When her second novel became a surprise bestseller in Germany, author Sally Koslow realized it really was a small world, after all. Read on to discover why The Late, Lamented Molly Marx (out in paperback this month) became such a hit with German readers—and for a chance to win a copy of the novel yourself!
It’s a small world after all
Guest post by Sally Koslow
If you’re American, you don’t have to be Jewish to know a bagel. You’ll find one in the same supermarket that sells hallah and rugelah. You’ve also probably said klutz or chutzpah, words as familiar to you as schmuck. Hollywood, in fact, has deemed the latter Yiddish epithet so widely understood that soon Dinner for Schmucks will hit theaters, starring Steve Carell. Borscht Belt quips have become as American as Disney World, where even 20 years ago a guide casually dropped schlep into a conversation.
When my second novel, The Late, Lamented Molly Marx, was published last summer in Germany, however, my editor felt the need to add a glossary defining these words along with names of Jewish holidays. (Purim is Freudenfest zur Erinnerung an die Errentung der Juden durch Konnigen Esther: no one ever accused German of brevity.) Yet quicker than you can say “oy,” Ich, Molly Marx, Kurzlich Verstorben became a bestseller.
Why would a novel so American that Target made it a Club Pick become the season’s hot weiner schnitzel?
Was it because the story is “a comic romp through the afterlife” (More), “funny and poignant” (Life & Style Weekly) or “has a fabulous first line: ‘When I imagined your funeral, this wasn’t what I had in mind.’”(Real Simple.) As the author, I’d like to think these factors contributed to strong sales, though I’m guessing there’s an additional reason: Molly is Jewish. We’re not talking a be-wigged Chassidic mama with eight kids under the age of nine. Molly is a garden variety, go-to-Temple-on-the-High-Holidays Jew with processed blond hair.
Recently, a friend described a scene in Berlin, where people—predominantly young—stood in line to see A Serious Man, Ethan and Joel Coen’s cinematic tribute to the Jewish life of their upper Midwest childhood. (Mine, too!) German audience are apparently hungry for accessible cultural experiences that reveal how Jews—a number that in Germany is a fraction of the pre-Holocaust headcount—live, laugh and love. This, I’m sure, is one big reason why The Late, Lamented Molly Marx has been a German success. Woven into its heartfelt narrative about motherhood, marriage and adultery is a vivid picture of a typical American woman who happens to be Jewish, a woman most likely very much like female German readers.
In all of my novels—including With Friends like These, out in August—I try to create portraits of women who remind you of your sister, your friend and yourself. That German audiences have embraced Molly Marx is a fine reason to say danke. It’s a small world after all, and what better way to understand it than through books?
Sally Koslow is the author of The Late, Lamented Molly Marx, a Target Club Pick, and With Friends like These, out August 10. You can read excerpts of her novels at sallykoslow.com.
Now it’s your turn: To enter to win a copy of The Late, Lamented Molly Marx (read our review here), leave a comment telling us about your favorite novel-in-translation. Was it The Elegance of the Hedgehog? or a classic like Madame Bovary or Anna Karenina?