‘Books on the Beach’ delves into historical fiction


NEWPORT – Rain or shine, it’s always a pleasant afternoon at Hadassah’s annual Books on the Beach author luncheon and fundraiser. This year was no exception. The weather threatened rain on Aug. 6, but that didn’t stop the banquet room at OceanCliff Resort from filling up.


The ninth annual event featured two popular writers and raised funds for the women’s Zionist organization’s medical work in Israel.

Sally Koslow, author of “Another Side of Paradise,” and Mary Morris, author of “Gateway to the Moon,” were the featured speakers.

Both accomplished writers gave entertaining talks about their latest novels, how they chose the subject, and their writing process.

Koslow said she grew up in Fargo, North Dakota, where her mother was active in Hadassah. She said she always wanted to write historical fiction – but she didn’t start writing until she was in her 50s.

“Another Side of Paradise” is the story of Sheilah Graham, an early Hollywood gossip columnist who was F. Scott Fitzgerald’s lover.

Koslow said the book grew out of her desire to write about a Jewish woman and a love story.

“I stumbled onto Sheilah Graham. Everyone knows F. Scott Fitzgerald’s story, but few know about Graham.”

Koslow said Graham was like a female Jay Gatsby, the iconic character from Fitzgerald’s novel “The Great Gatsby.”

“When you write a book like this, you have to be factual” and create the story line within those constraints, she said.

Mary Morris also discussed the process of writing while relying on facts.

“You can get the facts and details, but it takes a while to make it my own,” she said.

Her Jewish background is secular. “My parents didn’t want me to be known as Jewish by my name,” she said.

“Gateway to the Moon” is about descendants of Luis de Torres, Columbus’ interpreter, who fled the Spanish Inquisition. The family eventually settled in the hills of New Mexico. Their descendants are known as crypto-Jews: secret Jews who publicly profess another faith.

Morris talked extensively about her research and writing process.

“I’m a reluctant historical novelist,” she said. “I’m not a historian, but I’m a storyteller. The story is too important. I want to know just enough [about the facts].”

“I don’t write in order; I don’t even talk in order,” she said to laughter from the audience. “You have all the pieces, and then you assemble them.”

At the beginning of the afternoon, the Hadassah members and guests listened to Nancy Falchuk, a Hadassah national past president, talk about Hadassah’s history in Israel and its newest fundraising effort.

Falchuk outlined the story of Hadassah and the American founder of the organization, Henrietta Szold, who traveled to Israel and saw the poor health conditions there. Upon her return, she told members of the book groups she had created that they had to do something practical. And that was the birth of Hadassah.

Through the years, Hadassah has funded clinics, hospitals, a nursing school, a medical school, a pharmacy and physical therapy schools in Israel with donations from its members.

Funds are now being raised to restore what is known as the Round Building, on the Ein Kerem campus of the Hadassah Medical Organization in Israel. A cutting-edge facility when it opened in 1961, it now needs renovation and upgrading. The rehab will also add 200 beds to the facility.

Falchuk told the audience, “It’s only going to get done if we do it,” and “We are going to do it.”

“Our heart and soul goes into this. We know it matters,” she said.

FRAN OSTENDORF (fostendorf@jewishallianceri.org) is the editor of Jewish Rhode Island.