Anna Rosner Blay
BOOK LAUNCH - Sunday 9th May 2004
A Word from the Publisher
When Anna Rosner Blay’s last book, Sister, Sister, was released in 1998 it must have struck a chord with readers because, despite a modest marketing campaign, it sold extremely well. More to the point, readers loved it. Many contacted Anna to tell her in person how it had affected them.
As someone who had known Anna for many years without realising she was a writer, I rang her shortly after reading that book. I spoke glowingly about the reading experience and offered – sight unseen – to publish her next book. Anna received my comments with detached thanks, I thought, and we went our separate ways.
For several years she worked on Not Paradise, with the results you are holding in your hands now. I am grateful she has chosen Hybrid Publishers as her publisher for this title.
While I would not say Anna is unaware of her talent, she is at the same time modest, and forever taken aback by enthusiastic readers, as if her work could be written by anyone.
As if !
I consider Not Paradise such an important work that for the one of the few times in a long publishing career, I am speaking at a launch. Usually I am content to stay in the background, involved in all the preparations that make a book happen – from the decision to publish, to organising the editing, design, printing, distribution, marketing, publicity, administration, and so on – while avoiding the limelight.
Anna Rosner Blay is a writer of extraordinary courage and conviction, who reveals the poetry of life as well as the prose.
Certainly she reveals the lives of survivors of the Holocaust in a way that has seldom been done: she concentrates on their lives after the War, on who they became. Anna has taken the lives of four women and made them live on the page. However, as you read you feel she is uncovering the experience of thousands of survivors rather than just the four presented.
But Anna does more than that. At the end of each chapter she reveals how the experience of the Holocaust has reverberated in her own life, especially in the unravelling of her own marriage and its eventual dissolution. When we spoke about her intention to incorporate her own life in the book, she wondered: Was it disrespectful to the survivors, let alone the victims, for her to be placing her own ‘petty’ story on the record in the context of the immense suffering of the victims and survivors? That question was addressed most persuasively by Dr Paul Valent, whom Anna consulted. Dr Valent commented that the children and grandchildren of survivors need to have their own lives validated, and not minimised by the disproportionate suffering of the Holocaust victims and survivors.
For second and third generation descendants of survivors, Anna’s uncovering of the survivors’ lives as well as the impact of their experiences on her life, offers a clear-eyed and compassionate analysis of how their lives may have been affected by their parents’ and grandparents’ traumas.
Over the years a lot of people have asked me what a publisher does. Many have said, Oh, you print books, do you? A publisher’s first job is to decide whether to bring a particular project, a book, to the market. That’s quickly stated, but often a slow and tortuous process in practice. Next, you need to select and organise the team who convert the author’s words into the finished book you see here today.
Ann Likhovetsky designed the cover – strikingly so. She put a lot of thought into the design, witness this explanation by her of her work:
The front cover depicts the four women walking towards light - representing future and hope. They are not quite there yet but they are slowly disappearing into the distance towards it. The reason why these women have their backs to the viewer and are not sharp is because it’s not important what these women look like as long as it is obvious that they are women and they are in the process of movement. These women are united by the horror of their experience during the Holocaust. At the foreground they are leaving behind their dark past, represented through the fragments from the Holocaust such as barbed wire, little huts from the concentration camps and burning fire. In essence, the cover depicts four women walking away from the dark past towards a future filled with hope and light.
If you find, as I do – and as thousands of readers of Sister, Sister did – that Anna’s writing is clear, eloquent, and moving, the major reason is that Anna is an exceptionally fine writer, a writer who moves people, who touches lives.
But if many are ignorant about what a publisher does, so are they unclear about the role of an editor. Does the editor merely correct the spelling and grammatical mistakes? Some do. But not Alex Skovron, the editor for this project. Alex has taken infinite pains to help the author get the text just right: querying facts, checking references, seeking the exact right word, the aptest phrase, the most appropriate tone, ensuring consistency of presentation. Like most outstanding editors, Alex doesn’t impose his tastes and wishes on the author. Rather, he collaborates with the author through a series of exhaustive (and exhausting) meetings so that she revisits episodes, reworks passages, deals with ambiguities and contradictions, and overall ensures the finished work stands up as a whole, something to be proud of.
Many of you will know him primarily as a poet. However, Alex is an editor of rare distinction, and I thank him for his brilliant editing, commitment (beyond the call of duty) to the project, and general support with other aspects ranging from typesetting and book design decisions, to marketing ideas, and more.
Others involved in the process at various stages include our publicist Kerry Conway, distributor Dennis Jones, printer Ligare, and our host this afternoon, Leonie Fleiszig and Makor Library, to whom we are truly grateful for their support and assistance.
Not Paradise is being launched this afternoon by Dr George Halasz, consultant child and adolescent psychiatrist and honorary senior lecturer in the Department of Psychological Medicine at Monash University.
Louis de Vries