Another Get Lit author

Here are some excerpts from an email conversation with Tova Mirvis, who lives in Newton Centre and is the author of two novels about Orthodox Jewish society. She's also appearing at the Get Lit 2008 event. 
On Thursday, she'll discuss the "liberating" effect of reading Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter in high school -- here's a preview:
"But for me, reading it as a student in a tiny Orthodox Jewish school in Memphis, steeped in religious rules and texts, the book had a huge impact on me. 

 Somewhere during one of those high school years, I read The Scarlet Letter. Here was blustery New England; here were other people’s rules which were so strict that they made my own seem giddily free-spirited. The distance from that world to mine: here was escape. Suddenly I could be here and yet not here. It didn’t matter, at least not quite as much, that I was in a school of eighteen girls, six in my class, most of whom I’d known since nursery school; it didn’t matter as much that I was already feeling an exhilarating, terrifying restlessness that I tried to hide as best I could. But I have to think that I loved this book not just for its distance  to my world but also for its proximity. Hester Prynne, I felt like I knew her. Here, finally, was the experience of someone living inside such strict laws, bound by them, marked by them, yet oddly sustained by them. Nothing was stripped away, nothing made nice for the sake of restoring the semblance of piety. Here was sin, but also belief, doubt, compassion and vengeance."

I also asked her what she thinks authors get right (or wrong) in their characterizations of Jewish women.
"I think that authors get it right when they stop thinking about the fact that they are writing about Jewish women, (or any member of an ethnic group,) and think about the individual. The pitfalls in writing about a member of an ethnic group are to exoticize, to see them as other, to focus solely on membership to the group, rather than the individual who lives inside that group. Underneath any semblance of sameness, inside tights systems of shared beliefs and lifestyle, there are individuals lurking, with the usual mix of doubt, fear, passion, ambivalence and contradiction. Sometimes people who’ve read my work will say, “are you saying that all Jewish women do this?” And I just laugh. Of course not. There’s never an “All Jewish women,” just as there is never an “all women.” What I love about writing fiction is that my job isn’t to write about what everyone does. It’s to hew one character from the larger mass and to make them as specific and as real and as alive as I can."
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