Author Spotlight: Percy Makhuba

This month Kokoro Press released Cries of the Forgotten by a bright new voice among authors in postapartheid South Africa, Percy Makhuba. Raised on a farm in South Africa, Percy Makhuba works fulltime as a pastor of a ministry. The author has written such a fascinating approach to and vision of achieving a society free of violence, we wanted to know more about him. Please welcome Percy Makhuba who has graciously answered some very personal questions.

Kokoro Press: What inspired you to write a story about ending violence against women?

Percy Makhuba: There was a time in my life where I was being abusive and recognising that I have abused my wife was the first step of accepting my problem. I also congratulate myself for taking other measures for wanting to correct my behavior. I have control over myself and the way I choose to behave is to be a REAL man, husband and good father to my children and that is the whole reason why I wrote about ending violence against women.

Kokoro Press: Do you relate to the protagonist, Tshepo Nonyane? If so, in what ways?

Percy: I relate with Tshepo simply because of the way he loves his wife and that is my definition of loving and he is a spiritual man like I am. He makes me feel better knowing that it’s okay to feel alone, confused and lost. He made me accept the fact that you’re never going to know what you’re future is like and if it’s scary it’s a part of life.

Kokoro Press: Cries of the Forgotten brings in many different aspects of South African society, one of them is the long tradition of sangomas (medicine men/women). Having grown up in South Africa, were you exposed to sangomas and what was that experience like?

Percy: Growing up as a black child in South Africa, I grew up believing in Sangomas, and always thought they are powerful and my mother is a sangoma as well. l have accepted that is what she believes in, but I have found out that their ways of doings things doesn’t go with what I believe in now as a Pastor. I do believe there are prophets and that herbs heal people.

Kokoro Press: Your lifetime spans both sides of apartheid. Do you see an appreciable difference in South African society since apartheid was abolished?

Percy: Not much has changed for most blacks – slow progress, overall improvements at the start but beginning to slide now. There is freedom of movement – live where you like if you can afford to.

Kokoro Press: You are a pastor who heads a ministry. What drew you to that occupation and can you talk a bit about what it’s like? What are the difficulties? What are the rewards?

Percy: A burning desire to serve the Lord full-time. A desire to see lost souls saved. On a regular basis, pastors face the reality of people who have been part of their church deciding to leave. More often than not, these people have received a great deal of ministry and have been given special attention to get them through difficult times. And though it may not be talked about much at our local churches, when people leave your church, it usually hurts. What is rewarding about it is when you see people testify or get healed by your words. When you feel appreciated by your congregation.

Cries of the Forgotten is available from Amazon Kindle|Barnes and Noble Nook|Kobo Books.

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Now Available: Cries of the Forgotten: A Murder Mystery of Postapartheid South Africa

Cries of the Forgotten
A Murder Mystery of Postapartheid South Africa

Author: Percy Makhuba
Genre: Murder mystery; Paranormal
Length: Novella
Price: 0.99 USD

Cover art: Louca Matheo

Buy at Amazon Kindle|Barnes and Noble Nook|Kobo Books

John Burdett, internationally best-selling mystery author of Bangkok 8 (Sonchai Jitpleecheep Series), The Last Six Million Seconds and A Personal History of Thirst calls Cries of the Forgotten, “A moving insight into Zulu shamanism and Christian forgiveness in today’s troubled South Africa.”

From a new, powerful voice in the post-apartheid South African canon of authors, comes Cries of the Forgotten, a murder mystery that explores the scars left by the inner war of a nation.

A seemingly ordinary man with an extraordinary secret…

One day, Tshepo Nonyane, a mild-mannered government statistician walks into the Johannesburg Metro Police Department and confesses to the brutal rapes and murders of several women. He describes his crimes in grisly detail, even as his clean-cut, sincere appearance completely belies the violent man he claims to be.

As Detective Eloff Mueller and her police partner, Joseph Langa, investigate Nonyane’s horrifying confessions, they find themselves pulled into a world where appearance and reality are blurred beyond recognition. They could never have prepared for what is uncovered along with the skeletons of the long-dead and forgotten victims of South Africa’s epidemic violence against women.

Tshepo, the son of one of the country’s most powerful sangomas (medicine men), has long-denied his heritage and believes he has gone mad from refusing to follow his ancestral calling. His madness has led him to murder and brutality…or so he believes. Along with the visions of his unthinkable crimes, the act of confession opens up long-forgotten wounds and secrets he has been keeping from himself. Unlocking the depths of his soul leads to consequences he, and everyone else in his beloved South Africa, could never have imagined in a million lifetimes.

Part murder mystery, part social statement and part spiritual journey, Cries of the Forgotten is one man’s odyssey to protect and heal the nation he loves from its self-inflicted wounds. With a cast of characters who yearn for justice in a nation where men and women have long been at war against themselves and each other, Cries of the Forgotten explores the pressing question of what it will take for the violence to end, once and for all.


Chapter One

“Tshepo, you’re not a killer. Let’s go home, please.”

