RED HEADED BOOK LOVER

Judith Teitelman, Author Spotlight

In 1923, seventeen-year-old Esther Grünspan arrives in Köln “with a hardened heart as her sole luggage.” Thus begins a twenty-two-year journey, woven against the backdrops of the European Holocaust and the Hindu Kali Yuga (the “Age of Darkness” when human civilization degenerates spiritually), in search of a place of sanctuary. Throughout her travails, using cunning and shrewdness, Esther relies on her masterful tailoring skills to help mask her Jewish heritage, navigate war-torn Europe, and emigrate to India.

Esther’s traveling companion and the novel’s narrator is Ganesha, the elephant-headed Hindu God worshipped by millions for his abilities to destroy obstacles, bestow wishes, and avenge evils. Impressed by Esther’s fortitude and relentless determination, born of her deep—though unconscious—understanding of the meaning and purpose of love, Ganesha, with compassion, insight, and poetry, chooses to highlight her story because he recognizes it is all of our stories—for truth resides at the essence of its telling.

Weaving Eastern beliefs and perspectives with Western realities and pragmatism, Guesthouse for Ganesha is a tale of love, loss, and spirit reclaimed.

Hello book lovers! Today is a day where I will be writing another author spotlight for a well-accomplished author whose work I have loved. As you know book lovers I love learning about authors and the inspiration behind their work, it fascinates me and adds to the depth of the book because the reader will be able to better understand it. That is how the author spotlights were created because I soon discovered that you lovely readers ALSO love learning about authors, so I am excited to tell you a little bit more about author Judith Teitelman whose book Guesthouse for Ganesha captivated me from beginning to end. With today’s author spotlight, a biography of the author and an interview between me and Judith Teitelman will be shared, and I hope that you book lovers enjoy reading it! To kick this off here is an author bio about the wonderful Judith Teitelman!

Judith Teitelman has straddled the worlds of arts, literature, and business since she was a teenager and worked her first job as a salesperson at a B. Dalton/Pickwick Bookstore. Life’s journeys took her from bookstores to commercial fine art galleries to the nonprofit arts and cultural sector, in which she has worked as staff, consultant, and educator for more than three decades. Throughout this time, Teitelman continued her pursuit of all things literary, and over the years her writing has been published in a variety of formats and publications. Guesthouse for Ganesha is her award-winning debut novel. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and three beloved cats. 

Now, how wonderful does Judith Teitelman sound?! Judith Teitelman is a truly exceptional writer and I hope that you lovely readers have a read of the author’s work because you will not regret it! Please see below an interview between me and the author and I hope that you enjoy Judith Teitelman’s answers to my questions, they are incredible and provide some great advice too!

Thank you for joining us today at Red Headed Book Lover! Please tell us more about yourself.

Thank you, it’s a pleasure to be included here. Professionally, I’ve worked in the nonprofit sector for the past nearly 40 years. For approximately 30 of those years, I’ve been a consultant and an educator specializing with arts and cultural organizations and individual artists. And, I’m pleased to add that, since 2019, I am an award-winning author. Also, I’m an inveterate traveler who will never tire exploring our truly fascinating planet.

Could you please tell us readers about your book and what inspired you to write your book?

Guesthouse for Ganesha’s tagline is:

Left at the altar, spurned—what does that do to a young woman’s heart? And why would a Hindu God care?

The novel begins in 1923 when seventeen-year-old Esther Grünspan arrives in Köln “with a hardened heart as her sole luggage.” Thus begins a twenty-two-year journey, woven against the backdrops of the European Holocaust and the Hindu Kali Yuga (the “Age of Darkness” when human civilization degenerates spiritually), in search of a place of sanctuary. Throughout her travails, using cunning and shrewdness, Esther relies on her masterful tailoring skills to help mask her Jewish heritage, navigate war-torn Europe, and emigrate to India.

Esther’s traveling companion and the novel’s narrator is Ganesha, the elephant-headed Hindu God worshipped by millions for his abilities to destroy obstacles, bestow wishes, and avenge evils. Impressed by Esther’s fortitude and relentless determination, born of her deep―though unconscious―understanding of the meaning and purpose of love, Ganesha, with compassion, insight, and poetry, chooses to highlight her story because he recognizes it is all of our stories―for truth resides at the essence of its telling.

Weaving Eastern beliefs and perspectives with Western realities and pragmatism, Guesthouse for Ganesha is a tale of love, loss, and spirit reclaimed.

Regarding my writing, I consider myself yet another “Accidental Novelist.” While I’ve always been a confident writer and have a lifetime of papers, reports, proposals, and articles that I’ve authored, many of which have been published in various professional journals, I never had the desire to write creatively. However, as we all inevitably learn, life will often take us in directions that we can’t otherwise imagine but are exactly where we need to be. In 2001 a dear friend started a new writers group on Saturday mornings and, basically, dragged me into it. In all honesty, I hated it. But, I showed up—every week at 10am with my soy latte in one hand and my notebook and pens in the other. And then, one fateful Saturday morning not long after I started attending, I discovered Guesthouse for Ganesha had been percolating within me for a very long time.

