Warning: Spoiler alert for those who have not yet read Memories from Cherry Harvest. This blog gives away a key plot feature of the book. Read no further if you have not read the book and you plan to do so!
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On Thursday evening I met with a local book group that read Memories from Cherry Harvest. I was not surprised when the book group women complained about losing Miriam. Many readers have said to me that they were so upset when Miriam died. Everyone loves her. They can’t help themselves, really. I wrote her like that. She is everyone’s darling. The beautiful beloved Miriam. The book group asked if she was based on a real person. I explained that she was based on me, but me magnified to a much higher power. More vibrant, more generous, a better farmer, better able to mother all those children. (All the women in the book are me actually, some more than others.) We loved her so much, they said, we were so devastated when the Nazis killed her. And the way they killed her was so horrifyingly awful. How could you do that? How could you give her that terrible death?
This is what I told the book group, what I tell everyone: I needed for you to fall in love with Miriam because her death needs to break your heart.
My friend Jessica emailed me while she was reading the book to tell me that if Miriam died in the war she would never speak to me again. I was sad, knowing what was to come. I received a grief-stricken email from Jessica a few days later. This semester, Jessica taught the book in her Women’s Studies Literature class at City College in San Francisco. I am scheduled to visit the class tomorrow (so looking forward to it). Last week Jessica emailed me: The students in my class are so upset with you about Miriam.
When someone says to me, “I started your book. I love Miriam.” I always think, yes, well, love her with all your might; soon she’s going to break your heart.
In many ways the book revolves (or evolves) around the magnificent spirit of Miriam, the oppression that crushes her, how she is mourned, and the eventual resurrection of Miriam’s spirit, strong and indestructible. The readers join with the characters in their grief at the loss of Miriam, the trauma of losing her in such a horrific way, and the process of moving forward through that grief and trauma into a bright future. Thus the spiritual core of the book is the return of Miriam.
In truth, we lost thousands of Miriams in the Holocaust. We lost thousands of them in the pogroms in Russia, to the death squads in El Salvador, in the killing fields in Asia, on the plantations of the American South, during the theft of America from the Native people who lived here for thousands of years before Europeans arrived. We have prematurely lost thousands of Miriams in the wars that have swept across the globe throughout history. Millions. Billions. We have lost an incalculable number of beautiful Miriams; and even though I believe that spirits are reincarnated, that they return, often loved ones to one another; even so, isn’t it time for the violence against our beautiful Miriams of the world, our violence against all women, children, living creatures, isn’t it time for that to stop?