Russel Lazega author of MANAGING BUBBIE
*For my review & more about Russel's book go to my blog post of MANAGING BUBBIE
Bubbie (Lea) knew she had a powerful life story to tell and decided you had the ability to write it and her intuition was right as usual. The book has won numerous awards and amazing things are coming up in association with the book.
1. Was there a reason behind Bubbie wanting her story told? (Besides that it is incredible)
1. Was there a reason behind Bubbie wanting her story told? (Besides that it is incredible)
It's funny. When I was in college, my grandmother ("Bubbie" we say in Yiddish) would tell me in her thick Polish-Jewish accent, "I vant you should write these tings down, Russel. Mine stories. Mine life. I vant you should make a book from these tings -- a book to tell vhat I did to bring mine children here to this country.” I always knew that she had managed to "Forrest Gump" her way into and out of some pretty powerful moments in history but for close to a decade I kind of blew off the idea of writing it all down. I was busy with important things like my education and career. For Bubbie just two things were important: 1) her family and 2) surviving. It took me a while to figure out how important history — one’s own personal history — can be. Bubbie knew it and would always nudge me: “You vatch. A million dollars they'll pay you for this story. I know from these tings.” Well, maybe it wasn’t a million dollars but she was definitely right that the world would connect with her story.
2. Though, she is looking down upon you from heaven what do you think Bubbie would say about it all?
Bubbie actually lived to the age of 95 and really was most proud of just living that long. She’d say, “Oy, I never imagined I could live so long. Vit all the tings I survived. Who could tink I vould ever live to be so old. I’m a little slower, but still here. Alright, I shouldn’t complain. I managed.” That’s probably the universal message of this story — that so many of us in the country are here in this incredible free place because our parents or grandparents — ordinary people — did extraordinary things to get here.
You know when I first started on this publishing project nearly two decades ago I had a prominent agent and some of the big publishing houses were showing interest but the concern seemed to be “will middle America care about the story of a little old Jewish lady in Miami Beach?” Is there a market for this beyond Brooklyn, L.A. and South Florida? It warms my heart to see how wrong the big publishers were. It turns out, my best response has been from people who aren’t Jewish who relate because my family’s story is their family’s story — even though we may look different. I get emails from Chinese people, Russian people, Cuban people saying “Holy mackerel — that’s my mother!" or "that’s my grandmother!” We’re a nation built by the sweat of immigrants and definitely one built by the sweat of fierce mothers. I guess big publishing missed that.
I’ve got a Jewish mother and Jewish grandmothers — I don’t think I had a choice.
For the most part, not at all. Bubbie went through some incredibly trying times and trudged through some pivotal moments in history but she always looked at life and making it here to America as a heavenly gift. Survival was a badge of honor for her. In fact, people are shocked to see how funny her story and character were. Like when she got older and needed to be in an assisted living facility. She got herself her kicked out of like 5 facilities in a span of 6 months. They said she was “unmanageable” because she kept breaking out of the nursing homes. She became the Houdini of Living Oaks. She’d say, “It’s a concentration camp. They’re concentrating people. All day these people vait to die! Like a death camp. Not me. I escaped from Hitler. I can escape from here."
5. Was writing about it liberating in any way?
Definitely. But I think what it’s done more than anything is connect me with so many people who are overcoming their own struggles with grace, dignity and a smile. One of the greatest joys for me is when someone writes me and says. “You know, I’m battling my own adversity but your grandmother’s story inspired me that if she can triumph over what she went through then I can get through this.” I don’t think she ever meant to be uplifting for others. It was simply that through much of her life she was confronted with decisions that meant live or die for her and her children and after making through that gauntlet the only things that mattered were the things that are truly important — family and survival. The rest was just gravy.
