Memory, History And The Two Alices


Last Monday, some 300 people shifted attention between the Upper West Side and the Caribbean island of St. Thomas, listening to tales of uncommon motherhood, as they heard from the authors of two highly praised new books.

The event, featuring Alice Eve Cohen, (third from left above), and Alice Hoffman, (second from left above), was the first in The Jewish Week’s 2015 Literary Summer series, now in its eighth year, at Congregation Rodeph Sholom, moderated by The Jewish Week’s culture editor, Sandee Brawarsky, at let above and inset. Jewish Week editor Gary Rosenblatt, above and at right, welcomed audience members.

In her introduction, Brawarsky noted that she thought to bring the two Alices together after, coincidentally, reading their new books back-to-back and finding “intriguing connections” about the powerful bonds of motherhood, creativity and magical writing, as well as some parallels between their lives. The evening was the first time the two authors met.

Hoffman, who has written 34 previous books, explained that she was inspired to write “The Marriage of Opposites” after seeing a show of Camille Pissarro’s work and learning that the great impressionist artist was Jewish and born on St. Thomas. She also learned that he had an extraordinary, strong-willed mother, Rachel, who did much to shape his life and his career, and whose own life was tied up in a scandal in the Jewish community. Hoffman offered no details about those events to the audience, not wanting to spoil the story for readers.

Alice Eve Cohen, an author, playwright and performance artist, explained that her new book, “The Year My Mother Came Back,” a memoir about a really terrible year in her life, when her late mother seemed to reappear, was the follow up to her first memoir, “What I Thought I Knew.” The earlier memoir was developed into a one-woman show, and Cohen performed an episode, in response to a question about the backstory to her new book.

Both authors are also breast cancer survivors, and have written candidly about their experiences, Cohen in “The Year My Mother Came Back” and Hoffman in her only non-fiction book, “Survival Lessons.”

“Whether drawing on memory or history, they’re compelling, compassionate, original storytellers,” Brawarsky said.

The Literary Summer series continues on Tuesday, Aug. 18, with Shulem Deen and Basya Schechter, at Rodeph Sholom, 7 W. 83rd St., at 7 p.m. The event is free but reservations are recommended,