Reading Group Questions and Topics for Discussion
A Brief Interview with the Author
Question: What drove you to write a book about the complex and emotional subject of the holocaust and the subsequent Jewish/Arab conflict?
Jean Sasson: From childhood, I loved reading. When I was around 15 years old, I saved my money to start my “book collection.” While browsing the Columbus, Georgia store that sold books, I decided to buy the one with the most pages, and walked out with “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich,” by William Shirer, in my bag! I read and re-read this book many times throughout my teenage years. From that time, I was emotionally attached to the horrific drama of the holocaust. Then, as a young woman, I traveled to live and work in Saudi Arabia, which provided me with the opportunity to get to know many Arabs. Later, I married into a Jewish family. These combined experiences with Jews and Arabs created a genuine emotional involvement in the Jewish/Arabic conflict. I always knew I’d write a book about two families, one Jewish and one Arab, and bring them together in some way. I’ve done this in Ester’s Child.
Question: What was your main goal in covering such varied history over a relatively long period of time?
Jean Sasson: That’s easy to answer. How can anyone understand anything about the current conflict without knowing something about pre-holocaust history of European Jews and pre-Israel history of Palestinian Arabs? With this in mind, I began the story of these two families from the time of pre-holocaust Poland and France and pre-Israel Palestine. Of course, to do this created a lot of history and fairly lengthy time-line.
Question: One of the most amazing facets of this book is how you were able to cover all sides of this historical conflict without seeming biased. Was this intentional, or did it come about as the story unfolded? If it was intentional, what did you have to do to create the novel in such a way that all sides seemed valid?
Jean Sasson: I assure you, this unbiased book was not intentionally written with that in mind. The story unfolded in an unbiased manner because it reflects my own feelings about Jewish people, and about Arabic people. I’ve never met anyone that I disliked because of their religion or nationality. I always judge by the kindness of the individual. If I’m going to be honest, I must admit that I’ve been accused of having stars in my eyes by both sides of this conflict, but I honestly believe that most ordinary people are truly good and are looking for a way out of conflict. Having said this, I know how difficult this can be. For Example, all you have to do is look peek into the lives of regular families to see paranoid behavior and unexplained hatred from one sibling to the other. So it is not a surprise that this ages-old conflict is so difficult to be resolved. Actually, I have many Jewish friends who tell me that they squirm when reading certain parts of the book when the Jewish government, or certain Jewish characters are portrayed as less than perfect. On the other side, I’ve had the same response from some of my Arab friends. If I’ve learned nothing else in 56 years of living, it is that mistakes are made by every human being, and by every government. My wish is that people and governments could simply admit such mistakes, brush themselves off, and reach for a better solution. Unfortunately, that’s not too common. People and governments have a hard time changing their emotional routines.
Question: How did you develop the characters and plot? Were any of the characters based on people you have met in your travels?
Jean Sasson: It took me three years to write Ester’s Child and although I knew the basis of my story, and how I wanted it to end, the plot evolved with the writing. As far as the characters based on people: Actually no, although certain traits of past and present friends might have worked their way into a few of the characters.
Question: What is your favorite part of the book?
Jean Sasson: I’ve got two favorite parts: 1) When Demetrius is describing the beauty of Palestine to the little baker, Amin, and Amin is taken back into time, remembering his youth and time there. We all look back, savoring and remembering wonderful moments in our lives. But with Amin, it is even more touching. 2) The very end of the book, when the family comes together, showing that true miracles are all around us.
Question: If you were to write a sequel, what might it look like?
Jean Sasson: No doubt, I’d jump into the lives of the next generation, Demetrius and Jordan and Michel and Christine, and bring them and their families from 1982 into and through the current situation, with all of the political and war dramas intermingled in their lives, which is happening TODAY, even as we speak, with Jews and Arabs living in Israel and Palestine.
Interview with Jean Sasson