For some book club leaders it is enough to evaluate other people's writing. Not for Deby Eisenberg.
The long-time book club leader at Congregation Beth Shalom in Northbrook yearned for more. "Eventually I just challenged myself to write a story that my readers couldn't put down and would love to discuss," said Eisenberg, of Riverwoods.
The result is Protecting Paige (Studio House Literacy), a coming-of-age novel set in 1962 that begins when the wealthy and protected 12-year-old Paige finds herself alone and terrified when a gang kills her mother, father, and brother while on their way to a Chicago museum. The novel follows Paige until age 22 as she leaves the only home she has ever known in Winnetka to go live with her famous, "larger-than-life" uncle Maxwell in downtown Chicago. Eventually the pair sets off to uncover secrets from the past, including lost family members and loves, and the reasons why Paige's French mother refused to let her family practice Judaism. The story winds its way from Chicago to Lake Geneva, Wisc. and hops abroad to London and parts of France.
"It's kind of a coming-of-age story," Eisenberg said. "How … do you go from being a very protected child to developing relationships of your own, falling in love, finding out about your past, finding out about your heritage, and then melding that together? It's almost like Paige had to discover her past so she could discover her future and to go ahead in life."
While the book is not exclusively about the Holocaust, it certainly figures prominently in the story. Although Eisenberg has no personal connection to the Holocaust, she said she is proud to do anything to keep more stories of the Holocaust alive. "We don't have to only care about the Holocaust, and we shouldn't only care about the Holocaust because there are many other people in danger, but Jews are targeted and it continues," she said. "It continues on."
Travel was what inspired Eisenberg to write Protecting Paige . She said that she and her husband love to travel, especially to Jewish and historical sites. "...When I go to a place, I just always think of a story. I'm intrigued with what happened to people living during a time period or living during an event, going through an event …We also understand events that are on a grand scale and global proportion by sharing individual stories of those events."
Eisenberg is a teacher by training. While she made up the characters in the story, it was important to her that the historical events featured were accurate including: the SS Eastland Disaster of 1915, the day 844 people died when their vessel tipped over in the Chicago River, descriptions of World War II and the Holocaust. Her novel recently won a bronze medal at the 2016 Independent Publisher Book Awards.
To research Protecting Paige , Eisenberg read books about the Eastland disaster and those who built Lake Geneva. In one part of the book, she talks about a girl who wanted to go to a country club dance in Lake Geneva, but didn't realize the country club did not allow Jews.
"My assertion that my fictional Gables Country Club was restricted is not based on any specific evidence from a real Lake Geneva club," Eisenberg wrote in an email, "but, in truth, it was very commonplace during that era and beyond for the most prestigious country clubs, even on Chicago's North Shore, to be exclusive gentile enclaves."
Eisenberg also researched "hidden children" of the Holocaust and drew on her travels to the Château de Chenonceau, a French château on the River Cher near the Loire Valley.
Eisenberg's first love was always writing. As a young woman she worked as a society editor for the Skokie News , yet she ultimately decided to pursue a teaching career, so that she could help support her husband-Dr. Michael Eisenberg-attend medical school.
At age 62, Eisenberg published Pictures of the Past , a work of historical fiction about a painting that was challenged as a Nazi theft. It follows the story of young love that lasts through years of separation. Then she set her sights on Protecting Paige, which was released late last year.
When asked what she hopes readers will take away from her novel, she referred to the logo on her website, which reads: "Novels to Broaden Your Mind and Open Your Heart."
Readers, she said, like to learn something in a story, but are also drawn in by characters in a love story. Eisenberg said that this book is for people who like to immerse themselves in historical fiction. They do not have to be Jewish to like it. It will also appeal to young adults.
Joanna Broder is a freelance health and features journalist living in Maryland.
Protecting Paige is available on Amazon or as an eBook and is also for sale at The Book Bin in Northbrook, and The Book Stall in Winnetka where Eisenberg will be having a presentation and book signing on June 8 at 6:30 p.m. Her May schedule includes: West Suburban Temple Har Zion in River Forest, Congregation Beth Judea in Long Grove, and Congregation Beth Shalom in Northbrook. "Pictures from the Past" is available on Amazon and at the Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center.