CHRIS RICE COOPER is a newspaper writer, feature stories writer, poet, fiction writer, photographer, and painter. She maintains a blog at https://chrisricecooper.blogspot.com. She has a Bachelor's in Criminal Justice and completed all of her poetry and fiction workshops required for her Master’s in Creative Writing with a focus on poetry. She, her husband Wayne, sons Nicholas and Caleb, cats Nation and Alaska reside in the St. Louis area.
Wednesday, April 27, 2016
Lauren B. Grossman's "THE GOLDEN PEACOCK" - Review & Scripted Interview By Christal Rice Cooper
& Scripted Interview With Lauren B. Grossman
“THE GOLDEN PEACOCK is a mystery. Though Hitler is on the cover (is there a more iconic
image of the Holocaust?), the backstory of Jana Lutken weaves in and out with
the actual story, which takes place in the 1990s.
The protagonist is Rainee Allen, a
writer who stumbles across a long-held secret involving a Holocaust survivor
with Alzheimer’s. There are several twists and surprises which the reader never
--Lauren B Grossman, describing The Golden Peacock
The Golden Peacock is the story of two
women each living across the globe and in two different time zones:Jana Lutken in Germany and England during
World War Two and Rainee Allen in Boston, Massachusetts and England in 1997.
The Golden Peacock begins in October of
1938 in Germany where 12-year-old Jana Lutken and her family are hiding in Christian
neighbor Franz Shenkel’s house from a violent ant-Semitic mob rioting the
streets of Frechen, Germany.
We jumped at the violent sound of glass
shattering.An axe crashed through the
window, ricocheted off the kitchen wall, and landed within inches of my
back.It was close.Too close.Papa tightened his protective grip around us.
I began to cry and Papa hushed me
straightaway.“Shush, Jana.Keep quiet.Not a noise.”I had never seen my
father so alarmed.The look in his eyes
Jana whose mother has died, now considers family
to be her father whom she calls Papa,
Aunt Gertie, brother Max, and two cousins, Adelheid and Mathilde.The family flees to Amsterdam, Holland
thinking it would remain free from Hitler and his regime.They were wrong, and find themselves starving
Papa and Aunt Gertie insist the children be sent
to Burgerweeshuis, a Catholic orphanage willing to take in Jewish refugee
The six of us walked to the Burgerweeshuis in
silence.It was the longest walk of my
life.I held tight to Papa’s hand, and he
held Max’s.Aunt Gertie, flanked by my
two cousins, walked behind us.She
needed privacy with her children and Papa needed the same.
The silence was cruel.There were no birds chirping, no vendors
selling their wares, no streetcars running.The only sound was our footsteps, each step took me further away from
the person I loved most in the world.
I could no longer bear the eerie silence, and in
my nervousness, I began to hum.It was a
Yiddish song Mama and Papa had sung to Max and me called “The Golden
Peacock.”Max had changed the words to
make it funny and about me.It became
our song, and we used to laugh at his lyrics.He came to call me his “golden peacock.”Soon, Max began to hum and then Papa,
too.It must have overwhelmed him, for
suddenly Papa’s legs buckled, and he fell to his knees crying.He embraced us both very tightly as we
are two different versions of the Yiddish folk song “The Golden Peacock” about
a miserable bride, exiled from her parents’ home and imprisoned by her mother
first version, described in Ginzburg & Marek’s anthology, Jewish
Folksongs in Russia, 1901, the golden peacock functions as a
messenger between the girl and her family.
second version, described in Beregovsky's collection of Jewish Folksongs
(1938), the girl turns herself into a golden peacock and flies to her parents'
Max and Jana wait impatiently to hear from their
father, but when months pass with no word, the two become like the golden
peacock and run away, only to end up back at the orphanage, each faced with harsh
punishment and separated from one another.
Then the mysterious and blonde Frau
Wijsmuller-Meijer shows up at the orphanage and arranges to have all the 70
Jewish boys and girls placed on a ship and sent to Great Britain where they
will be taken in by English families.
The plan is that Jana and Max will board the
ship together and be taken in by the same family, but fate is cruel at the last moment: only the girls are allowed to
board the first ship and Jana never sees Max again. She is told that Max died along with all the other boys on the second ship due to being torpedoed
by a Nazi submarine.
Sixty years later, American bestselling author
Rainee Allen resides in Boston where she is at a crossroads: she questions the
choice she made when she was 19, and is suffering from writer’s block.