Tshepo stopped on the steps of the police station and looked briefly at his wife. The devotion and admiration Nandipha’s eyes reflected for him was unbearable. He’d never deserved her, not after his great act of cowardice had led only to brutality and death. “We’ve discussed this endlessly, Nandi. I’m a killer. I must pay for my crimes. Go home. I promise I will call you. You shouldn’t have got out of the cab.”

Nandipha’s large, beautiful eyes filled. Behind her, the traffic of Johannesburg passed on Main Street. A tear trembled on her lash and rolled down her smooth dark cheek. “You’re not a killer. I know what you are. Why won’t you listen to me?”

“Because you’re prejudiced in my favour. I can do no wrong. You do not see who is in front of you.”

“I do see you. Of all the people in the world, I see you when no one else will. I can’t let you do this. I beg you, Tshepo.”

He turned and went in. There was a line ahead of him. Thankfully, Nandi stopped her tearful begging, but she stood and sniffled endlessly. He could hear her silent pleas, however. When two people had been soulmates since birth, the connection was so deep they could hear each other’s thoughts and finish their sentences. Finally, when he could bear her suffering no longer, he looked at her. He restrained the overpowering urge to wipe the stains of her tears from her cheeks. The near obsidian hue of her skin contrasted with the orange house dress she wore. She’d always worn dresses like that, simple and humble. She wore a matching band to pull back her abundance of perfect, smooth braids. No doubt, she craved his touch after so many years, but he would not mar her beauty with his monster’s hands. She never complained. His beautiful Nandi. “Please, my love,” he murmured. “Go home now. I will call you. I promise.”

“All right. But what you’re doing is wrong.” She turned and walked out of the station.

Tshepo watched her leave. Perhaps there was a time he would have relented and followed her, but he could no longer allow the carnage to continue.

The line crept forward. The clock read well after lunchtime when he finally reached the window and leant slightly inward so that the woman behind the desk would hear him over the din of ringing phones and numerous conflict resolutions happening around them. “I’m here to confess to murder.”

The weary desk sergeant stared at him. Her dark eyes seemed to be assessing whether he was a crackpot she should send away. Of course, she wouldn’t. Anyone who was confessing to murder had to be questioned, at least. Her eyes rested an extra moment on his forehead. Eyes always did rest there, at the crudely fashioned image of a dragon-like snake consuming its own body. The true semiotic of a serial killer. And rapist. “Name?”

He cleared his perpetually dry throat. “Tshepo Nonyane.” Tshepo held out his ID card.

Her round, smooth dark cheeks reminded him of the faces of the women whose lives he had ended. If he looked any longer, he would once again be swimming in a pool of blood; a pool full of the bodies of his victims. “I’m not crazy. I’m telling you the truth.”

“One moment, please.” She picked up a phone and pressed a button. “Yes. Someone has come in named Tshepo Nonyane. He wants to make a confession to murder.” She listened and nodded. Whoever was on the other end was obviously giving her instructions. “Yes, sir,” she answered and replaced the receiver. She signalled to a nearby officer. “Put him in Room Three.”
The officer, young enough to be his son, took his arm. “This way.”

About the author::

Percy Makhuba was born on 18 June 1967 in Honeydew, South Africa. He grew up living on a farm and attended school at Paradise bend School and Witkoppen High School. Percy studied transport management at Rand Afrikaans University qualifying in 2002. He founded a church in 2008 and is currently a Visionary Leader and a Senior Pastor of Percy Healing Word Ministry.

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Now available: Death Effect by John Burdett

Death Effect
Author: John Burdett
Genre: Dark comedy; Short stories; Noir
Length: Short story
Word count: 3237
e-book page count: 13
Price: 0.99 USD

Buy: Amazon Kindle | BN Nook | Kobo | ePub from Google Play compatible with your iBook reader.

Cover art: Louca Matheo

Doing very bad things for very good reasons…

A noir short story from John Burdett, international best-selling author of The Bangkok Asset, the most recent novel in the critically-acclaimed Bangkok mystery series.

Sheriff Jack Gatt is the least eligible (read: least desirable) bachelor in Etowah County, Alabama, especially to Medical Examiner Bethany Lee Brown, who has done all she can to avoid his slobbering desire for her. That is, until he makes her a proposal…or two…she really can’t refuse. What is it that has Bethany shift in an instant from repulsion for the unshaven, lout Gatt to irresistible lust for him and…a darkly odd partnership that neither of them could resist if their very lives and careers depended on it?

John Burdett has published eight novels to date, The Last Six Million Seconds, A Personal History of Thirst and the Bangkok series: Bangkok 8, Bangkok Tattoo, Bangkok Haunts, The Godfather of Kathmandu, Vulture Peak, and The Bangkok Asset. . Visit him on Facebook.


Medical Examiner Doctor Bethany Lee Brown — Dr. B to friends and felons alike — of Etowah County, Alabama, was not pregnant — so why marry that fat slob of a sergeant Jack Gatt from Etowah PD? She didn’t want to, but he was forcing her hand as only a cop can. Okay Mister, she thought, have it your way, but you better watch out.

