Lawyer turned novelist conjures up tales of Jewish Brooklyn

Once upon a time, not very long ago— during the Carter and Reagan administrations— there lived a very bright and perceptive Jewish girl, Lynda.

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Novelist Lynda Cohen Loigman is the author of The Two-Family House, a searing Jewish domestic drama, and The Wartime Sisters, which is to be released this month by St. Martin's Press. She has always relished a good family narrative. Here's hers:

Once upon a time, not very long ago- during the Carter and Reagan administrations- there lived a very bright and perceptive Jewish girl, Lynda. 

Lynda grew up in the very pleasant town of Longmeadow (a suburb of Springfield, Massachusetts), with her parents and her equally perspicacious brother. Her father was a social-work supervisor for the Massachusetts Department of Public Welfare. Her Brooklyn-born mother was a high school graduate who lacked a college education and, her daughter said, had a deep shame over it. Her parents harbored every expectation that their children would excel-and excel they did.

As Loigman recounts some 35 years or so later, she and her brother "had a choice: law school or medical school."

After spending many childhood evenings critiquing their parents' motives and actions- "We used to sit in my brother's room and psychoanalyze them," Loigman recalled- her brother, unsurprisingly, went on to become a psychiatrist. 

Loigman's professional trajectory took a somewhat more circuitous turn. She fulfilled her parent's hopes and dreams by graduating from Harvard, then Columbia University's law school. She then practiced as tax and estate attorney, landing a job at one of New York's white-shoe law firms, Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy. She also married a nice Jewish boy, Robert Loigman, whose bona fides included a law degree from Harvard. They eventually moved to the idyllic Westchester suburb of Chappaqua-also home to Bill and Hillary Clinton-and had two children, a daughter who is now a Harvard undergrad herself, and a high school-age son. 

But all was not right with this seemingly picture-perfect scenario. Loigman was not enamored of her professional career. She lived in fear, she said, of "getting something wrong with the tax laws."

So, by the time her kids were of school age, she left her law career behind and enrolled at nearby Sarah Lawrence College's Writing Institute, where the idea for The Two-Family House took hold .

Loigman had always relished the stories her mother and aunts told her of their coming of age in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn. So, she went back in time-to the 1940s and 50s-and created a tale of two brothers, Abe and Mort, who share a two-story house in that neighborhood with their wives and children. These wives, Helen and Rose, develop a loving, sisterly relationship until a long-kept secret between the two women festers and creates a chasm that will never be bridged. In its glowing review of the book in 2016, Publishers Weekly called it "an engrossing family saga" with a "dark underbelly."

Loigman said that, while the venue in which much of the book is set is based on her mother's and aunts' experiences growing up in that particular part of Brooklyn, the characters are completely imagined. She did concede, however, that the warm, openhearted Helen is "who I want to be on my best days" and the bitter, bilious Rose is "who I want to be on my worst days." 

For the setting of her new novel, Loigman looked no further than her hometown of Springfield, where she zoomed in on the fraught relationship between two Jewish Brooklyn-born sisters navigating life during World War II.  She said her research for her book was "fascinating," as it entailed learning more about the Springfield Armory, which dates back to Revolutionary War times. 

"With measured, lucid prose, Loigman tells a moving story of women coming together in the face of difficulties, both personal and global, and doing anything to succeed," said Publishers Weekly  in an advance review of the book's publication.

Loigman said that she is already at work on her third work of fiction and that it, too, includes Jewish characters. "I don't think I'd write a book without Jewish characters," she said. 

She wants to write Jewish stories, she continued, to quell her fear that such "stories will disappear."

Loigman said that she feels indebted to the Jewish Book Council, which has done much to promote her and other Jewish writers' works. "They have been great to me," she said.

 But her gratitude also has a cosmic dimension. 

"I am extremely grateful to have had the tiniest bit of success," Loigman said. "I always felt that writing would be the happiest thing I could be doing. It makes me happier than anything." 

Robert Nagler Miller is a journalist and editor who writes frequently about arts- and Jewish-related topics from his home in Chicago.


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