Release Date: September 17, 2017
About The Book:
Born and raised in a tight-knit Orthodox Jewish family, Tova Mirvis committed herself to observing the rules and rituals prescribed by this way of life. After all, to observe was to be accepted and to be accepted was to be loved. She married a man from within the fold and quickly began a family.
But over the years, her doubts became noisier than her faith, and at age forty she could no longer breathe in what had become a suffocating existence. Even though it would mean the loss of her friends, her community, and possibly even her family, Tova decides to leave her husband and her faith. After years of trying to silence the voice inside her that said she did not agree, did not fit in, did not believe, she strikes out on her own to discover what she does believe and who she really is. This will mean forging a new way of life not just for herself, but for her children, who are struggling with what the divorce and her new status as “not Orthodox” mean for them.
This is a memoir about what it means to decide to heed your inner compass at long last. To free the part of yourself that has been suppressed, even if it means walking away from the only life you’ve ever known. Honest and courageous, Tova takes us through her first year outside her marriage and community as she learns to silence her fears and seek adventure on her own path to happiness.
Q & A:
What was your motivation or inspiration in writing your memoir?
A few years ago, I wrote an essay for the New York Times about my experience of having an Orthodox Jewish divorce ceremony. In the essay, I wrote about how, as I followed the minute details of this ancient and highly regulated ceremony, I came to understand that I was leaving not just a marriage but the religious world that had shaped me. This ceremony marked the end of my willingness to stay inside a religious way of life in which I didn’t sufficiently believe.
The essay was widely shared and my inbox was flooded with emails, from family and friends, of course, but mostly from strangers — men and women, old and young, from all religious backgrounds, who wanted to share their stories with me. Stories of leaving a marriage or leaving a religion. Or stories about undergoing some sort of painful transformation. It was the most moving experience I’ve had as a writer. When I was writing the essay, I was very nervous about putting this story out into the world, but from the response, I came to realize how being honest about your story allows other people to be honest about and share their own stories. That essay, and the response, inspired me to write The Book of Separation.
How did the idea for the book come about?
In the months after that essay came out, I began to think about how to tell a larger story of leave-taking. I started thinking about how to write a book that explored what happens when you leave a world that has shaped you and that asks whether you can you leave parts of it while holding on to some of it, in my case, a closeness with family and a sense of tradition. I wanted to write a memoir about letting go and starting over, a book about learning to live with uncertainty and to heed your own voice.
How did you manage to write in such a positive way? How did you feel while you were writing this?
When I first started writing memoir, I was very nervous. In fiction, there’s always a place to hide, but in memoir, it’s you, right there, on the page. To write about yourself requires a sort of self-excavation, a willingness to ask and explore not just what happened but why it happened and what it means – it requires making yourself vulnerable and open to scrutiny, by yourself and others. I tried to commit myself to writing as honestly as I could. Every day when I sat down at my computer, I would start out by saying to myself, write honest, write true. And then the only thing to do was just start writing, fear and all.
As I wrestled with how to tell this story, I held on to something I know as a fiction writer – no story, no character, is all good or all bad. In this memoir I wanted to bring my most empathic self to the page to be able to write with both honesty and compassion, with regard to myself and those around me. I didn’t want to write from anger – sometimes I wrote from sadness and pain, but also from hope and possibility and optimism. I wanted to look at the ways we are able to forge change and reinvent ourselves and overcome fear and find our authentic voices.
What was your family’s reaction to the book?
My immediate family was very supportive; my parents and siblings understood that this was my story I was telling, and they understood why this was a story I needed to tell. And in the larger sense – not just in writing the book but in living it — I feel very grateful to have their support. Even if their religious view diverge from mine, they accept the fact that we all get to choose our beliefs and how we want to live. One of the things I wanted to ask in the book was, do you have to match the people you love, and I feel fortunate that in my family we can be close to one another even if we are not all the same.
What are your goals that you would like the reader to take away after reading your memoir?
I think that we read memoir not just to learn about the author’s experience but to think about our own lives in new ways. I was raised in a very particular world, with its own set of norms, but we all live with rules and expectations, and we all have to go through the process of deciding who we want to be. I think that at its core, The Book of Separation is a memoir about change. What happens when we feel the painful need to upend the fixed parts of our lives? What happens when we look at our lives and feel that the way we live doesn’t match what we really believe? I hope my readers will think about the role that change plays in their lives, how it carries with it both loss and the possibility for personal transformation. When reading my memoir, I hope that readers will think about the ways we all have to eventually separate from a fixed idea of who we are supposed to be and begin to forge a more authentic sense of who we might be.
How do you maintain balance in your life as an author, a mother,etc.?
I have three kids so this question has always been on my mind. I’ve written while nursing, written while juggling the needs of toddlers, written with seemingly endless sick days and snow days. I’ve fantasized about long stretches of uninterrupted time when I could hold all the pieces of a novel in my head at once. There is no solution to the eternal question of how to balance work and motherhood – and no good answer to the particular question of being a writer and a mother. I think the best thing I have been able to do is accept that there will be times I get more work done and times I get less. The balance might not be there every day but in the long run, I think you can, however imperfectly, manage to do both.
What are things that you like to do in your downtime? (hobbies,cooking, trips, reading?)
I am always an avid reader, and more recently, I have become an avid runner. It’s how I start my day, a way to focus and center myself. Someone I feel about running the same way I feel about writing – I don’t always want to do it before I set out, but once I start, I often feel a sense of exhilaration: Just keep going, I whisper to myself. I’ve also taken myself by surprise by falling in love with stand up paddle boarding. Once I was at the beach and was enthralled by the sight of someone paddle-boarding. My first thought was, there’s no way I could ever do that. And then another voice, quietly spoke up: why not?
What are the genres that you like to read?
I have always been primarily a fiction reader, but when I started writing The Book of Separation, I decided that I would devote myself to reading memoir. I wanted to immerse myself in the form, and in doing so, I fell in love with memoir. I loved the sense of intimacy that is created, the raw honesty on the page, the universality of so many stories and the feeling of entering someone else’s life.
Do you have any new books that you are writing and can you give us a hint?
As much as I love memoir, I have started to work on a new novel. It’s still in that early stage where it feels like it’s both about everything and nothing, but little by little, day by day, it is starting to take shape. I am afraid to say too much about it, because I have learned how much things can change, but for now, I’m thinking about neighbors who are at war with each other over a past grievance, about teenage girls, about an old house that sits unoccupied and for a variety of reasons, I am thinking about Timothy Leary, the psychologist who popularized LSD.
How would you like the readers to contact or connect with you?
One of the most moving and meaningful parts of having The Book of Separation out in the world has been getting so many emails from reader who want to connect and share their own stories.
I can be reached through my website Tovamirvis.com or on my author page at Facebook.com/tmirvis or on Instagram at @tovamirvis.
About The Author:
Tova Mirvis is the author of three novels, Visible City, The Outside World and The Ladies Auxiliary, which was a national bestseller. Her essays have appeared in various anthologies and newspapers including The New York Times Book Review, The Boston Globe Magazine, Commentary, Good Housekeeping, and Poets and Writers, and her fiction has been broadcast on National Public Radio. She has been a Scholar in Residence at the Hadassah-Brandeis Institute at Brandeis University, and Visiting Scholar at The Brandeis Women’s Studies Research Center. She lives in Newton, MA with her three children.