So far she had resisted pressure to sleep with him on grounds of religious principle, which was kind of quaint for a forty year old woman in the context of the twenty-first century, but not so unusual in Alabama where the Lord still ruled. Even so, unkind tongues had often asked: Was she gay? Was she just weird? Her friends opted for lovably weird, and pointed out that there were a lot of men who would find it difficult to sleep with a medical examiner, especially if they couldn’t stop thinking about what she did with her hands all day. Also, if she’d been gay everyone would have known about it by now. This was gossip county. You couldn’t even cop a speeding ticket without the whole town knowing. And now the prim little ME with the old fashioned hair-do, short with a wave across her forehead from left to right held rigidly in place by a brittle lacquer, was about to marry the roughest police sergeant in the county? He was no Adonis; the best the opposite sex could find to say about him was that he’d kept his ginger hair — and vastly enlarged his stomach, was the second thing they said.

Nobody, except perhaps a curious psychiatrist or two who had heard the news, considered an alternative explanation.

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A Quest for Healing: The Passionate Roots of Atopalm

“I’m also grateful for whatever force in me never let me give up. That I held onto that voice inside me that told me to find my own way, not to give in and follow anyone else, no matter how compelling their example seemed or their desire for me.” – Dr. Park, A Quest for Healing
Most successes in life are made possible by one driving force — passion. Atopalm is no exception.

Dr. Raymond Park, creator of MLE and founder of Atopalm, began his journey when two of his three sons could not be cured of their acute atopic dermatitis, otherwise known as eczema. Dr. Park devoted his life to developing the first viable bio-identical non-prescription formula for healing and protecting the skin barrier — and succeeded in reaching his goal.

During his years of hard work developing this revolutionary skin care ingredient, Dr. Park was faced with the struggle of…

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220x300A Quest For Healing (A Memoir That Weaves Together Science, Family and Faith)Author: Dr. Raymond
Non-fiction, Memoir and Biography/Leaders and notable people/science/scientists/Asia/South Korea
Family and relationships/parenting/fatherhood
Word count: 49824
e-book page count: 110 pages
Price: 2.99 USD

Cover art: Louca Matheo

Buy from: Amazon Kindle|BN Nook|Kobo Books|Google Play

Dr. Raymond Park is one of the world’s leading skin care scientists, credited with developing a formula that cured both his infant and four year old sons of acute atopic dermatitis, a formula that would go on to become the leading brand for sensitive skin in Korea and then the world. The path to his discovery was a lifetime in the making and there were dark moments when he might have turned away, never to offer his unique vision of skin care to the world.

With heart and candor Dr. Park shares memories about his life, fraught with the pressures of growing up in one of the most academically pressured and competitive societies in the world. Constant was his inner struggle to define himself on his own terms in the face of intense parental pressure about education, a troubled relationship with his father, men and women, and then, one of the most precious relationships of all: as a father with his sons, especially his middle son, who provokes the unforeseen depths of his own cultural conditioning, challenging him to the most difficult struggle of his life:: how to be the parent he wanted to be deep in his heart.

A Quest for Healing is at once intimate portrait of life in South Korea, of the struggle to gain admission into the nation’s most coveted university, Seoul National at a time when the horrors of the Gwangju massacre and the government’s betrayal of its own people were exposed, igniting the new student movement. When his closest friends were heading deeper into the struggle for social change, Dr. Park wrestled with his own conscience and the voice inside that was leading him away from the others, to his own way. The way that would eventually lead him to the crossing of the great mysteries of spirit with his knowledge of science, giving voice to his mission for skin care. It is the story of the forces, inner and outer, that shape a person’s destiny, someone who is engaged in the classic struggle to find what is truest in the human heart.

About the author:

Dr. Raymond Beong Deog Park earned his PhD in Chemical Engineering from Seoul National University. He is the first skin scientist to develop a viable bio-identical non-prescription formula to heal and protect the skin barrier, helping thousands of children and adults to heal from atopic dermatitis and other skin ailments. The proud father of three wonderful sons, Dr. Park has made it his lifelong mission to continue expanding and perfecting his award winning formula, a top selling line in Korea for over ten years for sensitive skin. He now resides in the States with his family. To learn more about Atopalm and Medikos, please visit his websites at and


There is a Korean tradition that every family takes part in when a child reaches his or her first year. The parents seat the child at a table. On the table, they’ve placed a notebook and pencil, money and a rice cake. The child is supposed to choose one item that will determine his or her future path. The notebook and pencil mean their child will be a wise scholar. The money means their child will be rich. And the rice cake means their child will be strong and lucky in life. The hope of most Korean parents is that their baby will reach for the notebook and pencil.

On my first birthday, I chose the notebook and pencil. I was too young to remember it but my parents told me a few years later that I had, probably in one of the many moments they spent telling me about the big shiny university in Seoul I would get into when I grew up, the best in the nation.

Decades later, to my wife’s and my delight, my first son, Jun-Hyeong and my third son, Chae, both chose the notebook and pencil.

