TORONTO — Pearl Goodman has contributed to the growing corpus of books by children of Holocaust survivors with a hybrid effort. Her first published book, Peril – From Jackboots to Jack Benny (Bridgeross Communications), is part memoir because it is fact-based, and part novel because the characters’ names are not real.
Released last year, Peril (a play on the Yiddish pronunciation of her name, with obvious war-era echoes) has won praise as an original, intensely personal work, but one leavened with humour, satire and plenty of the pop culture Goodman was exposed to as a youth growing up in Toronto.
The book examines three influences that shaped her life, Goodman, a high school English and drama teacher and a psychotherapist, told audiences during Holocaust Education Week.
The first was growing up in Toronto in the 1960s, which was “very white and Anglo-Saxon in its culture and mores. As a Jewish girl I felt different. Growing up, I was very aware of the unsettling message of feeling inadequate.”
The second influence was the Holocaust, especially when her survivor parents’ memories “broke through, which [they] did frequently and incisively, when present situations resembled the past.”
And the third was television, which depicted a lifestyle “that seemed absolutely lovely to me, yet had no bearing or similarity whatsoever to the life I had.”
Goodman, 59, said she wanted to express “in story form the complexity of the circumstances of my life growing up with two Holocaust survivors. The Holocaust lives on, but the sense of it changes as the information becomes assimilated by the children who are directly affected by the behaviours and views of the parents who originally suffered the trauma.”
The author feels as though she has been passed a baton.
She doesn’t pull her punches in her depiction of her Polish-born mother, for whom even her daughter’s plans for a sleepover at a friend’s house elicit “deep rumblings of anxiety and danger.”
When Goodman wants to take in a stray cat, her mother recoils and wonders, “The Nazis killed six million Jews and you’re worried about a cat?”
Goodman says it’s a mistake to believe that when a traumatic incident ends, so does its residue.
“Nothing could be further from the truth. Traumatic events exert a huge pressure on the mind, and strain the heart and soul.
“That’s where I come in. I see myself as a kind of conduit.”
Through her book, which took four years to complete, Goodman tells her parents’ stories intertwined with her own.
“I wanted, and perhaps even more than that, needed to make sense of how the two worked together,” she explained. “It wasn’t easy to talk about my troubles growing up because they paled in comparison to what my parents had endured.”
She confesses to having harboured feelings of anger and guilt.
“I struggled with having the right to be angry and not have my voice stifled by their experience. As I wrote, I pushed myself to tell it like it was and leave it to the reader to apportion sympathy. In the end, I think I managed to give my own voice its due, my brother’s and my parents’.”
Ultimately, Goodman sought to impart a sense of hope “in a way that takes the intensity of the tragedy, tells it, accepts it as it is, works with it, and shapes it in order to make something sublime out of it.”
She sees the post-Holocaust story as “a legacy passed down from generation to generation… as precious as any heirloom.”
Asked in a brief CJN interview whether penning the book was cathartic, Goodman, normally a short story writer, said, “Writing is always cathartic for me. I wanted to tell a story. So if I succeeded, that would be really important for me.”