One of the most important aspects of those Saturday mornings was that, at the onset of each session, my friend would first lead us on a guided 20–30 minute meditation. Then we would write. It was a powerful way to break down my own barriers and, essentially, allow me to venture “elsewhere” and excavate what dwelled in those deep recesses.

One of those meditations took me back to the family lunch following my maternal grandmother’s funeral in 1984, where I learned she had been abandoned at the altar by her true love when she was 17 years old. I only knew my grandmother as a mean-spirited, bordering on nasty, woman. It was difficult and unpleasant to be around her. I attributed that her experiences during WWII—losing most of her family, having to give up two daughters, leave her husband and home, struggle to survive, etc.—had hardened her irreparably. But, no, it had been love. More precisely, lost love, devastated love, abandoned love—something most of us experience at one time or another—that had made her callous, unyielding, relentless, and self-absorbed the rest of her life. This informed all her actions. Yet also, and importantly, it made her a survivor.

I was shocked and wished I had known this while she was still alive. It was the first time in my life that I felt true compassion for my grandmother and a clear understanding of her. This new knowledge was especially poignant because I, too, had recently experienced deep heartbreak. And, while this is in no way a biography, I felt compelled to honor her and this all too common, even universal experience. Equally, because of my life-long interests in eastern philosophies and perspectives, I felt it important to situate this story in the largest context possible—reflected by, and with the views and insights and perspectives of not just an omnipotent narrator, but a Hindu God. Ganesha was a natural choice for me.

What would your advice be for aspiring writers?

Persevere. Be relentless. Hold strong to your truth, and don’t be concerned with how long it takes you to write your story. You will never be too old to write and share your story(ies). And, as much as possible, enjoy this experience and where it takes you.

In your opinion, what is the most important thing about a book? 

Books enable the reader to travel to places that they might not otherwise be able to visit and explore. Most especially when stories take place in different time periods. No matter the genre, it’s memorable characters and compelling, insightful writing that draws me in and keeps me turning the page to find out how the story unfolds and how lives are impacted and/or changed.

What is your writing process like? And do you have a set schedule for writing, or do you only write when you feel inspired?

I don’t have a set schedule, per se. As I also consult and teach, I must juggle it all. Typically, I am able to dedicate at least one full day a week to my writing.

What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?

I did extensive research throughout writing Guesthouse for Ganesha. In investigating the experiences of Jewish people throughout Europe during the 1920s through 1940s, I read a great number of history books and first-person chronicles on this period in world history. My most in-depth understanding came from spending seven long and difficult days over the course of one summer watching first-person video accounts at the Shoah Foundation located at the University of Southern California. These testimonies provided the crucial foundation for ensuring Esther’s experiences and the landscape she traversed were as authentic as possible.

I researched the Hindu pantheon overall with a focus on understanding Ganesha. I read religious and historical texts, academic journals, fiction, nonfiction, and children’s books about India. I wanted to learn and capture as much knowledge as possible from a wide variety of perspectives. This part of the process I thoroughly enjoyed.

In addition, I studied the rituals and rites of Catholicism, which become essential to my protagonist’s survival.

A key part of my research was travel. I’m a visceral writer, one that, as much as possible, has to “breathe the air and touch the ground” that I write about. The world and its kaleidoscope of people and cultures and viewpoints are a never-ending source of joy and fascination for me. I’ve spent time in the countries Esther’s journey takes her to—Poland, Germany, Holland, France, Switzerland, India—although not always the exact locations [where] her story transpires. I’ve had the great privilege to visit India twice. My first trip there was focused on exploring the terrain Esther would cross—from Bombay/Mumbai and throughout Rajasthan.

Do you read much and if so who are your favorite authors?

I’ve been a voracious reader since I first learned the alphabet. It’s difficult for me to pick favorite authors. There are SO MANY! The beginnings of a list of authors I deeply admire would include (not in any priority order): Jhumpa Lahiri, Haruki Murakami, Isabel Allende, Ann Patchett, George Saunders, Patti Smith, Isabel Allende, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, George Saunders, Ann Patchett, Ha Jin, J.M. Coetzee, Arundhati Roy, and Muriel Barbery.

Lastly, when can we readers expect to read more wonderful books from you?  

I started a second novel about five or so years ago when I was still deep in the midst of searching for my literary agent. That process was something that felt out of my control, and I missed writing and conceptualizing—things I could control. In the past couple of years, this novel has mostly been languishing, because of my work with clients and students, life and travel, and everything that had to be done to get my debut novel out in the world. I am pleased to report that I have been able to focus attention on it once again in the past few months.

The title is Future Memories and, while quite different from Guesthouse for Ganesha, it does have magical realist elements. In brief, the novel centers on the relationship between a big city girl and a small town southern boy. But the heart of this story is about memories—those to which we cling, those that escape us, and those that we struggle to recover—and how they affect our lives. Why do things happen to us that are seemingly incidental, yet we never forget, while some momentous experiences leave our memory

One of the other central themes is time, which I find endlessly fascinating and easily lends itself to heightened experiences and layered perceptions.

Its official book lovers, I am obsessed with Judith Teitelman! If you have liked what you have read about the author and are interested in learning more, then please do have a browse of the links below and be sure to have a read of the preview too! You will not regret it.

Goodbye for now book lovers,

Amazon USAmazon UKGoodreads

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