Monday, April 7, 2014

Tova Mirvis on Motherhood, Orthodoxy & Her Latest Novel “Visible City”

By Adina Kay-Gross for Raising Kvell

Visible CityI recently had the pleasure of chatting with Tova Mirvis about her new book, “Visible City,” the all-consuming nature of parenting, and the freedom that comes with accepting imperfection.

In “Visible City,” unlike your previous novels, Judaism isn’t a central theme. What took its place in this book?

To write a novel, (especially to write a novel while you have three kids!) you have to be really obsessed and consumed by a subject; it has to pull at you all the time. With my first two novels, “The Ladies Auxiliary” and “The Outside World,” I wanted to explore issues of belief and doubt, and the tensions between community and individuality, tradition and modernity. On a personal note, those books were a way for me to grapple with my own upbringing and life as an Orthodox Jew.

When I started writing “Visible City,” those themes were not at the forefront of my mind. Rather, what kept me writing and thinking for so many years, was the question of how we imagine other people’s lives, how we create narratives about other people we watch or know just casually, and then, what this tells us about our own lives.

This idea is so apt right now, as we live with the complicated feelings that social media breeds–when we compare our parenting or our marriage or our work to those carefully crafted lives that people present on Facebook and Instagram, etc.

I’ve always been fascinated by the way we imagine other people’s lives–and how this reveals our own longings and insecurities and desires. I feel like motherhood especially invites us to look at other people, usually with self-doubt. When I was a young mother in Manhattan, I knew only one thing for certain: whatever way I was doing it was the wrong way. Was I not singing enough songs? Was I not playing enough games? Worst of all, was I not enjoying this enough? I heard that constant undermining, self-defeating voice: wrong, wrong, wrong. And this was before the advent of Facebook, when from the comfort of my own home, I could have tortured myself with the fact that we didn’t bake cookies today! We didn’t finger paint!

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