for nearly a year—I started to like her more and more. I asked myself, how would she play against Ben, who is a complex character, hesitant, highly sophisticated? How would she play against Lenny, a would-be author who is so proud of his refined expressions, when her background is so different from his? How would she measure up against his ex-wife, Natasha, the renowned pianist suffering from early-onset Alzheimer's?
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