Tucson author Lauren B. Grossman found the inspiration for her second novel, “The Golden Peacock,” in a souvenir from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. When visiting the museum about a decade ago, Grossman was handed the identity card of a Holocaust survivor, randomly selected from a bin. She did a double-take when she saw that she and Dora Unger shared the same birthday (30 years apart), so she saved it.
In 2012, after spending a year promoting her first novel, “Once in Every Generation,” Grossman was ready to get back to writing, but wasn’t sure where to start. She stumbled upon the card while cleaning out a desk drawer and said to herself, “There’s a story here.”
Grossman began her research for the book with the information provided on the identity card. Dora had left for England on one of the last Kindertransports (children’s transports) — a series of rescue efforts that brought thousands of Jewish refugee children to Great Britain from Nazi-occupied countries in Europe between 1938 and 1940. When a friend invited Grossman to join her on a trip to London, she got a letter of introduction to the British Library’s archives from an English professor at the University of Arizona, and continued her investigation there, digging up details about the Kindertransports and the United Kingdom during World War II.
“The Golden Peacock,” named after a Yiddish lullaby, begins in October 1938, a month before the coordinated attack on German Jews that came to be known as Kristallnacht. An axe flies through the kitchen window as Jana Lutken and her family hide from a violent anti-Semitic mob roaming the streets of Frechen.
Sixty years later, American author Rainee Allen finds Jana in a British nursing home, hoping to learn more about her life as the basis for a novel. Jana suffers from early onset Alzheimer’s and a visit from a young doctor triggers an onslaught of painful childhood memories.
“Imagine the horror of living through the Holocaust, then creating a somewhat normal life, if you can call it a normal life, for yourself: getting married, having children. And then, at the end of your life, in your waning years, you have to relive the Holocaust all over again because of Alzheimer’s,” says Grossman, citing a study from Israel that 20 percent of Holocaust survivors over the age of 80 have Alzheimer’s.
Without giving too much away, let’s just say that Rainee’s quest to discover why this particular doctor is a trigger for Jana gets her entangled with Nazi-hunters and Nazi-sympathizers, and comes with some serious plot twists.
On her website, Grossman describes herself as “living and writing in a world of disAbilities [sic].” In addition to exploring the plight of dementia among Holocaust survivors, “The Golden Peacock” includes a wheelchair-bound character with multiple sclerosis. Not coincidentally, one of the protagonists in her first novel also has MS, as does Grossman. “I am on a mission to spread MS awareness,” she says, hoping that her fiction will touch and inform readers who may not know much about the disease. Her website also includes articles and research on MS, the prosecution of Nazi war criminals and Holocaust survivors with dementia.
In addition to her two novels, Grossman has written numerous short stories; two won honorable mention in Writer’s Digest annual competitions. As for future endeavors, Grossman is co-writing a second Rainee Allen mystery with her brother, who lives in Kentucky.
Grossman started writing at age 11 and acting at age 14. She earned a degree in theatre from Emerson College and has performed in, designed sets for, directed and produced numerous productions. She co-founded a performing arts newspaper, which led to a weekly radio talk show about the arts. In 1995, she moved from Massachusetts to Tucson with her husband, Michael, and their children, Rachel and Zack.
For more information and to purchase signed copies of Grossman’s books, visit laurenbgrossman.com. They are also available in eBook and paperback from amazon.com and other online retailers.
Nancy Ben-Asher Ozeri is a feature writer and editor living in Tucson. She can be reached at [email protected].