Our second son, Ji-Hyeong, however, took one look at all the items and his little hand came out, grabbed the rice cake and in seconds, he’d devoured it happily.

Suk Young and I stared at our son. We were so sure he’d choose the notebook and pencil that his hasty choice immediately made our hopes sink. Our son would be strong and lucky, perhaps. But he wouldn’t be a scholar.

“Ji-Hyeong,” I said, pushing the remaining items toward him. “Choose again.” I pointed to each, my heart beat rising a bit.

After a moment, Ji-Hyeong’s round face turned to the money. He picked up the bill, a note equivalent to ten dollars, and held it.

I exhaled at his second wrong choice. Ji-Hyeong didn’t need to be rich. One of the reasons I had barely seen him this entire year since his birth except on weekends was because I worked night and day on the new formula of skin cream I was developing. A breakthrough for mothers with children who suffered skin problems and didn’t want to use prescription medicine with possible side effects. Even before I’d finished my doctorate, I’d distinguished myself as a research scientist in my area of expertise. If all went as planned, my new venture would take off with wild success. As long as I managed everything properly, Ji and his brothers’ futures were assured. They would have the freedom to pursue studies and distinguish themselves as the wise scholars they were meant to be.

In a last desperate attempt to assure a good prophecy, I pushed the notebook and pencil even closer to Ji, close enough that he would barely need to reach out for it. “Go on, Ji-Hyeong,” I said. “Take the notebook. That’s the one you really want.” I nudged the notebook even closer until it touched his little fingers.

Finally Ji curled his grip around the notebook and held it.

I breathed a sigh of relief. In time he would understand how much better it was to be a wise scholar.

Growing up, I’d been indifferent to tradition, rebellious against it to a large degree in my struggle to define myself on my own terms. However, now as a young father with children of his own, I knew the importance learning and study had in my own life, the opportunities it had given me in moments when turning away from it could have robbed me of any promising future. Like my father and his father before him who’d pushed his sons to be educated and reach for the absolute highest in life possible, I was now about to do the same.
I didn’t see in that moment the other reason for my anxiety. Ji, being the only one who’d chosen something other than the notebook and pencil, had already shown me he was different. Ji would be the boy of the three I didn’t understand, who challenged me as a father and pushed me up against the boundaries of what I’d learned, the models I’d had and would desperately need to go beyond.

Nor did I see my insistence that Ji pick up the notebook and pencil as any violation of a promise I’d made to myself in childhood, a promise that I would break many times in a number of years, not intentionally of course, but which would be a source of unhappiness and, if I wasn’t careful, the possibly permanent loss of a good, meaningful father-son relationship, such as had happened to me and my father.

The promise I made one night, shivering in my bed after a great fright, was that I would never be like my father, not as a person, not as a father.

It started with something as innocent as a piece of paper…

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Now Available: Just to Make You Smile (A Memoir)

justtomake23Just To Make You Smile ( A Teenage Daughter’s Reflections on Loving and Losing Her Father to ALS)
Author: Sarah Caldwell
Genre: Non-fiction young adult, memoir, biography, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Lou Gehrig’s Disease, young adult memoir, losing a parent, healing from loss, teen & young adult biography
eISBN: 978-1-937796-88-4
Price: 2.99 USD

Trade paperback:
ISBN13: 978-1-937796-89-1
Price: 12.99 USD

Buy from: Amazon|Nook|KoboGoogle Play

Cover art: Melody Pond

“My dad was going to die. My sweet, loving, caring, and wonderful-in-every-way dad was going to leave me before he could watch my sister and me grow up.”

At the tender age of fifteen, Sarah Caldwell learned that her father had been diagnosed with ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) and had only a short time left to live. In moments her life went from texting friends, going to gymnastics practice and family vacations by the sea to watching her father’s rapid, irreversible deterioration, a process that plunged her into deep depression.

But Jim Caldwell was a man whose indomitable spirit in the face of his suffering provided the ultimate inspiration for Sarah to transform her depression into a journey of healing and love. She learned to accept her and her father’s fate and became determined not to waste a moment of the time she had left with him. When her father passed away, leaving Sarah to face life without her beloved dad, she was determined again to continue on the path of hope and strength, making sense of her loss and honoring his life by helping raise awareness of ALS and money for desperately-needed research for a cure.

With a special foreword by former pro-football player Steve Gleason, Just To Make You Smile is the rare, honest, compassionate and bold account of a young adult’s process of watching a parent get ill and die, and the inspiration she hopes to impart by sharing her grieving process, deep inner growth and healing. By telling her story in its entirety, from the lowest depths of grief and depression to the heights of finding her inner strength, making a difference and carrying on her father’s fighting spirit, she hopes to touch the lives of others, especially kids with a sick parent, letting them know they are never alone on this difficult journey.



My name is Sarah Caldwell. I am seventeen years old. My dad was diagnosed with the disease ALS—also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease—when I was fifteen years old; he passed away just sixteen months later. ALS is a neurological disease that gradually robs a person of his or her ability to walk, talk, and eventually breathe. The whole time, the mind is typically alert and functional. At fifteen, I found out my dad was going to die through finding a bottle of his medication. At sixteen, I found out he had died when my mom came to get me at gymnastics practice and, through tears, told me Dad hadn’t made it.

