Monday 31 August 2020

Escaping The Whale by Ruth Rotkowitz @RotkowitzRuth BLOG TOUR @AmsterdamPB @RandomTTours #EscapingTheWhale

To everyone who knows her, 28-year-old Marcia Gold leads the perfect life.  A high school guidance counselor in 1980 Brooklyn, New York who specializes in helping pregnant teens, Marcia thrives in her work. She also has a handsome, successful boyfriend who has won the approval of her Jewish, Holocaust-survivor family - no easy feat.
However, beneath the shiny surface lurks another reality. Plagued by frightening and debilitating panic attacks brought on by her family's wartime legacy and exacerbated by the Iranian hostage crisis in the news, Marcia becomes convinced that "demons" are occupying her closet and her mind. Determined to keep her terrifying secret life a secret, Marcia is pushed closer and closer to a breaking point.
A series of crises finally forces the explosion Marcia can no longer contain. Desperate to rid herself of her "demons," she concocts a plan, hoping to be reborn as a new person. Unfortunately, she discovers that her plan creates its own problems. Can she find another path out of her psychic pain, one that will lead her to true normalcy?

Escaping the Whale by Ruth Rotkowitz was published on 10 May 2020 by Amsterdam Publishers. As part of the #RandomThingsTours Blog Tour today, I'm delighted to welcome the author with a special Question and Answer post.

Escaping the Whale - Q&A with Ruth Rotkowitz

What inspired you to write this book?
As a daughter of Holocaust survivors, I was always aware of being different from my American friends and classmates. I could not pinpoint the reasons until I was a young adult, and that is why the protagonist of my novel is a young adult, a 28-year old New Yorker named Marcia Gold. As I learned more about the impact my family’s Holocaust experiences had on me, I became interested in researching the effects of inherited trauma on children of survivors. I saw a means to show, through my protagonist’s inner suffering, how this legacy hampers the attempt to lead a “normal” life.
Who inspired you to write this book?
My own experience inspired me. As I became more involved in the research, the experiences and reactions of other children of survivors inspired me. I was amazed and fascinated by the variety of reactions and coping mechanisms I discovered. When I joined the Phoenix Holocaust Association, I met many other children of survivors, who inspired me with their openness about their lives and their parents’ experiences, and with their dedication to Holocaust education. These influences all played a part in igniting my passion for my story.
Your protagonist is a guidance counselor at a large high school. Why?
This choice enabled me to address other issues that concern me. One is the challenge in education today. Marcia had originally been a social studies teacher in this high school and faced the problems involved in teaching history. She then became a guidance counselor, specializing in helping pregnant students, an ever-growing population. Not only must she deal with the stereotypes about pregnant teens among the teachers, she faces the bewilderment of her colleagues’ to her presence in the guidance office as the only female counselor.

What is the significance of the date – spring and summer 1980?
At that time, the national obsession with the Iranian hostage situation permeated the atmosphere. I vividly recall the overpowering effect of the news reports from Iran then. Marcia’s educated friends and colleagues discuss it constantly. Even the students are affected. Ironically, it reinforces in Marcia the fears she has harbored her entire life. Because of her background, her fragile psyche cannot deal with the horror playing out in the news every day.
What other messages do you want readers to gain from your novel?
The novel shows readers a well-meaning individual leading a double life. Things are not what they seem. To the outside world, everything in Marcia’s professional and personal life is great; her inner life, however, is in shambles. Plagued by fears, delusions, and high levels of anxiety, Marcia’s attempts to conceal her inner torment become more and more difficult. When pushed to the breaking point by events in the outer and inner world, she comes dangerously close to a mental breakdown and feels driven to escape – her family, her boyfriend, her job, her friends, her life. She ultimately discovers that escape is not possible, since she cannot escape from herself. It is my hope that readers will see that the price for leading a double life is too high. One must face one’s fears and problems in order to take control of one’s life.
Is the target audience for your book mainly children of Holocaust survivors?
Absolutely not. I have heard from a wide range of readers who relate to my story and my protagonist. Some have experienced inherited trauma from various life situations. Some have not personally experienced anything like it but are fascinated by the phenomenon. It helps readers understand and have compassion for others. People who have dealt with high levels of stress in relationships and in work situations, and who have experienced or been involved with someone dealing with mental illness express their appreciation for my portrayal of Marcia. As a woman, as a Jew, as a first-generation American in her immigrant family, Marcia Gold seems to have universal appeal.

Ruth Rotkowitz is a second-generation child – the daughter of Holocaust survivors from Austria. 
This has informed much of her research and writing. 
She has published fiction, non-fiction, and poetry in a variety of anthologies and literary journals, and was a staff writer and member of the editorial board of the (now-defunct) Woman’s Newspaper of Princeton, winning awards for many of her feature articles. 
She holds a B.A. and M.A. in English and has taught English on both the college and high school levels. 
She currently leads book talks in the Phoenix, Arizona area, where she lives with her husband.

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