Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Yuriy Handler 1936-2011

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The muse of four of my novels has died.

Albina Handler
January 19, 1940-April 5, 2010

A Song for Mama

My mother always looked for paradise in every place she lived.
And it wasn’t easy to find it in the Soviet Union. It wasn’t so easy to find it anywhere. She was born on the other side of the world in Khabarovsk, near the border of North Korea, and somehow made her way five thousand miles to Leningrad, and into my father’s heart. Eleven years later when we were in Rome waiting to enter the United States, and my parents were going out every night just the two of them walking the Eternal City, I asked my dad why they did this, and he replied, “Paullina, because here in Rome is the honeymoon we never had.”
Many years later, they moved to Hawaii to search for glory there also. There was no middle ground, no fallow ground for my vulnerable, intensely feeling mother. She wanted all the flowers to be always blooming.
When my sister and I went to North Carolina to bring our mother back to New York to be among her family and friends, we came to a house that was filled to the brim with all the things she loved. My father was in it. Now we were in it.
Every letter anyone ever wrote her, every card anyone ever sent her was in it. Every picture taken of her family was on full display in her house, beautifully framed, dusted, polished, shined, placed just so. In her quest for comeliness, for youth, for beauty, her cosmetic counter put the Bloomingdales makeup department to shame. She loved to look beautiful, because she was beautiful…with rings on all her fingers, and combs to buckle her hair.
Everything my sister and I know about being a woman, being a mother, we learned from our mother. When she was happy, she lit up the room, when she sang, it was like the angels sang.
Everything my sister and I know about being Christian, we learned from the woman who loved and feared God. In her house she had icons on every wall and candles to light underneath them and Bibles to the right of every place she sat.
Through 33 years of her life in Russia she carried Christ inside her pious heart until she could worship freely in America, could love God freely. She taught my sister and me to stand up for Christ, and how loudly we complained when we were younger, and yet how straight our backs are now when we cross ourselves the way our mother taught us, when we pray the way she taught us.
In my mother’s torn and weathered New Testament, published 21 years before she was born which I hold in my hands right now, I read the words she underlined—twice so I don’t miss them—as if still speaking to me about the things that matter most. In it, are marked the words of the imperfect yet perfectible sinner who turns to the Lord on the life-giving Cross and says,:
помяни меня, Господи, когда приидешь в Царствие Твое!
Remember me when you come into your Kingdom.

And Jesus replies to the fearing and the faithful:
истинно говорю тебе, ныне же будешь со Мною в раю
Verily I say to you, today, you shall be with Me in paradise.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

My Grandmother

Maria Handler 1911-2009

A beautiful life has come to its earthly end.

And though my grandmother, Maria Handler, was 97 years old, it is never the right time, a good time for someone you love to die.

She lived a remarkable life, because she was a remarkable woman. She endured a revolution, a civil war, a world war, evacuation, famine, illness and tragedy. And yet you would never know she had borne any hardship at all from the way she carried herself: she was a good happy person who loved sweets and her friends, who loved her sons and her grandchildren and great-grandchildren, who took care of me and my sister and my cousin when we were young and maintained that one of her regrets was that she wasn’t strong enough to take care of the great-grandchildren also.

When you were in her home, you felt loved. You came in, you sat down, she served you, she cleaned your plate, and then she sat across from you and wanted to know all about your life. This is how she treated everyone, not just her family. She was curious about everything. She understood everything. You could count on her to have a righteous reaction to sorrow, to joy, to heartbreak. To your every success and failure she bore an empathetic and enlightened witness. She gave you always what you needed.

When you were hungry, she fed you.

When you were thirsty, she gave you drink.

And then you went away and lived your life, and she went on merrily and lived hers. She loved TV, and her newspapers and her books, and my grandfather, not necessarily in that order. She lived joyously until she saw you again. Sometimes she complained you didn’t call her as often as you should have, but it was a superficial complaint, because you knew that you were profoundly loved.