Doctors on TV (and I’m sure in real life too, but I’m not a doctor) are taught to spell out the situation when someone passes and literally say, “He died.” Saying, “He didn’t make it,” or, “We did everything we could,” simply doesn’t cut it. I didn’t understand that until my mom told me, “Dad didn’t make it.” I didn’t understand what she was saying. I had seen my dad that morning, and he was still talking and walking and smiling. There’s no way he could be gone…could he? But in fact, I had been left without my father, my mentor, my hero. This man would not be there to tear up when I graduated from high school or walk me down the aisle when I got married. At age sixteen, I was put in a situation few people my age have experienced. And I didn’t even get to say goodbye.

This memoir is the story of my journey through my dad’s diagnosis, death, and what I have chosen to do to carry on his legacy. After my dad was diagnosed with ALS, I felt as though I didn’t have anyone to turn to who was experiencing a similar situation. I didn’t know anyone else my age who had a dying parent, and when I looked for books, I couldn’t find any that could help me. I didn’t know if what I was feeling was normal. Was I supposed to have feelings of resentment toward my dad for being sick? To lie on the floor and cry myself to sleep every night? It was months of depression, anger, and denial before I finally woke up and literally picked myself up off the ground. I chose to do everything I could to live without any regrets in the time I had left with him and stand beside my hero in his battle with ALS.

I helped him go swimming with stingrays and swing a golf club again. I encouraged him that he wasn’t missing much by not being able to eat dinner with us anymore (“Sorry Mom, the chicken is dry”), and I made riding in a wheelchair fun (picture me racing him across the room and “accidentally” flipping him over). More importantly, I helped do something about his greatest frustration: there is no cure or effective treatment for ALS. I helped found a group, Team Red Trekkers, to raise awareness of ALS and fundraise to help find a cure. Less than a month later, my dad lost his battle with this disease. ALS had defeated him. But then again, it hadn’t. My dad had maintained his positive attitude up until the end, and he never blamed anyone for his disease. I honestly don’t know if I would ever be able to do that; I would probably blame my parents for “giving me bad genes” as I do whenever I get sick. Even after my dad died, I wasn’t about to stop fighting ALS. I wanted to carry on my dad’s mission to find a cure. My campaigns have touched people nationwide, raising awareness of and funding for this currently incurable disease.

After my dad died, I was introduced to a girl my age, Karen, whose mom was diagnosed with ALS. As I wrote this book, I started giving her drafts as I made progress, and, every time, I could see the weight of sorrow lift off her shoulders just a little. She no longer was alone. If this book has the potential to reach just one person like Karen, just one person who realizes what they are feeling is normal, then I can know my contribution to the world has truly made a difference. I will have helped someone who needs help, the exact thing that I needed all those months ago when my family’s journey with ALS first began.

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Now Available: I Was Hannah by Sedonia Jacobs

Author: Sedonia Jacobs
Series: Journey of Souls, Book 1
Genre: Historical; Spirituality; Judaica; Women’s Fiction; New Adult; Young Adult
Price: 3.99 USD
Length: Super novel

Buy from Amazon

Cover art: Kim Jacobs

In the Jewish tradition, The Book of Souls tells of souls who travel together through time in their quest toward perfection. Often what binds them together is love…

Nineteen year old Hannah lives in a shtetl outside Warsaw, waiting for the day her true love will come along. She bides her time, buried in a world of books, her passion in life. She has always felt like an outsider, especially since her one and only friend is a strange young religious man who used to trail her secretly, until a violent event brought out his heroic nature and their friendship grew. Solomon’s friendship and care help Hannah to come out of the bitterness she hides in to embrace the possibilities of life and love. For that reason, in her heart, Hannah adores Solomon and knows deep down he is the destiny her heart would have chosen. Yet because Solomon, a Torah scholar destined to be a great religious leader, has been promised in marriage to the Rebbe’s daughter she remains always in conflict, unable to reconcile the unconventional person she is with what her life should be, according to her family and society.

Set against the backdrop of the impending Holocaust, Hannah and Solomon’s friendship endures the harsh events of time, until one night, Hannah is forced to choose. She fails her heart and the darkness of Hitler’s nightmare falls over them. Can she redeem her failure to her heart and grow, keeping faith with the love she knows is truly what her heart wants? Is it too late? Or is the Book of Souls right and perhaps she will have another chance…



Part One: Shabbos

Spring, 1938


Poor Solomon! He has such crazy ideas about life and love. He actually believes that real love between a man and woman is possible. But from what I have seen, people are too busy fighting and abandoning each other, and treating each other like dreck for real love to exist. And anyway, it’s pretty ironic coming from Solomon who was abandoned as an infant by his own parents and was promised by his adoptive father at the age of fifteen to a girl he says he doesn’t love and seems determined not to. He says that she is not his besheret, his destiny, and that he knows this deep in his heart. Which always makes my stomach flutter inside because I know by the way he says it what he’s trying to tell me. But Solomon’s father gave his word, and Solomon sees that as an obligation he must keep to honor the father who saved his life.