Things change when Rainee goes through her
roll top desk and comes across the Identification Card on a Jana Lutkin.
She flashed back to a business convention in
Washington D.C. six years earlier.A
co-worker had suggested they visit the Holocaust Museum.Picked arbitrarily from a large bin, the
ticket clerk had handed each of them a passport, identification card of a
She thought, Now
why did I keep this all these years?
When she began to read it, the reason became
evidence.Rainee had received the
passport of a woman who shared her birthday. It was coincidental that this
survivor’s birthday was February 9, 1927 and Rainee’s birthday was February 9,
but thirty years later.Rainee recalled
this old coincidence had touched a feeling deep inside her.She did not know why, but it had affected her
She pointed it out to a co-worker, wiped some
tears from her eyes and said, “I know it sounds silly, but I tend to believe
things like this happen for a reason.”
Her friend agreed. “These types of coincidences are one of life’s
The chapters alternate between Jana’s life and
Rainee’s life, and through their voices numerous things are revealed:sexual violence, lies, Alzheimer’s, old
loves, new loves, secret identities, and family secrets.
The reader learns about Jana and the horrors she
had to face before and after her escape from Hitler's Germany. Even though Jana escapes the concentration camps – her
depression, her trauma is just as valid as the Jew who suffered the Holocaust
while living in the concentration camps. The Golden Peacock proves pain is pain – and someone else’s pain, though different, never negates another person’s pain.
And there is the big great conversion of
past and present when Rainee discovers Jana living in a nursing
home suffering from Alzheimer’s. Jana also experiences flashbacks and panic attacks
each time Dr. Martin Wagner comes to visit.
Things become dangerous when Rainee discovers why Dr. Wagner holds the key to Jana’s memory, and when Jana finally
remembers The Golden Peacock and sings
it out loud – their lives will never be the same.
Lauren B. Grossman
B Grossman, born in 1955, was born and raised in Springfield, Massachusetts.
one of four siblings. My parent’s goal was that we like each other and get
along. I think we may have been the exception to the rule. I remember friends
visiting and couldn’t believe that we all got along so well. We are all now
grown with our own grown children. We are still close and love each other very
At the age of eleven, Grossman started writing her first novel
she titled Death and Transfiguration.
That’s the title of a symphony. It was about a woman with a terminal
illness. I was a dark child with a big vocabulary. I never got very far.
Then at 25, I began a book about Nantucket women during the whaling days.
I didn’t get very far. Two books with a beginning, but no middle and no end.
Imagine my delight when I completed my first novel!
Besides those incomplete novels, I wrote articles for a newspaper and
one for a national magazine. Two of my short stories won “Honorable Mention”
with the Writer's Digest Short Stories competitions. That gives me great pride
because there were 17,000 submissions with the first story. Currently, I have a
work in progress.
Even though Grossman had the yearning and the calling to
write, her original plan was to be an actress.
I was determined to be an actress from the age of eleven.
That gave me direction and a career path.
After earning a degree in theatre from Emerson College with
a minor in set design, I moved to Hollywood to seek my fame and fortune. It
wasn’t long before I realized I was a little fish in a big pond.
I returned to my hometown and became a big fish in a little
pond. I continued my theatre career there while earning money in the family
business. I was acting, creating set designs, and on the boards of many theatre
groups and feeling very self-important. I also opened an acting school for
After marrying and having children, I gave up acting and
co-founded and co-published a performing arts newspaper with a good friend.
That evolved into a weekly radio show. We laughed a lot during those days.
When my children were seven and five, we moved to Southern
Needing to “create” I took up painting. When my hands began
to hurt from my multiple sclerosis, I took up writing (typing) and my debut
novel was born.
describes herself as a writer with disABILITIES.
I have Multiple Sclerosis and try to advocate by spreading awareness. My
first novel had a main character who received the diagnosis of MS. In my
writing, I endeavored to spread awareness by showing how having the disease can
affect a person and their relationships. In THE GOLDEN PEACOCK, I introduced a character who has MS.
Although she is a minor character in the story, I feel I am on a mission to
continue spreading awareness.
In this story, however, Alzheimer’s Disease prominently figures into the
storyline. I am trying to make people aware that there are Holocaust survivors
who do have Alzheimer's and, sadly in their waning years, relive the horrors of
the war. Try to imagine what that must be like.
