While author Jaclyn Goldis’ debut novel just hit bookstores in February, the former lawyer says she always knew she wanted to be a writer. “I was narrating this story of the animals in our forest when I was four. Some people just have a path.”
That path, however, contained a few twists and turns – and several countries. Goldis grew up in Bloomfield Hills and attended Hillel Day School, Andover High School, University of Michigan, and New York University Law School before settling into a corporate job in Chicago.
“I never thought writing novels was something I’d be able to do at 22. You need money and life experience, and I didn’t have either.” As a result, the few years she thought she’d spend practicing law turned into seven, with her leaving the field just as she was about to go up for a prestigious partnership.
She quickly left Chicago’s winter weather behind, traveling to Hawaii, South Africa, Thailand, Bali, and Israel. Throughout her travels, Goldis kept returning to Tel Aviv, until eventually realizing she had unintentionally moved there. “I highly recommend the accidental move,” she said of the place she has now called home for four years.
During her year traveling, Goldis wrote her first novel; she has written three more since. When We Were Young is a cross-generational tale following a family from Greece in World War II to modern day Florida. Her other novels include more adult women’s fiction, as well as a “Nancy Drew meets Israel” book for middle schoolers that she’s hoping to turn into a series.
“They say your first novel is the most like you,” Goldis notes, while making clear that When We Were Young’s main character is not her. The inspiration, though, comes squarely from her family’s history. Her father’s grandparents died in the Holocaust, with his mother escaping on the last train from their Ukrainian town.
“It’s very interesting to write about multiple generations, about someone more my age finding out the secrets of her ancestors. My grandmother, who escaped the Holocaust – I always felt close to her even though I never met her. I’m very close with my grandma on my mom’s side, so I merged the two.”
She had not, however, spent time in Greece. As she read about how the Holocaust had impacted Greece, and in particular about the Jews in Corfu, she spent three weeks there doing research, finding a locale that allowed for a story “on the fringes” of the Holocaust instead of putting those atrocities front and center.
Goldis cites her experience as a lawyer as making her a better writer. “It taught me a way of writing that is so precise and condensed, and how to say exactly what it is to get your point across and not say superfluous stuff. It’s a skill you need as a creative writer – you have to know when to cut, and to be less emotional about it.”
But really, what sets Goldis apart at 37 from her 22-year-old self is the “passage of time. Of going through heartbreak and loss. The degree to which you can know your characters only as well as you know yourself.”
Story: Hillary Brody Anchill
Photo: Shai Hansav