Home in the Morning

homeinthemorning

Mary Glickman tells the story of a Jewish family confronting the tumult of the 1960s – and the secrets that bind its members together.

Book synopsis: Jackson Sassaport, the main character of Home in the Morning, is a man who often finds himself in the middle. Whether torn between Stella, his beloved and opinionated Yankee wife, and Katherine Marie, his African American childhood friend, or between standing up for his beliefs and acquiescing to his prominent Jewish family’s imperative not to stand out in the segregated South, Jackson learns to balance the secrets and deceptions of those around him. But one fateful night in 1960 will make the man in the middle reconsider his obligations to propriety and family, and will start a chain of events that will change his life and the lives of those around him forever.

Home in the Morning follows a southern Jewish man who comes of age in the midst of the civil rights struggle. You were raised in a traditional Irish-Polish Catholic family in Boston. How did you end up writing from this perspective?

What inspired this story was an op-ed that appeared in the Boston Globe. The article slammed the docent of the Confederate Museum in Charleston for not apologizing enough for a lack of African American visitors. He concluded, rather archly: “One misses the clear pronunciation to visitors and locals alike that, for the record, slavery was bad…” Well, I was incensed. I’d spent a year living in Charleston and during my time in the New South, I was witness to an ease of relations, a warmth between African Americans and whites that was missing in the North. The history of race relations in the South is profoundly personal and complex, not easily understood by the casual visitor. I thought the writer’s attitude condescending and hypocritical, and I wrote a letter to the editor stating such. It was printed. A Charlestonian living in Boston read the letter, wrote me sympathetically and we began a correspondence, exchanging anecdotes of Southern living. At some point, I realized I could write Southern. And I loved it.

The civil rights movement is a major theme in your novel. What was it about this movement that made you want to set your story around it?

My primary concern was trying to explain that North/South disconnect on racial realities. After living in and moving to the South, I found most northerners’ perceptions of the South were straight out of Hollywood stereotypes of Jim Crow rednecks and ugly racial tension. They were wildly misinformed about the New South and what I witnessed as this ease of relations between blacks and whites that I’d never experienced up north. As I started to think about why this was so, I made a study of the southern Jewish experience and found it was very different from the northern one. So I thought: what better way to explore that disconnect between North and South than to take a look at the civil rights era through the experience of a southern Jewish man married to a Yankee Jewish woman in that time? I should add here that I’m not saying racism is dead in the South or anywhere else in the U.S. On the contrary. But its face is different in the South; great progress has been made here, and I wanted to see that acknowledged.

The main character, Jackson, is described as a good man and yet “deaf to the sufferings of the African Americans around him.” Can both of these things be true?

Of course. Jackson is a product of his environment and yet capable of enlightenment. Recently, I was at a Q&A session following a talk by Eli Evans, our foremost southern Jewish memoirist. He’s also the biographer of Judah P. Benjamin, a Jew who was successively the attorney general, secretary of war, and secretary of state of the Confederacy. Benjamin is sometimes known as “the brains of the Confederacy.” Here is a man who at one point of his legal career advocated for human and civil rights for slaves and later operated a plantation worked by 140 slaves. In the Q&A, my husband asked what I later called “the Yankee question.” How could Benjamin believe in the dignity and civil rights of slaves and yet own men? Eli Evans replied: It was the way things were. Plantations fueled by slave labor were a fact of life.

How does that duality play out in your book?

Jackson Sassaport lives in an unjust world; yet, it is home to him. At one point in the story, he tells Stella that he didn’t comprehend the implications when he was a child in the ’50s and his white playmates could come to the front door and watch the new television with him, while L’il Bokay, his African American playmate, was reduced to sneaking up to the window to do the same. It was just “normal,” he tells her. What makes him a good man is that, when push comes to shove, he sees that “normal” isn’t always right; he makes hard choices and grows morally. It’s very easy to stand outside an unjust system and condemn it. It’s far more difficult to live within it and make oneself a target, especially when one is a minority to begin with. During the civil rights struggle, of course there were white southerners with sympathy for their oppressed neighbors. The white South was not a monolithic block of racial hatred. But fear ruled the day. It was largely only the clergy, ministers, and rabbis who spoke out.

You converted to Judaism before marrying your husband, and then moved to the South from the Northeast. Which life change was a more challenging adjustment?

