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, which was made into a movie starring Meryl Streep and Niam Nelson.
Throughout her career, her work has drawn stellar reviews.
The only other thing besides the museum that’s still there from the Exposition is one bridge. I went through Drieser’s whole book very carefully searching for an epigraph, and I found this: “When a girl leaves her home at eighteen, she does one of two things.
So I’m walking around there one day, and what I think of as a poet’s metaphor comes to my mind. Either she falls into saving hands and becomes better, or she rapidly assumes the cosmopolitan standard of virtue and becomes worse.” I didn’t end up using it, because it’s just too frontal, but I love it. You can look at it as about class and the Gilded Age and all the rest of it, but it’s also a Bildungsroman, a story about someone growing up and learning how to live, making her choices. My first novel , is about an immigrant lawyer, the mother, who has her ideals about what is the right way to live, and her adult daughter, who has different ideas.
I don’t know how they’re going to handle Asher’s chapters, all that wordplay. The other thing that’s happened for the book—and I don’t even know if I should say this because I want people to patronize independent bookstores—but Costco ordered a thousand copies, just for their Chicago stores. Rumpus: But some of your books have done quite well. That is the only one that sold a lot of copies, because the marketing and the timing just worked out, and they did a movie. But there’s only so much that’s under your control. She said, “Oh, this isn’t the Rosellen Brown people expect. There are a few things, and I had a sister-in-law with family who had lived on a farm. I tried to learn what I could about that, but often I just went with intuition.
It was on the bestseller list for four weeks or something. I don’t know if anyone back East is ever going to hear about it. But for the Columbian Exposition, there are a million books.
Some of the things that were said at the time about Italians, it’s worse than anything you even hear today.
As with all my books, I didn’t have any idea of where it was going to go. I wanted to try to reconstruct this, the Columbian Exposition, this beautiful, beautiful place, that somehow my character wormed her way into. She was drawn to him almost despite his wealth, which is a flip. And she took it to FSG and she asked two editors what they would do with it. There are so many good books that don’t get published, better books than anything you’ve ever read!
And there was one other thing playing in the back of my mind—I’m a very bad storyteller, and I have to get my ideas from somewhere, like from other books or articles—which is that I read about a woman who worked in a cigar factory, Rose Pastor Stokes. Instead of a having a woman trying to make herself physically appealing to attract wealth, she has a libidinous motive. And John Glusman, who had just had a child—so he was in the fatherly mode and the book is about parents—he loved the book, and so I worked with him for two books. “Full many a flower is born to blush unseen.” So what happened with as part of a two-book deal, and they waited very, very patiently for years for another book. So I thought about the small presses I’ve always liked, and Sarabande was up there.
This book has been in and out of my desk drawer and changing enormously for about thirty years. That didn’t happen with this book until I moved to Chicago.
It started when I was living in New Hampshire—which is the home of our heart, in a lot of ways, though I love Chicago—and originally it was set there. We were subletting our first year near the Museum of Science and Industry, which you may know is the only remaining structure from the Columbian Exposition. So all of a sudden it occurred to me: forget New Hampshire.
The protagonist, Chaya, immigrates with her family from Russia, and after several miserable years on their failing communal farm runs away to the big city.