“You didn’t mention the ceviche.” I quipped – “No, I didn’t” said our sardonic waiter in a deadpan as heavy as the woodwork in the Tudor steakhouse where Sara and I dined with editor Carolyn Yoder after Sara’s receipt of the Jane Addams Peace Award for children’s books in the shadow of the UN building here in NYC .
So, I steered clear of the ceviche while I freeloaded upon the celebratory repast of the two smart and funny women responsible for the success of Sara’s first novel. Here is the text for the acceptance speech that Sara gave – I might as well let her tell the story – I mean, she’s an award winning author and all…
Thank you to the committee. I am honored and humbled by your recognition. I want to thank my editor, Carolyn Yoder who took on both a first novel and my insecurities with expert aplomb, guiding this book to be the best it could be. Thanks to my cousin Lisa Holbrook Lofthouse and her husband Dean for coming today and Lisa, for being an early reader. Thank you to Michael Salinger, for your sharp eye, unflagging support and wicked sense of humor.
I was having dinner with my writer’s group a while back. Keep in mind we don’t exchange writing, we drink margaritas and share stories, feeding the spirit. After discussing a particularly dark and tumultuous news day, my friend Thrity Umrigar brightened and said, “at least we don’t have polio anymore.”
Of course, new viruses crop up all the time, but Thrity’s right. The polio of our youth is gone. This is gift of aging. A perspective unavailable to the young, survival stories that offer wisdom and hope.
In 1954 we still had polio. The McCarthy era was cresting, immigrants from Europe flooded our cities, Russia and the threat of communism loomed in the headlines as well as in libraries, schools and workplaces. “What’s worse,” my protagonist Marjorie, asks her mother, a Nazi or a Commie?” A question I remember asking my mom as a kid. Today, I visit schools frequently jovially wag my finger at kids telling them to take notes, “if you live long enough your life becomes history.”
Pervasive then as now, a destructive fear of “the other” flourished, fed by hyperbolic political gossip that warned, urged us to not trust one another as humans. Such fear points only to our differences, demanding conformity. When Marjorie tries to hide from Inga because she is different, her mother Lila says, “different is what everyone is, what they should be. When people try too hard to be the same, that’s when the shooting starts.” Having lived through the fallout from two world wars, Lila has perspective.
This book was born from a story I couldn’t fit into a poem, one I occasionally told at dinners with friends — the time my WWII veteran father invited a German vet over to our house. Both former tank commanders, they spent the afternoon pouring over maps on the living room floor, recounting battle stories of their service under Patton and Rommel. When he left, I asked my dad, “was Mr. Holtzer a Nazi?” My dad slapped me on the back and said, “war’s over kid.” My dad also once told me that it’s the soldiers’ job to make the war, but then it’s also their job to make the peace.
This story brings me hope, and in writing The Enemy, sharing my little piece of history, my wish is that it brings that same feeling to others, sparks more conversation, inspires more shared stories, all of which make the world a more peaceful place, understanding that the real enemy is aggressive conformity. And yes, I am hopeful. After all, we don’t have polio any more.