And so he’s only proving my point, because the moment of his marriage marks the end of our friendship. Where’s the love in that? You would think that at the age of twenty—twenty and a half to be exact—that Solomon would realize his idealism is going to be beaten out of him in the near future.

As for me, who just turned nineteen today, I once believed as he did. Even now, I feel the last hopeful bits of it creeping around inside me, but even those are being scraped away. I can’t help it, because even though as I sit here on my bed, holding the beautiful prayer book Solomon just gave me for my birthday—he really is the most thoughtful person I’ve ever met—in my other hand is the latest letter from my father, Isidore Herzel, bearing his most recent explanation of why I will go yet another year without seeing him.

This year he and his friend David Rosen, with whom he immigrated to America, have parted ways and that he will have to look for a new place to live and, perhaps, a new job.

I had expected this. For two years now Papa’s letters have been filled with complaints about Mr. Rosen, about how he drinks, how manipulative he is, how he spends too much money, on and on. I daresay Papa sounds like a husband complaining about a bad wife. Personally, I never found Mr. Rosen to be as unpleasant as Papa says. Just the contrary, really. Mr. Rosen always seemed concerned about me and how my parents’ separation affected me. I always liked his ribald sense of humor, joking about people’s funny habits and bodily functions, treating me like a grownup entitled to hear such jokes. He also taught me some useful things, such as how to iron my dresses properly and how to clean a floor. Sometimes I’ve even felt that he taught me more useful things than my own parents did.

If anything, it’s Papa who does the very things he complains about and blames Mr. Rosen instead. But even so, it hurts that he doesn’t give up and come back home. If he’s going to be a failure, why can’t he do it here in Poland with me rather than all the way on the other side of the world? I tell you, Papa’s behavior gives me the chilling sense deep down that somehow all of his life has been an elaborate contrivance to avoid being with me.

I wish I could remember what I did to repulse him, but I can’t. I guess I just made him unhappy somehow. And so did Mama. Her housekeeping was always terrible, and I used to watch him grumble to himself as he snatched her discarded stockings off their bedroom floor or sponged her talcum powder off the bathroom vanity. Maybe it was just that I remind him of her. Except for my blonde hair, which I inherited from him, I mostly resemble Mama, with her short rounded features and resistance to tidiness. But he says he loves me and I must take him at his word, grateful that he should say so, especially after what I said to him the day he left.

I try to explain all this to Solomon, but he insists that it is my father’s faults which keep him away and not mine. He says if he had a daughter like me, he’d want to be with her all the time. But he doesn’t know me as well as Papa did. Solomon and I have been friends for only a year and a half, not enough time for him to see how horrible I really can be. He wasn’t there the day Papa left for America. He wasn’t standing with us in the front hall of our apartment in Warsaw when Papa told us he was leaving for the Golden Land.

What a day that was! I can only call it “the day I screamed and screamed.” It was the end of March 1934, a month before my fifteenth birthday. My parents had already been separated since I was nine, and Mama and I had moved in with my grandparents. When Bubby and Zayde passed away not long after, Mama and I were alone there. But at least Papa was still in the same city with me and I could take the bus to visit him every Shabbos. He shared an apartment with Mr. Rosen since he said to me, “Hannele, from now on, your mother and I won’t be living together anymore.” Those were his exact words. Burned into my memory for all time.

In the years since my parents’ divorce, when I spent time with him, Papa would speak from time to time about going to the Golden Land to try and make his fortune there since he had failed to do it here in Poland. He blames his lack of success on the fact that he is an overly generous person who seems to have a tendency to get himself involved with, as he puts it, “lowlife goniffs who always end by screwing me over.” The way he sees it, there are so many people in America that surely he would be able to find the right ones. During those talks, I never asked him if he would take me with him because I assumed he would even though he never actually said the words. Nor did he ever tell me he was actually in the process of getting his papers! He just came to the door that morning in a new crisp suit, his blond hair combed perfectly into place—,Papa is quite handsome and always turns female heads when he walks down the streets of Warsaw—and told me and Mama he was leaving.

Mama’s response had been simply to bury her face in her hands and turn away.

“Papa,” I said, “You didn’t give me time to pack. Give me a few minutes. I’ll be ready to go with you.” I started to turn when he stopped me.

“Hannah,” he said, “You’re not going with me.”

“But why?”

“I need to…get settled there first. Then I can send for you.”

Something in his tone of voice or in his eyes made me hysterical, as if deep inside I sensed I’d never see him again. I begged him to take me and he kept refusing, telling me he would be late if he didn’t leave right this second. How could have do this? I, began to scream. I had never screamed like that before in my life, but once his words had entered my consciousness, the reality of his leaving rushed in on me like a butcher’s knife to the neck of an unkosher chicken. I filled that apartment and the halls of the whole building with my bloodcurdling geshrays. I didn’t care who heard me or who in the outside world knew our business. All I knew was that Papa was slipping away from me and the only chance I had to keep him from going was to release the depths of my distress on him, the way God released the plagues onto Pharaoh’s people. I threw myself on him as if I could climb him, fistfuls of his nice woolen coat in my hands.