She remembered salient details about all the relatives, she had the memory of Matteo Ricci and the intuitive understanding of a sage, and she gave you all of herself, freely, liberally, always.

For seventy five years she lived side by side with my grandfather. The two of them came to America in 1979, seemingly in the twilight of their life and yet we were fortunate enough to have them bring us joy, and food, and conversation and love for thirty more years. That is astonishing, and I never forget how blessed I feel having had her in my life for this long. Still, it wasn’t long enough. It never is.

She brightened every room when she was in it, you felt yourself striving to be a better person in her sainted presence, led by her example, and the world is a smaller, darker place with her gone. Like my grandfather, my grandmother had every gift, including the gift of a long and magnificent life. She died peacefully, at home, in her bed, in her sleep, unsuffering, surrounded by people she loved. In a struggling, conflicted world, she, as my grandfather, died as they had lived, simply, and yet extraordinarily.

“And we who are alive and remain,
Shall be caught up together with them, in the clouds,
To meet the Lord in the air,
And so we shall ever be, with the Lord.”

Monday, September 14, 2009

Return of the Prodigal Writer

My dear readers: Hello! How have you been? Someone really must teach me the definition of blogging. Blogging: website, usually maintained by an individual, with regular entries of commentary, descriptions of events, or other material. Emphasis on “regular”. Would you call one entry a year “regular?” I didn’t think so. Honestly, you’d think I was writing a book or something. And losing my babysitter. And raising four kids, including the near 22-year-old, who’s back home after a successful college career. And trying to lose twenty pounds. And desperately trying to finish the Bronze Horseman screenplay. And getting ready to return to Australia and New Zealand in November. But still. I find it inexcusable that I couldn’t find time to write and apprise you of my goings-on. I promise to do better in the future.

In the meantime, another book, the ninth novel, is finished. Whew. It’s called A SONG IN THE DAYLIGHT. It’s a story of a woman in the middle of her happily-ever-after life gradually embroiled in a passionate mess of her own making. I can’t wait to have you read it and to hear what you guys think of it. To celebrate its arrival in the stores in New Zealand and Australia on October 27, 2009, (with England to follow in the spring of 2010, and the U.S. a little later), I will be returning to the Land of Oz and NZ for three weeks in November. I’m excited about seeing you all. I hope you come to my shows, readings, signings. Details to come shortly. As soon as we have a definite itinerary, we’ll post it either here on in News. But I know I’ll be in Auckland, Christchurch, Queenstown, and Wellington, in New Zealand. And in Australia, we’ll visit Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne, Hobart (!), Adelaide and Perth. I do hope you all can join me for some wine and talk. I’ll try to bring pictures and music, like last time. Do you know how hard it is to work without a babysitter for your kids? Pavla was like a wife to me, but after six years she left me home alone with the children. It was like a divorce, amicable, but no less heartbreaking. And all the things she did for me, picking up the little one from school, carpooling the older ones, doing homework, laundry, food-shopping, all the little errands, the dry cleaning, the post office, suddenly was placed squarely in my overburdened lap, and meanwhile my editor is emailing me every day, saying, Paullina, done with the book yet? What about now? And what about now? Done now? So the day was halved and stressed, and the work was doubled and stressed. Is it any wonder I’m just coming up for air now. The children have started school again, today, but I see that it’s almost time to pick up the little one from school again. What’s funny is, this is what most of you have to live through every day. I know that. I always knew it. I didn’t know how you had time to read my books. But I had been so lucky, because since I finished Tully, I’d never been without some domestic help. At first it was for four hours, then six, then a full day, 9-5. I’ve been with 9-5 help for the last thirteen years. Imagine my shock last March. We tried to find someone great, but failed. No one could be as great as the girl who left me. I must run, the third-grader is waiting, but I will write more tomorrow, and I will tell you about Jindabyne, and also about my beloved grandmother.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Hello & Jindabyne

Dear Friends and loyal Readers,

It’s been far too long since our last communication, as my life, and I’m sure yours, just hurtled along.

