The Story Behind Tasa’s Song
The passing on of a story is a legacy, a gift of love. My mother’s story, as all family history, was getting thinner with time. I needed to sort it out before it disappeared. Turning it to fiction allowed me to find even greater truths.
The seeds for Tasa’s Song were planted when I was a young girl, as my mother began sharing stories of her early childhood. Tasa’s journey is based on my mother’s early life, growing up during the gathering storm of World War II. Tasa, however, is not my mother although her experiences often parallel those my mother had endured. So the broad outline of my story is true: it reflects real events, the settings are realistic, and several characters resemble my distant relatives.
My strongest memory from my mother’s stories was that she “lived underground.” I tried to imagine what that meant. It seemed so harsh and severe but my mother would tell me as if it were a matter of fact. She survived, after all. I learned that when she was only 16, she was separated from her mother, who had been sent by the Soviets to Siberia when my mother was boarding in another town for her schooling. One day when we were looking through old photographs, my mom pointed out one picture that showed her and her classmates. Without skipping a beat, she told me she was the only one who survived.
Over the years, this disjointed chapter in my mother’s life produced many mental pictures for me—sketchy and vague until I began to question the greater historical context. By the time I was twenty-five, I was armed with a master’s degree in journalism and several years of experience as an investigative reporter and magazine writer. I took on the role of family historian with great fervor, interviewing both of my parents on tape, hoping an objective approach with very specific questions would finally unveil the mystery I so desperately sought to uncover. As I had tapped their words on my typewriter keys (this was in 1980), I ended up with gaps and, much later, thought of all the questions I should have asked. But something had held me back. Digging for the truth, perhaps, scared me.
As I later began to research Polish history, it became evident how much fear and trauma all these World War II survivors had to surmount, even those who hadn’t suffered the brutality of a concentration camp. My mother didn’t share the specifics of her upheaval with me since she often felt it was as if she didn’t know what was happening to her. Indeed, there was much her family, like so many others, chose not to believe and that was my focus in the chapter called “Denial.” In this chapter’s celebratory gathering, the whole family is suddenly face to face with a messenger—in this case, cousin Albert—who is telling them how the world really is, and it brings fear into their lives. I knew this likely was the last time Tasa’s large, extended family would be together in one place. And I knew there was no turning back from there, that the chapters to follow would be getting into very tough parts of the war’s history. That it would challenge me emotionally.
As I wrote deeper into the novel, Tasa’s thoughts began reflecting the idea that she is made up of the many people who have touched her life. That, in fact, became how she kept them alive; so often inside her own mind, she was able to let their strengths,and her love for them, inhabit her. This trait allows her to come out of the horror of the Holocaust in one piece. I found, in the writing of Tasa’s Song, that the memory of those you love brings clarity and, with it, joy. Now, on November 9, I think of my grandfather, Osias Rosaminer (he became Sam Rosen after he immigrated to this country) who served as the inspiration for Salomon Rosinski. His birthdate is now marked on my calendar. I recall I was away at college when Grampa Sam died at the age of seventy-nine. I certainly wish now that I had had more time with him, and my grandmother, and learned more about their relatives and their multifarious experiences. Long since they’ve passed, thanks to writing their imagined history, I’ve begun to gather nuggets here and there. Composing this novel allowed me to imagine what I didn’t know, and to bring my past to life.
That is one of the reasons this World War II story is different from others—there are real and remarkable people at its core. The setting in eastern Poland, an area uniquely controlled by both Soviets and Germans, is not the typical backdrop for a World War II novel; the depiction of oppression comes from both of these world powers. Tasa’s character uses music as strength, melody as metaphor. Tasa’s journey tests her inner resilience. Tasa’s Song celebrates the power of the human spirit to rise above the atrocities brought on by war and circumstance. It is a story that still resonates around the globe today.
My mother is on the left, wearing a white shirt and dark tie.
My mother, Grampa Sam, and me in 1964