I must have been incredibly strong because Papa could not pry me off him and needed Mama to help. I felt her ineffectual tugs on my shoulders to get me off of him and utterly ignored her. I was half grabbing, half flailing at him and found myself screaming, “I hate you! I hate you! Don’t, Papa!”

In a sudden gust of resolve, he grasped me hard and wrenched me off him, holding me at arm’s length, staring at me like I was some kind of wild animal. His face looked painfully inflated, raw and red, a zigzag of veins in his temples. Strands of his blond hair hung in his eyes. His blue eyes flashed murderously. “How dare you, Hannah!” he said. “How dare you speak to me like that? Hate is the worst thing a person could feel!”

He released me like I was a poisonous creature and smoothed down his rumpled suit. I had knocked his hat to the floor in my outburst, and he bent to retrieve it, snapping it up like he did with Mama’s stockings, only worse, showing me how deeply I had hurt him with my curses. I cringed in my shame, still ignoring Mama who continued to squeeze my shoulders while rubbing them at the same time. Silently, I rejected her feeble attempt at protective comfort, one I knew I certainly didn’t deserve. She was sobbing quietly behind me, never saying a word. She never did know how to deal with life.

“I’m sorry, Papa,” I whispered.

At my show of remorse, Papa relented and came forward, putting his arms around me. I squeezed him hard, fighting down the sickening combination of hatred and panic that was still there and which certainly had become his reason for leaving. I tried to show him only my desperation in my return embrace.

“I love you, Hannele,” he said. “You know that. The distance means nothing. I really am doing this for us.”

“I know that, Papa,” I said, for I really so much wanted to believe it. He had, after all, always provided for Mama and me, hadn’t he? We’d always had a beautiful apartment to live in, and he’d spoiled me with the finest dresses and books and piano lessons. All the necessary things for a good life. It wasn’t his fault if bad people were always taking advantage of him, forcing him to go to America to get more money. Was it? Was it?

Papa released me and straightened. He smoothed back his hair, shiny and golden like the sun-drenched wheat of the peasants’ fields outside the city, and replaced his hat. “I promise I’ll send for you when I have enough money,” he said.

“I know, Papa,” I said again, really only wanting to grab him again and hang on. But I was probably already going to spend eternity burning in Gehinnom for what I’d just said. I could not risk anymore offensive behavior.

Papa brushed off his coat and looked at Mama. “You have my address where David and I will be staying?”

Mama only nodded. My back to her, I knew her plump cheeks had to be wet and shiny with tears. She still had not said a word, and I feared that she had lost all power of speech. I faced both the lonely prospect of my Papa’s absence and cold silence from my mute mother.

I remember turning around and looking into her eyes, though, and seeing the same fear in them that I had. She, too, did not want to see Papa’s eyes flash in anger that way or his face redden and swell as it had. Her own father had been angry and volatile. I had always hated being around my grandfather, and when Mama was my age, she had gone so far as to swear she would not marry a man like him. Well, she thought she had succeeded because Papa almost never got mad. Apparently, she had not noticed the signs of someone with suppressed anger, released in bursts when prodded enough.

Papa kissed us each on the cheek, in such a way that really, you’d have thought he was merely going on a short business trip rather than immigrating to America. He went to the door and turned to look at us one last time with an expression, I could have sworn, for one split moment, his pained expression conveyed doubt. But the softness that had come into his eyes, the trembling of his lips, had been just a flash, so quick, that I wonder to this day if I really saw it at all. And then he was gone.

When the door closed behind him, I surged forward, crying, ”No!” Mama tightened her grip on my shoulders, halting me. “No, Hannah,” she whispered. “Don’t make it worse.” I wanted to die when she said that. How could it have been worse? But she had surprised me with the sudden firmness in her hands, her fervent determination to spare me more pain. She can show that kind of strength sometimes in desperate moments, and it is this part of her that enables me to forgive her worst transgressions against me. The clarity of her intention in that moment compelled me to obey.

Papa’s leaving changed our entire lives. Everything else we had left with him. Mama could not afford to stay in Warsaw without his help. But even if she could have, she wouldn’t, for Warsaw was now the city of her complete undoing. So she sold the apartment and moved herself, me, and my cat Masha to Wolensk, the shtetl where she had grown up, 180 kilometers northeast of Warsaw, near the Ukrainian border, back to her old house where her brother, Leo Goldman, was living with his second wife, Sylvia.

Uncle Leo had not been thrilled about having us come to live with him. He never said this outright, but people’s feelings often emanate from them in spite of what they say. The house had been a sort of honeymoon cottage for him and Auntie Sylvia since he had divorced his first wife and remarried. Well, I guess God decided that ten years for a honeymoon was long enough. But Mama softened the blow by giving Uncle Leo a sizeable share of the sale of our apartment toward expenses.