As far as how MS affects my own writing, I would have to say that now my
fingers don’t fly over the keyboard as fast anymore. They tire, as do I.
Fatigue is a symptom from which most people with MS suffer.
Cognitive issues affect me, as well. Although I have done radio interviews,
I’m glad this is not one, as I would have to look at notes to answer your very
2005 Lauren Grossman visited the US Holocaust Memorial Museum and received a souvenir
The Holocaust identification cards are handed out to anyone who enters.
They are arbitrarily picked from a large bin. As people exit, they are allowed
to keep them or recycle them in that bin.
That was a day I will never forget. My family was on vacation in D.C. and
we (husband Michael) wanted our children (Rachel and Zach) to experience the
Holocaust Museum. (They were then 14 and 17 years old).
Each of us were handed an ID card. Each card had as much information as
possible for an individual person who may or may not have survived the
My card had the picture, name, city, country, and date of birth of a
survivor (Dora Unger). I did a double-take when I saw that she was born on
January 7, 1925 – 30 years to the date of my birth date. I’m not a true
believer in fate, but I know that had I entered five minutes later, I may not
have received that same card. Some people might call it synchronicity.
I read the information on the card. It was in the survivor’s own words
and it was only about 200 words. 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.
Dora’s story intrigued me enough to save my card, and I felt I was given
her story for a reason. She became my muse.
2012 Lauren B Grossman was cleaning out her desk when she re-discovered the
card of Dora Unger.
After my novel ONCE IN EVERY
GENERATION debuted, I was delighted with the global response to it.
There were over 14,000 downloads but I spent a full year promoting it.
At the end of that year I realized that I had not written anything, not
even a short story, which I used to love writing. I wanted to get back to
writing, but I literally had no idea what I would write about. Like my
protagonist in THE GOLDEN PEACOCK,
when I get writer’s block, I get busy cleaning. I started with my desk, and
came across the ID card, sat down to reread it, and instantly knew that there
was a story there.
My life paralleled that of my protagonist, Rainee Allen, up until she
actually met Jana Lutken. A friend of mine was going to London on assignment
for 10 days and asked me to accompany her, all expenses paid. How could I say
no? That was where my research began.
A friend of mine, who is an English professor at the University of
Arizona, wrote a letter of introduction so that I could have access to the
archives in the British Library.
It was exciting to be able to
begin research. However, because my character, who was based on my muse, was
not a “person of note,” there was no information on her. However there was a
lot of information on other people, places, dates, etc. which do appear in the
first heard the song The Golden Peacock
while researching for the book The Golden
In my research, I was able to Google the song. It was in Yiddish. There
are several different versions. I chose one version that would lend itself to a
young boy changing the lyrics to make it silly and about his family. I assigned
my own brother that task since he is very clever.
B Grossman researched and wrote the novel, which took her two years, from her
trip to London until she had the printed version in her hands.She did most of the writing of The Golden Peacock at the local
I would go to a café and sit at the same table about three times a week.
There were two times when I arrived and someone was at my table. I actually had a little trouble writing those days.
Funny how that happens. Once I opened my laptop, my hands flew over the
keyboard as if they had a life of their own. It was an exhilarating feeling.
Four hours would pass before I looked up and realized it was time to get up and
B Grossman’s strategy for writing The
Golden Peacock was simply to not have a strategy.
I’m not an outliner. I had no strategy. The book wrote itself. Of course,
I’m writing about the first draft. I once read, “The first draft is written
from the heart. The second draft is written from the head.” So true. The really
hard work came with the second, third, and fourth drafts.
How much of THE
GOLDEN PEACOCK is fiction and how much is fact?
THE GOLDEN PEACOCK was inspired by real events. I
did follow much of what was written in the ID I was handed at the US Holocaust
Museum. But the survivor’s story ended after about 200 words and that’s not
enough for a novel. I like to call my novel “Historical Fiction,” since I used
real people, places, events, dates, etc. that were real. I changed the
survivor’s name, date of birth, and where she was born. The true person’s
mother, father, and brother died in the camps at Sobibor and Auschwitz.
In my story, Jana Lutken’s father was alive, as was her brother. This was
pivotal to the storyline. My muse was saved when, at the orphanage in which she
was placed, a woman (who was later honored as “Righteous Among Nations”), in
the middle of the night, rescued about 70 children by placing them on a
Kindertransport to Great Britain. My muse’s story ended there. Everything that
followed was fiction.
was the most compelling excerpt to write from THE GOLDEN PEACOCK ?