Not really. She really was always the ultimate “mama bear." I think when you manage to bring your children safely out of hell you tend to become a bit overprotective with your kids — especially for Jewish mothers who are known to be a bit attached at the hip to their children. I remember my mom telling me how Bubbie was the mother-in-law from hell for her through much of her life. When my parents first got married they were living in a low-rent basement flat in Brooklyn. Bubbie would take 2 buses from Manhattan, walk 5 city blocks in the dead of winter, let herself into the young couple’s apartment and set dinner for one — for my father. “My baby’s so skinny,” she’d gripe, "That girl couldn’t possibly be feeding him. Not like Mama.”
7. After everything that she went through did Bubbie ever mention wanting to go back and visit Poland or any place she took salvage in?
Bubbie left Poland at a pretty young age, and of course the conditions there were awful, so I don’t think she ever saw it as a home she wanted to go back to. She did go back to Belgium and France and enjoyed it because her nephew caught and cooked her a fish but home for her was always America. Through the war she went through one hell of a journey to get her kids safely here to the U.S.A. I don’t think there’s any looking back from that.
No. I don’t know that there’s much left of the Lodz she knew and as Bubbie would always say, “I live in the greatest country in the vorld now — America — the home from the free. Vhat I vant to look back there for?"
Yes, and frighteningly true — even down to my foul-mouthed 78-year-old great aunt Pauline. They say insanity runs in some families. In mine it gallops. A lot of people questioned my decision to tell two stories in this book (Bubbie’s early/wartime years in Poland, Belgium, France and Spain and then her later years in 1980’s Miami Beach) but I felt it’s important to see not just where someone starts but where they end up. In my case it was in a loving, zany, multi-ethnic, melted melting pot clan in Miami Beach. That’s the family she ended up seeding this wonderful family that was her existence. Looking back from that lofty vantage point you can laugh and cry a lot easier with her along her journey through her life because you know from the beginning it all turns out ok.
You have some incredible actors and people from broadway participating in the audiobook version of Managing Bubbie.
A little drive, a lot of luck and a healthy sprinkle of “word-of-mouth.” As an indie it’s always hard to draw attention to your book and get people to take notice. For me I was fortunate to hit at a time when people want to see great female-driven stories. And a pregnant mom and her two small girls going at it alone against the Nazis — that scream female empowerment Well, one thing led to another and soon I managed to catch the attention of a prominent casting director, Ed Arenas, and a rising star writer/producer, Ethan Smith, who got the story in front of some iconic actors including broadway/T.V. Legend Linda Lavin (who plays Bubbie in the upcoming audiobook), Gavin McLeod (of Love Boat fame), Broadway and film star Lainie Kazan, and Grammy-nominated comic Judy Tenuta (who gives a riveting dramatic performance). In total, the audiobook will feature a full-ensemble cast that will also include: prominent voice-over actors JJ Crowne and Alex McKenna as well as my daughter Kassandra and a talented young actress named Taylor Blackwell playing Bubbie’s two young daughters.
11. Are you nervous about reading your part? I would be.
Oh yeah, I forgot about me. I’m a natural ham so I really loved having the opportunity to relive my wacky life on audio to be recorded for all posterity. Now let’s see how my singing sounds.
Wow. There are really two Bubbie roles to cast. 1940’s Bubbie and 1980’s Bubbie. For 1940’s Bubbie I think we’d need a really giving actress because so much happens in the 1940’s scenes — that’s where so much of the work is — but it’s the lovable, funny, cantankerous, unmanageable 1980’s Bubbie that everyone remembers. So that’s a tough one — an actress who can really share the spotlight. For 1980’s Bubbie I’d always been intrigued by the idea of Betty White as Bubbie but after hearing Linda Lavin hit this one out of the park on the audiobook there isn’t a doubt in my mind why she probably has a room full of acting awards.
13. Would you play yourself or do you have someone else in mind?
Oh, man. I’m too old to play me.
No, I haven’t but would love to. She’s truly one of the funniest people on the planet and as my grandmother would likely have said, “she sounds like a nice Jewish girl."