Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Lauren B. Grossman's "THE GOLDEN PEACOCK" - Review & Scripted Interview By Christal Rice Cooper

Review & Scripted Interview With Lauren B. Grossman
Twitter: @peacock10

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 sees coming.”

--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 was frightening. 

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 and destitute.

Papa and Aunt Gertie insist the children be sent to Burgerweeshuis, a Catholic orphanage willing to take in Jewish refugee children. 

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 huddled together.  

There 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 –in-law.  

The 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.
The second version, described in Beregovsky's collection of Jewish Folksongs (1938), the girl turns herself into a golden peacock and flies to her parents' home. 

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 Holocaust survivor.
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 emotionally.
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 little gifts.”

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.


Scripted Interview With 
Lauren B. Grossman

Lauren B Grossman, born in 1955, was born and raised in Springfield, Massachusetts. 

I am 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 much. 

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 children.
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 Arizona.

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.  

Grossman 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 well-posed questions.

In 2005 Lauren Grossman visited the US Holocaust Memorial Museum and received a souvenir identity card.

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 Holocaust.
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.

In 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 novel.

Grossman first heard the song The Golden Peacock while researching for the book The Golden Peacock.
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.

Lauren 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 café. 

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 stretch! 

Lauren 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.

What was the most compelling excerpt to write from THE GOLDEN PEACOCK ?

Even though it’s backstory, the first paragraph in the book, really grabs you.  
Also, when Jana is saying goodbye to her papa at the orphanage – that’s a real tear-jerker.

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 or sexually. 

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. 

Who are you more common with Jane or Rainee? And can you describe those common traits?

       I am more Rainee. We’re both writers. I lived on Marlborough Street in Boston. And we both searched for our muse.

Can you describe the publishing process of THE GOLDEN PEACOCK?

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 back cover. 

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 everybody.
Thank you for this opportunity and thank you to all the readers.

Photograph Description & Copyright Information

Jacket cover of The Golden Peacock

Lauren B. Grossman
Copyright granted by Lauren B. Grossman

Polish Jews expelled from Germany in late October of 1938
Public Domain

City of Rottendam after the German bombing during the German invasion of the Netherlands in May of 1940
Public Domain

Here 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.
Public Domain

A Peafowl flaring his feathers.
CCBySA 3.0

Illustration, The Weeping Bride
Fair Use Under the United States Copyright Law 

Peacock, 15th century art.
Public Domain

Jews orphans being sent on one of the ships to England.

ID Card

Gary Jaroslow, Bernie, Lauren B. Grossman, and Ilana MK
Copyright granted by Lauren B. Grossman

Lauren B. Grossman at her office
Copyright granted by Lauren B Grossman

Paddadium Theatre plaque
Copyright granted by Lauren B Grossman

The southern Arizona sunrise in Laure B Grossman’s backyard.
Copyright granted by Lauren B. Grossman

Lauren B Grossman at a book-signing for Once In Every Generation

MS awareness ribbon
Public Domain

Alzheimer’s awareness logo
Public Domain

Lauren B. Grossman’s hands on laptop
Copyright granted by Lauren B. Grossman

I.D. Card

Zach, Michael, Lauren and Rachel
Copyright granted by Laure B. Grossman

Dora Unger in 1961

Frannk Meisler’s Kindertransport Memorial 2009 at the Gdannsk Glowny Railroad Station Poland
Public Domain

Jacket cover of Once In Every Generation

Lauren B. Grossman in front of Buckingham Palace during her 10-day-stay in London.
Copyright granted by Lauren B. Grossman

Kindertransport memorial in Liverpool Street Concourse
Public Domain

Laure B. Grossman at her favorite Café in August 2012.

Geertruida Wijsmuller Meijer
Aunti Traus Statue in Amsterdam

28 and 29
Jacket cover of Children’s Exodus – A History of Kindertransport.

Bernie Jaroslow
Copyright grated by Lauren B. Grossman

Portion of jacket cover of The Golden Peacock  

Evan Jaroslow
Copyright granted by Lauren B. Grossman

Portion of jacket cover of The Golden Peacock


  1. Every step taken toward conflict resolution and peace is worthy of praise.
    Much is missed in the global press.
    Lauren is taking a significant step in the right direction.

    1. Dear John,

      Thanks for reading and your comment.