The only thing that made our move less drastic for me was that Wolensk is a good sized shtetl, not one of those one-horse-and-wagon shtetls made up of a small cluster of rickety, falling-down houses. The large Jewish Quarter has several synagogues, many blocks of houses, and a cemetery. The main street in Wolensk, Polaski Street, is wide and busy, full of shops owned and run by both Jews and Poles. That’s where Uncle Leo’s general store is. There’s also a public library, a movie house and two market places, one for livestock and the other for fruits, vegetables and other wares. We have a volunteer fire department, manned by both Jews and Poles, plus several sports teams, social clubs and schools. I think that if it hadn’t been this way, I should have been completely depressed. But as it is, there is almost always something going on to distract me from my troubles.

So contained in this personal history of mine lies the big truth that Solomon ignores in spite of all evidence. Simply stated, even if real love does exist, eventually it will be taken from you in some horribly cruel way, whether by death or betrayal or divorce, or by someone’s fickle heart. Because that is the way God plays with His creation.

I suppose if I had grown up with Reb Weiss for a father, I, too, would see the world the way Solomon does. Reb Weiss is a pious and learned man, the beadle of our synagogue since the turn of the century. I reflect on this possibility every time Solomon’s and my so drastically different views of life clash, and I can think only that maybe part of God’s game is giving some people better parents than others, perhaps according to how much He either loves them or hates them. Certainly, Solomon would be among the loved ones, for he, though abandoned by his birth parents when he was only a few months old, had had the good fortune to be left on Reb Weiss’s doorstep.

Really, the whole scenario could not have been more fortuitous for either of them. Reb Weiss was an aging widower whose wife had left him childless. His elder sister Zelda had come to take care of him years before while he was in mourning and never left. She v’chodded and v’drayed her brother for years to remarry, this time to a woman with a fertile womb. He always refused, insisting that he was not so anxious to replace his beloved Sarah, and that the Master of the Universe would give him a sign. Finally, after so many years, and neither of them really young enough to care for a child, Zelda gave up on him for a stubborn, foolish old man. These were Reb Weiss’s exact words he used when telling me this story.

Well, apparently, the Master of the Universe did not consider Reb Weiss too old for the responsibility. On one chilly morning in late April, he stepped out from the caretaker’s apartment just before dawn as he always did to light the synagogue and call the men to morning prayers. And there was Solomon in a basket, his little body wrapped in a tattered prayer shawl and a woman’s woolen kerchief.

“That was my sign from the Master of the Universe,” Reb Weiss said and pointed toward the ceiling. “He now saw I was no longer a foolish young man who didn’t know love from an onion in the ground. Maybe now He was thinking I can be a father to this pitzele. It was finally His will that I have a son He reached out and gently ruffled the back of Solomon’s dark hair, careful not to tip off his yarmulke. “I learned that day a most important lesson. We must be patient in this life,” he said. “The Master of the Universe has His own time. And it is much longer than ours!”

So Solomon grew up in the glow of all that love, affection and romantic stuff. In the name of love, Reb Weiss even answered Solomon’s mysterious origins. “Your mother and father were starving refugees of the Great War,” Reb Weiss told him. “Many Jews were driven from their home by the Germans on one side and the Cossacks on the other. They could no longer feed you, and the Master of the Universe guided them here to me so I could care for you and raise you.”

Reb Weiss is certain that this is what happened. His certainty is etched into the lines of his face, the wisdom of it woven into his beautiful sacred beard, a soft fan the colors of salt and pepper sifted together. He is a good man, Reb Weiss is, honored that Solomon came into his life, grateful to the Master of the Universe, and proud of the son who, by the age of ten, had distinguished himself as a scholar of Toyreh, and was constantly sought out by men many times his age for scriptural interpretations.

So the question is, how did Solomon and I end up as friends? How did a young religious man who, by the way, is next in line for the seat of spiritual leader of the Wolensk Hasidic dynasty, a Torah scholar who, aside from his virtuosic command of Scripture is also beset by mystical visions—which was what really brought the Wolensker rebbe’s attention to him—who grew up poor and has never seen a moving picture, turn out to have as his best friend a young modern woman whose dresses do not completely cover her arms and legs, comes from a big city, is schooled in French, German and Polish, sees every moving picture possible and is someone he is not even supposed to look at or speak to, much less spend every possible opportunity with having tea in the kitchen? Ah, this is the story that stirs my heart because it is the first thing in my life I have ever really had to call my own, the only thing that cannot ever be taken from me under any circumstance— the way everything and everyone else will be, including Solomon. Or should I say, especially Solomon.

According to Solomon, our friendship did not begin the day that he and I actually spoke to each other for the first time, a winter morning in 1937 when he saved my life. Really, he says, it began the day Mama and I and Mashele moved in with Uncle Leo and Auntie Sylvia, which also happened to be the same day Reb Weiss told Solomon that he had been promised in marriage to Chava, the Wolensker Rebbe’s daughter, securing his place as the Rebbe’s successor.


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