Since my last grand unforgettable 2007 tour of New Zealand and Australia, I have retreated into the bear cave, to write the next book, that’s become imminently due. The writer’s life during those brief moments we see each other seems so exciting—I’m well-dressed, made-up, you, too, are all beautiful and bejeweled; we eat good food, we have microphones, so our voices are amplified, we connect, we laugh, we sign books with fountain pens and take fuzzy pictures that sharpen our memories of those few happy minutes. You may hear my voice on the radio, occasionally see me on TV. I love meeting you, talking to you, seeing your faces, your smiles. I love hearing you say inexhaustibly wonderful things about my books.

But the reality of my life, the other thousand days between tours, is me in one room, with myself and my track pants and hoodies, sitting, sitting, sitting in front the blank screen, in a room full of windows on which the shades are drawn to keep out the sunshine. I sit and I think and I feel and I try to put on the screen all the things I feel in my heart.

Daily I used to go for a walk or a bike ride. But this summer, ridiculously enough, I sprained my foot while playing badminton (this is the only way my husband could beat me) and couldn’t walk and couldn’t ride, I could just sit. And no sooner had the foot healed that I fell from a chair onto a can of paint and split my knee open (ouch!) and after an extraordinary number of stitches, and a Frankenstein-like injury, I sat out the rest of the sunny days in my office, lamenting, imagining, writing. Oh, and occasionally playing my brand new spanking glorious Grotrian Concertino. What a piano. I don’t deserve it.

Still, the writer’s life is a lonely life, a life of solitude, and internal rumblings, and silence. It’s decidedly un-glam.

But on the plus side, soon there will be another book! And after that one, another one, close on its heels. The one I’m writing at the moment is about Larissa Stark, a wife, a mother, a theater director, a woman beautiful and successful in every way, except for the slight open spaces in the corners of her soul, the spaces into which she allows a passion for another man to flow in, and this is the love affair that changes her life and the life of everybody around her. It’s about love and its consequences, about children and their consequences, about life and its consequences.

This novel is due to be published in New Zealand and Australia in the Fall of 2009. I’m getting very close to the last act, and now I really need your help.

I want to set the last part of my book in Jindabyne, Australia. Having been only on the coasts, east and west, and a little inland in Canberra, I could use a little help about some local color for that region. After you read Road to Paradise, so many of you wrote to tell me of Broken Hill, Australia. I’m looking for more of that here, but now before publication, so it can augment my book.

Can you help?

JINDABYNE. Has anyone grown up there? What was that like?

What defines the area? What’s beautiful about it? What’s ugly about it? Do the people who live there want to stay or want to go? Is there something mystical about the region? Has anyone come into contact with any poisonous animals?

Any small vignettes of specific impressions: food customs, annual fairs, places to eat, book shops, things to do, special drinks, would be unbelievably welcome. I’m looking for things about all the six senses of Jindabyne. What does it look like? What sounds does it make? What does it smell like? What food and drink is popular there? What do the trees, the grasses, the flowers feel like? And what is it like to live there, to visit there, to be there?

As a small sign of my gratitude, perhaps I can do what we did for the Summer Garden. I will put all the names of those who wrote in with a Jindabyne story into a hat, pull five names out, and send you an autographed copy of the new book before publication. So if you can help, please email me at and please don’t forget to write Jindabyne as the Subject of the email.

And in the future, watch this space, because I’m going to come back to it, and keep in touch with you here.

One thing I’d like to mention…the screenplay. Or should I say, THE SCREENPLAY. I feel like I’m letting everyone down, Tania and Shura most of all. The truth is, once again, it’s become impossible to do other work while I’m living in Kai and Larissa’s world. The Grand Canyon was carved faster that this dang Bronze Horseman screenplay. I hope to resume my full-throttled efforts on it as soon as I deliver my book manuscript to my editor.

In the meantime, thank you again for your support in the past, and in advance for your help in the future, and most of all, for all the words of joy and encouragement you’ve given me. You have blessed me more than you’ll ever know.