Even though it’s backstory, the first paragraph in the book, really grabs
Also, when Jana is saying goodbye to her papa at the orphanage – that’s a
The rape scene was tough to take!Was this planned for you to write? Or did it
also take you by surprise?
Yes, it was a very tough scene to write. Much of what I
wrote took me by surprise.
I drew a lot of information from a book titled, “Children’s Exodus – A History of the
Kindertransport.” It contained a lot of personal entries. Though many families
were happy to foster the children, sadly, some of the children who rode the
Kindertransport , were used like slaves, and some were abused either verbally
One example in the book reported a particular child who was
repeatedly raped not only by her foster father but also by his 19-year-old son.
It appeared that these cases were the exceptions. Most
foster parents took their role seriously and often welcomed the children as
members of their family.
Were there any books and/or writers that you read that
helped you in writing THE GOLDEN PEACOCK?
The biggest help in my research was the book “Children’s
Exodus – A History of the Kidertransport.”
My brother Bernie was a big help in the editing. We would
speak nearly weekly after I’d send him my written pages. He offered many
suggestions and helped me view the writing from the male perspective.
are you more common with Jane or Rainee? And can you describe those common
I am more Rainee. We’re both writers.
I lived on Marlborough Street in Boston. And we both searched for our muse.
you describe the publishing process of THE
It’s a lot of work. Hard work. I now have a literary agent who is
shopping it around to the mainstream publishing houses, but meanwhile, I am
still promoting every day. Many people have said it would make a great movie,
so I am promoting that route too. Know anybody?
Can you go into detail about the cover?I’m thinking the little girl is Jana?Why was Rainee not represented on the cover?
Yes, the girl is a young Jana Lutken, looking out the farm
window, waiting for her brother Max. Jana spent her life waiting for Max to
appear. Faded into the background is Hitler. I wanted his image to not be
prominent, but almost ghostly... hence the faded imagery.
My talented nephew, Evan Jaroslow, created the front and
Although Rainee is the protagonist in the novel, the story
centers around the mystery of Jana’s backstory.
The cover has been controversial
because of Hitler’s image. What more iconic image of the Holocaust is there? I
put a survey out on Facebook and found that 50% of people would NOT pick up the
book if they saw it at the bookstore because of Hitler’s image. While
the other 50% found the girl’s face haunting and were drawn to pick it up and
read the back cover. 50/50. What’s a writer to do?
I love hearing opinions from readers – good or bad, I learn from
Thank you for this opportunity and thank you to all the readers.
Description & Copyright Information
cover of The Golden Peacock
granted by Lauren B. Grossman
Jews expelled from Germany in late October of 1938
of Rottendam after the German bombing during the German invasion of the
Netherlands in May of 1940
Polish World War II war orphans are being cared for at a Catholic orphange
after the War in 1946. The wire service caption read, "Polish orphans of
War: Some of Poland's thousands of orphans, these young boys libe on a Catholic
orphanage in Lublin. The American Red Cross, which took this picture, advised
most of these children's clothing and medicines are supplied by that
organization." Lublin was the center of the Soviet-backed Polis regime
during the War.
Peafowl flaring his feathers.
The Weeping Bride
Use Under the United States Copyright Law
15th century art.
orphans being sent on one of the ships to England.
Jaroslow, Bernie, Lauren B. Grossman, and Ilana MK
granted by Lauren B. Grossman
B. Grossman at her office
granted by Lauren B Grossman
granted by Lauren B Grossman
southern Arizona sunrise in Laure B Grossman’s backyard.
granted by Lauren B. Grossman
B Grossman at a book-signing for Once In
B. Grossman’s hands on laptop
Copyright granted by Lauren B. Grossman
Michael, Lauren and Rachel
granted by Laure B. Grossman
Unger in 1961
Meisler’s Kindertransport Memorial 2009 at the Gdannsk Glowny Railroad Station
cover of Once In Every Generation
B. Grossman in front of Buckingham Palace during her 10-day-stay in London.
granted by Lauren B. Grossman
memorial in Liverpool Street Concourse
B. Grossman at her favorite Café in August 2012.
Traus Statue in Amsterdam
cover of Children’s Exodus – A History of