The Margaret Mitchell Museum is actually a storefront that sits to the left of the Margaret Mitchell house. It all faces busy Peachtree Street, and as the four of us made our way in the lobby, a volunteer approached us, checked our name from the list, and nodded the way to the presentation area -- a good size room that held about 150 chairs.
The walls were stark white -- the black metal ceiling held track lighting -- and the place was as austere as a warehouse, quite the contrast to the cozy warm bookstore where I saw two authors in July.
Two tall gray columns blocked some seating, or at least you would have to crane your neck a little either way to see around it, so Celia and I made our way to the sixth row, center aisle left. We took two of the five seats and saved two for Marilyn and Linda who were joining the Margaret Mitchell Museum as members in order to receive discounts on future events.
As Celia and I talked, I took in the surroundings.
Again, mostly women, and again, the crowd is older. This time, however, the male population was represented but less than 10%. Dressed better, this group to see Diamant wore bold colors, silks and cottons and linens, a strong colorful scarf slung across the shoulder here, a flashy black and white ensemble there, and plenty of diamonds and name brand watches adorned the arms and fingers of the Diamant fans.
Cars whizzed by outside, slinging water at the windows, a man sold beer and wine at 5 dollars for a measly two ounces in a plastic cup as well as soft drinks and water for two dollars a pop. The room buzzed and hummed with conversation, laughter, and anticipation.
Out the right side of the room was a double door with a view of the Margaret Mitchell historical house, nicely renovated and preserved for posterity. Red brick, black metal encased windows showing lacy curtains, beige gabled front for the roof, the house was unremarkable -- modesty and simplicity its focal point. Even the green hedge that surrounded it showed it for what is was --- just a house with a memorable, historical tenant.
As a reader of Gone with The Wind as a child, I am familiar with a black and white photo of a young Mitchell sitting at her typewriter as she tapped out GWTW, and the apartment where she wrote the novel is situated on the back, and I think, two flights up.
I did think of that photo and Mitchell as I looked out the window and imagined what the house looked like in the 1930’s. Frankly, it’s beyond my imagination since the looming, enormous white marbled office building dwarfs the house from across 14th Street. Incongruent, anyone?
But I digress.
After an introduction by a museum volunteer and a round of applause for the graphic designer who did the programs, Anita Diamant approached the Plexiglas podium with a glass of water and a smile on her face.
Wearing a black long shift, red sweater, and her neckline boosting a gold medallion with matching small gold hoops in her ear, Diamant looked like an instructor --erudite, articulate, and witty, she could easily be a college professor or an news analyst.
Small in stature, glasses perched on her nose, she immediately addressed the crowd in a lovely voice with “thanks for coming out in the rain to see me. It really makes no sense.”
We laughed, and then she told us she would read from her book Day After Night, and then take questions at the end from the audience. When she asked if anyone had read the book, only one woman raised her hand and Diamant quipped, “well, it is brand new.”
LOL -- I couldn’t tell if she was disappointed.
Diamant set up the reading of excerpts from Day After Night by telling of how the idea of the story came up to her in 2000. She was in Israel with her fifteen year old daughter and accompained her daughter and her high school classmates on field trips. One field trip was to in interment camp in Israel of which Diamant said, "was little known outside of Israel."
After WW II, the British set up this camp in Palestine to deal with the influx of refugees and immigrants who fled Europe and sought asylum in Israel. The historical event that the book tells of is the miracle escape of 200 of them across the Mediterranean in October of 1945. Diamant emphasized that this was an immigrant problem, not a continued horror of what had happened in those other places.
Diamant focuses the fictional novel on four girls, victims of trauma who were facing an uncertain future -- a situation that perhaps forces them to bond, at least on some level.
She read passages from the novel beginning with the prologue and then proceeded to read short snippets about each of her main characters, all young women.
One lovely lady to my left, silver gray hair, dressed in black ankle cotton pants, turquoise jacket, and thick silver jewelry at her neck and arm, listened to Diamant’s reading with a copy of the novel in her lap. As Diamant read, she tapped the novel with her finger and nodded her head.
At the end, Diamant answered questions. One reader asked about how she came up with the four characters, and she admitted her characters were make-believe but loosely based on characters that she had perhaps read elsewhere. For her, character names were a very difficult part of pulling the novel together as she found herself changing the names of them as she progressed in writing their stories.
I thought, "Egads, that would be so hard to have to go back and change them throughout all those pages. Imagine how many times the name would be used.”
She also told us that she did research and actually able to interview one of the detainees at Atlit. This woman remembered very little, and Diamant noted that she got only “one and half pages of notes, which is very little from an interview like that.”
She also said that she had come to a conclusion about the generation who survived the horrors of WWII. She said they were ashamed to have been the one to live instead of their mother, father, or brother who were somehow more deserving than themselves. She added, “they were encouraged to move forward. Memory is the enemy of happiness.”
Unlike the modern world which is all about memoirs, confessions, and therapy.
When she's writing a novel, she will not read fiction. She said, “I don’t want to somehow take a turn of phrase, an idea, or a thought from what I am reading and somehow believe it was mine.”
Another question came up about how she wrote -- what was her approach. She answered, “When I start writing, I hope it has an end.”
We all laughed. She then added, “I do know where it ends - I just hope I can get to it.”
“I don’t want to read grim books," Diamant told us, “People [coming back to life after this type of trauma] “must find their sense of humor again.”
Amen. I know I look for it everywhere -- and my trauma is sometimes the grocery store.
In reference to questions about her novel The Red Tent and The Harbor, she wanted us to know: “Women’s stories are untold in history until the last century. That’s why they are my focus.”
She wrapped up her remarks, so she could get to the book purchasing and the signing, [as my friend Celia said -- she’s here to sell books], with a cute poem from Billy Collins titled “Envoy.”
She says that Collins is not taken too seriously because he is accessible, but she finds his verse right on the money. (no pun intended)
I felt smart listening to her.
I told the other three that I had no desire to read this book.
They were all, "why? I think it sounds so good."
I answered that I've read enough novels about interment camps, the Holacaust, the concentration camps, and the abuse and atrocities that comes about with such cruelty -- I don't think I need this one too.
They had me three to one.....
I'd rather read another book by her -- perhaps The Last Days of Dogtown.
Regardless, this is so my thing... listening to writers and being happy that I am a blogger.