There were certainly consequences to my conversion that mattered. It took some time for my mother to accept it. I always joke that she loves my husband better than she loves me. He wasn’t a problem for her. But my conversion was. It broke her heart. We suffered an estrangement for a brief time. But we got through it. She told me recently that she was telling her parish priest about her seven children and when she got to me, she said: Mary is Jewish. I’m sure she must have blushed as if this were a shameful thing for her to admit. He asked her: Is she a good Jew? Mom said: Yes, I think so. The priest said: Then don’t concern yourself. I think she was much relieved, even after all these years.

There’s a parallel here in my moving south. We moved south after living seven months in Spain. We’d intended to live in Spain for a year, but the dollar tanked, and obtaining our residencia visa was complex and costly. We decided we could stay in Charleston, South Carolina, for a year or Spain for another six months and, as we were both involved in unfinished writing projects, we chose more time in Charleston, where we had once gloriously vacationed. It proved a wise choice. There followed one of the best years of my life, but our time and money ran out. We returned to the workaday world in Boston, swearing we’d move south for good in five years. It took nearly twenty. Meanwhile, my passion for all things southern intensified, deepened. I was reluctant for much of it to dare to “write southern.” But I’m glad I finally did!

The parallel was that, by the time we were ready to move back south, my parents had grown old and vulnerable. Just as conversion was a strain on familial bonds, so was moving south. Before we left, I told my mother I had misgivings about leaving as she approached her most fragile years. She said: You have to live your life, Mary. I try to visit my parents up north often. I’m very grateful they have my devoted siblings nearby to watch over them and help them out. But there is a certain sadness.

Could you tell me more about this quote you once said in an interview: “Joseph Campbell said that religion is the poetry that speaks to a man’s soul, and Judaism was my soul’s symphony.”

Recent brain research concludes that humans are hard-wired for religious belief. I believe Campbell’s work anticipated this, but in citing poetry, he adds that a mystical element operates in addition to biology, that one’s choice of religion goes deeper than cultural and familial training, it goes to the bone.

When I was a child, the good sisters who taught me would answer doubts about various Christian mysteries with the statement: faith is a gift. By adolescence I realized I had not received the gift. The divinity of Jesus was a stumbling block I could not leap over. Naturally, I gravitated towards the Tanakh. Later on, I discovered the great Jewish writers, among them Sholom Aleichem, I.L. Peretz, Chaim Potok, Saul Bellow, and of course I.B. Singer, writers who struck a sympathetic chord inside me. So the beauty of Talmudic logic and metaphor was first put to me by writers of fiction. The first time I heard Ashkenazic liturgical music, my chest filled up, I had tears. If that was not the pull of poetry on my soul, I don’t know what is.

What do you hope readers will most take away from this book?

Apart from learning something new about the south, both Old and New, and about the southern Jewish experience, there’s another theme running through the book that’s important to me, and I think this theme is present in all my work. In part, Morning is a meditation on different kinds of love: love of family, love of place, romantic love, and the love between friends. It’s my contention that all of these types of love are important for a well-lived life. We focus so much in our society on romantic love and, yet, the love between friends is equally eternal, sustaining, vital. Just as we might sacrifice greatly for the welfare of our family members, for our country, for our spouse and children, we also do and should for our friends.

What question do you wish I asked and how would you answer it?

Here comes the shameless self-promotion moment! You didn’t ask me about my new novel, One More River, due out in November this year. River takes the character of Mickey Moe Levy from Morning and fleshes out the back-story of his romance with his future wife, which involves an adventure the two share as they search for the mysterious origins of Mickey Moe’s father, Bernard Levy, who died during WWII. Bernard’s story is a colorful one, I promise! In this novel, two transformative events of the American South—the civil rights era and the great Mississippi flood of 1927—fuel the plot.

About the Author

Mary Glickman
Mary Glickman is a writer, public relations professional, and fundraiser who has worked with Jewish charities and organizations. Born on the south shore of Boston, Glickman studied at the Université de Lyon and Boston University. While she was raised in a strict Irish-Polish Catholic family, from an early age Glickman felt an affinity toward Judaism and converted to the faith when she married. After living in Boston for 20 years, she and her husband traveled to South Carolina and discovered a love for all things southern. Glickman now lives in Seabrook Island, South Carolina, with her husband, cat, and beloved horse, King of Harts.

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