We have a special treat this week and for the 2019 Summit at UNLV next week. Once again Georgia McBride from Month9Books is sending an author to hang out with us and be on the panel. This time it is Clare Di Liscia and her book had its debut yesterday! Clare has been kind enough to give us some insight into the inspiration for her book. It sounds fantastic! I can't wait to meet her and to listen to her talk about her book.
I am always amazed by the creativity of authors and teachers. Every time I get a chance to chat with them, I learn something new. Reading Clare's blog post was no exception. I kept imagining how a creative teachers might pair this novel with other novels inspired by the events of WWII. Check out what she has to say.
WHEN FANTASY IS BORN OF HISTORY
This image haunted me, ingrained permanently in my mind. I could taste the salt in the air as he sweated, desperate to outpace his adversaries. Listening to these stories, the same question always popped in my head: Why? Why did these brutes attack him? Where were his parents? Why didn’t a teacher or someone step up?
Where was justice?
A little-known tragedy befell the Sephardic population of the island of Rhodes during World War II. For a better understanding, this article can be a useful reference. Long story short, an island with a population of thousands of peaceful people experienced unfathomable anti-semitic discrimination, which came to a head and led to massive migration right before Nazi occupation. The remaining population suffered from a massive famine between 1944-45, which wiped out nearly a third of the island, and nearly all of the Jewish families were murdered in death camps. The population was reduced to a few hundred individuals.
By now you may be asking: How does this pertain to the YA fantasy novel Neliem?
Significantly, he also had a daughter. A daughter who liked to make up stories and draw pictures and was always asking “why?”.
So I have this very real and very troubling family history. It is completely factual and, as we know, reality is sometimes harsh. While hearing these stories, I started filling in the gaps with the what-ifs. What if it wasn’t a boy? What if it was a girl, and someone I identify with? She could be someone tough and beautiful, but by no means an average girl who bends to someone else’s will. Instead, she’s a fighter, who’s smart enough and brave enough to use whatever tools she has at her disposal—even drawing inspiration from her enemies’ own legend in order to survive.
This unique character deserved a unique name. And thus, Oriana was born.
How would someone like Oriana, set apart from the other subservient girls, fit in with her own people? She lives on a small island that doesn’t even have electricity, where she collects water every morning from a well. She comes from a culture where girls don’t speak out, let alone act out. Everything about Oriana stands out.
But I still needed to flesh her out. What if, unlike my father, she struck back when attacked?
Maybe it’s not even herself she’s protecting but others that need help. Perhaps she finds wounded animals in the island and heals them.
How would she do this? Would someone help her? No, she’ll have to help herself and make her own rules, which will only get her into more trouble.
Next I added elements of my grandmother and grandfather’s love story. My grandmother Eleonora was considered the most beautiful girl on the entire island. After WWI, my grandfather, a handsome Italian soldier, arrived and fell desperately in love with someone he had no business to claim. Theirs was a mixed marriage between a Sephardic Jew and a Catholic. Oh, no. The forbidden. Intriguing, right?
This bit of history became Ezra Mercer in my story: a complete stranger who Oriana at once considers to be the enemy, as she should. Yet this mysterious, dashing boy turns out to be the only one brave enough to offer Oriana his hand. He comes from the supposedly rich Hugganoff family from the mainland. He has no business in the small island of Madera, let alone selecting a wife from the Outcast population.
I transposed reality into fantasy. I mean, that is how my grandparents got together. An impossible match, made possible through true love. But more importantly, I used reality to give a heartbeat to a fictional story. Because now Oriana believes that love is possible for a girl known as NELIEM. Which means this fierce, self-effacing fighter suddenly has something to lose.
Drawing seeds from my family’s stories, I gradually grew my own small garden. Loosely based on actual events, I reimagined history with ancestral ghosts, magical traditions, and thus an endless source of new possibilities. In creating two distinct and conflicting cultures, one based on Judaism and the other paganism, I took reality and remolded it, challenging the norms while creating a vibrant, exciting world.
I took something old and made it new.
CRITICAL THINKING AND ANALYSIS
- Discussion Prompt: Create a T-chart to compare and contrast the real events on Rhodes with the events in NELIEM. When and where does real history show up in the book? How is reading NELIEM similar to and different from reading a traditional history book? What do you gain from reading a fiction story based on history, compared to what you gain from reading a historical narrative from a person or textbook?
- Creative Writing Prompt: Briefly describe a story from your family history or a historical event. Take the main “characters” and events and imagine how it could have gone differently if it happened to a different person or in a different world. Write a page describing this new situation.
- Genre Discussion Prompt: Take something that happened to you recently that had an emotional impact, and write it down in 2-3 sentences. Now, re-write those sentences happening in a fantasy setting. Now re-write it happening in a historical fiction setting. What had to change? What stayed the same?
Thank you so much for having me on the blog. I look forward to the Educational Summit next week.