Novel explores tragedy, triumph of immigration experience

Tuesday, December 17, 2013
Suri Epstein - Correspondent

As a senior editor at Macmillan Books in New York and McClelland and
Stewart in Toronto, Lily Poritz Miller spent almost three decades
immersed in the world of books and literature.
But the entire direction of her life changed course in 1992 when she
travelled to Lithuania to search for the ancestral shtetlach of her
parents. That wrenching journey took her to her parents’ original home
and more disturbingly to the mass graves where her aunts, grandparents
and cousins lay buried deep in the forest.
“When I got back to Toronto I was a different person,” Poritz Miller said.
“I wanted to search into myself to find out where I came from. That’s
when my serious writing began; and when I sat down, amazing things
happened, things buried within seemed to come to the surface.”
She has since produced a body of novels and plays that have earned
numerous accolades and awards. Her most recent novel,
The Newcomers,
is a follow-up to
In a Pale Blue Light, a book described by the Globe and
as “quietly extraordinary.”
The Newcomers is a deeply moving story that draws inspiration from her
family’s relocation to a small New England textile town from Cape Town
when Poritz Miller was 15 years old. The book’s protagonist Libka
Hoffman sees her life turned upside down when her recently widowed
mother decides to move her five young children to America to reunite
with her long lost brother.
Despite the fact that her mother and uncle had corresponded throughout
their 25-year absence, the reunion is a disaster.
The once aspiring poet and philosopher had become broken and
“His only hope is to get recognition from the Jewish community,” Poritz
Miller said. “So when he brings his widowed sister, he presents them as
his charity case.”
The humiliation permanently wounds the family.
“The book has lived within me my whole life,” Poritz Miller said. “The
actual writing process took roughly three years. But it’s not a story that
originated three years ago. I can say I’ve been writing it my whole life.”
Poritz Miller, who now divides her time between Toronto and Mexico, is
already at work on her next novel.
“Sparks happen, characters come to life and they lead you,” she said of
her creative process. “You become almost a vehicle through which your
story is told. Everything around me seems more meaningful and
heightened when I write.”
Author Lily Poritz Miller signs
copies of her most recent
novel at a book launch at Ben
McNally Books.
(Photo: Suri Epstein)