“And when the men learned that he was fleeing from the service of the Lord – for so he told them – they said to him, ‘What must we do to you to make the sea calm around us?’ For the sea was growing more and more stormy. He answered, ‘Heave me overboard, and the sea will calm down for you; for I know that this terrible storm came upon you on my account.’”
~ Book of Jonah, Hebrew Scriptures
Ruth Rotkowitz, a daughter of Holocaust survivors, has become an expert on inherited trauma. In her debut novel, ESCAPING THE WHALE, we follow a 28-year old New York guidance counselor as she attempts to appear normal to the world while concealing the inner demons that plague her and which constitute her legacy of inherited trauma.
Ruth holds a B.A. and M.A. in English. In New Jersey, she taught writing at two community colleges. In New York, Ruth taught English at one of the city’s specialized high schools. Therefore, she knows the world of the large urban high school her protagonist inhabits. In addition, she has tutored pregnant homebound students; thus, the pregnant students her protagonist counsels are familiar to the author.
After moving to Arizona, she joined the Phoenix Holocaust Association, an organization dedicated to preserving the Shoah memory. As a representative of the organization, she gives talks throughout the Phoenix area on Holocaust-related books and programs. Ruth has presented at the OLLI Adult Education program of Arizona State University, at the Limmud workshop, libraries, synagogues, and book clubs. Her understanding of the Holocaust and its impact on survivors and their descendants is addressed in much of the fiction, nonfiction, and poetry published in literary journals and anthologies.
As a staff writer and member of the Editorial Board of the (now-defunct) WOMAN’S NEWSPAPER OF PRINCETON, she covered a range of topics relating to women, accruing awards for a number of her articles. The protagonist of ESCAPING THE WHALE, in addition to struggling with inherited trauma, must also deal with the issues facing her as a woman. Rotkowitz’s years at the WOMAN’S NEWSPAPER have combined with her experience as a child of Holocaust survivors to culminate in her portrayal of an interesting and troubled young lady.
To be gleaned from
ESCAPING THE WHALE
It is my hope that readers will come away from the novel with empathy for those who suffer, whether the suffering is in the form of physical or emotional pain.
I have hoped to convey the message that one cannot hide emotional pain indefinitely, and it is in fact dangerous to attempt to do so. Bottling it all up will eventually lead to an explosion. There should be no stigma to mental illness, and people struggling with psychic pain need to seek help.
Problems among the teenage population, such as suicide and cutting, should be acknowledged and studied in order to be addressed.
The teaching of history, I believe, should be as realistic as possible. We don’t do students any favors by whitewashing or ignoring events in history that have resulted in the harming of large groups of people. Human beings do horrible things to one another; students already know this. While there will probably always be some type of bias in history teaching, there should be a focus on highlighting various sides to issues.
Myth and folklore can teach us a great deal about ourselves. It is an intriguing area of study, and I would love to know that the symbolism I have employed in ESCAPING THE WHALE has opened a window into this fascinating subject.