The Waiting Room: A NovelBy Leah Kaminsky
Published by Harper Perennial
Paperback: 304 pages
November 15, 2016; $15.95 US; 9780062490476
Description:Leah Kaminsky's powerful fiction debut—a multi-generational novel perfect for fans of The Tiger's Wife and A Constellation of Vital Phenomena—unfolds over the course of a single, life-changing day, but the story it tells spans five decades, three continents, and one family’s compelling history of love, war, and survival.
As the daughter of Holocaust survivors, Dina’s present has always been haunted by her parents’ pasts. She becomes a doctor, emigrates, and builds a family of her own, yet no matter how hard she tries to move on, their ghosts keep pulling her back. A dark, wry sense of humor helps Dina maintain her sanity amid the constant challenges of motherhood and medicine, but when a terror alert is issued in her adopted city, her coping skills are pushed to the limit.
Interlacing the present and the past over a span of twenty-four hours, The Waiting Room is an intense exploration of what it means to endure a day-to-day existence defined by conflict and trauma, and a powerful reminder of just how fragile life can be. As the clock counts down to a shocking climax, Dina must confront her parents’ history and decide whether she will surrender to fear, or fight for love.In taut, compelling prose, The Waiting Room weaves between Dina's exterior and interior lives, straddling the present and the past—and building towards a profoundly dramatic climax that will remind readers of the fragility of human life even as it reassures them of the inescapable power of love and family.
Author Bio:Leah Kaminsky, a physician and award-winning writer, is Poetry & Fiction Editor at the Medical Journal of Australia. Her debut novel, The Waiting Room, is published by Vintage (2015) and will be released by Harper Perennial US in 2016. We’re all Going to Die is forthcoming with Harper Collins in June 2016. She conceived and edited Writer MD, a collection of prominent physician-writers, which starred on Booklist (Knopf US 2012). She is co-author of Cracking the Code, with the Damiani family (Vintage 2015). She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts.
Reviews:"Potent... The Waiting Room is both haunted, and haunting." —Geraldine Brooks, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of March
"An assured debut.... Compelling, moving and memorable." —Graeme Simsion, author of The Rosie Project
"Vivid, riveting, authentic with emotion and conflict." —Jerome Groopman, senior writer for The New Yorker
“Kaminsky’s prose is deft and delicate, and this novel tackles the haunting of the Holocaust with a tough and remarkably unsentimental gaze.” — MJ Hyland, Man Booker Prizer shortlisted author of Carry Me Down
“The Waiting Room is a moving and riveting story of a woman perched between the shadow of the past and a fragile reality in her adopted homeland. In the tradition of the finest physician-novelists, Leah Kaminsky writes with precision, authenticity, and profound insight.”— Amy Gottlieb, author of The Beautiful Possible
“Leah Kaminsky is a writer on whom nothing is lost. There are many lives, many worlds, and many days in the single day she depicts in The Waiting Room. The novel is a masterful debut.” — Joseph Skibell, author of A Curable Romantic
“The personal, the political and the medical wrestle with history in this page-turning novel. An engrossing tale that is both acutely worldly and fiercely introspective.” —Danielle Ofri, MD, author of What Doctors Feel: How Emotions Affect the Practice of Medicine
“She’s an evocative storyteller, and she’s sensitive to the intersections between physical and emotional pain and the way that memory intrudes upon daily reality.” — Kirkus
Mrs Mommy’s Book Nerd - Q&A with Leah Kaminsky, author of The Waiting Room
Q. What inspires your writing?
A. I love the power that language holds to explore things beneath the surface of everyday life. I write to find out what I think about the world – it isn’t till after I’ve finished a story or a poem that I truly understand what I have written. I love stories and am so privileged as a family doctor to hear the most incredible, funny and moving tales from my patients. They have been a huge inspiration to me along the way. I’ve also loved reading since I was a little girl and I draw from my favorite poets and writers in my own work.
Q. What is your favorite thing about being a writer?
A. A writer never takes a holiday. I am always hyper-aware of everything going on around me, whether it’s overhearing snippets of conversation on the train, or noticing a leaf falling from a tree while I’m stranded in traffic. I love the ability to notice things other people may not, and then reflecting it back to them through the magic of language – that moment of recognition in a reader that something you have known, or seen, or thought about but haven’t been able to articulate has put into words.
Q. What is the toughest part of being a writer?
A. Same thing, I guess. A writer never takes a holiday! This hyper-awareness means my brain never switches off – it’s always on the lookout for things that are quirky or intriguing. Sometimes I feel there’s always homework I haven’t finished, as I juggle books, articles, poems I am working on. And inevitably, once I manage to focus on one thing, another idea will pop into my head. By far the toughest thing is trying to carve out enough time to write, between my clinic and family responsibilities. My children always come first though, no matter how close any writing deadline might be.
Q. If you could not be writer, what would you do/be?
A. I’ve always envied artists who are gifted in their ability to express their deepest thoughts without the use of words. Sometimes I am looking at an object and trying to find the language and form to bring it to life on the page in a way no one else has ever done. I am jealous of the artist who can paint it, or draw it or sculpt it. When I was younger I wanted to be a vet; I adore animals and would love to do more to help protect the wonderful diversity of species that is rapidly disappearing from our planet.
Q. What would the story of your life be entitled?
Q. What is your favorite book of all time?
A. Oh! Don’t make me choose. So many…but amongst my top favorites would be Kafka’s Metamorphosis, Anne Enright’s The Gathering, Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita and any poetry by Sharon olds, Marie Howe and Yehuda Amichai.
Q. Which character from ANY book are you most like?
A. Depending on what kind of day I’m having, I swing between Eeyore and Tigger, in Winnie-the-Pooh.
Q. What character from all of your books are you most like?
A. I have come to understand Dina, my protagonist in The Waiting Room. Despite her smarts, she is governed by her emotions. I really pushed her in so many ways, placing obstacles before her that were my own worst fears. Luckily, I’ve never had to go through the sort of things I’ve made her endure, but I wanted to challenge the notion of waiting passively in life for things to happen, rather than living with intentionality, something I’m trying to do more and more in my own life.
Q. Which book would you love to take a weekend vacation inside of?
A. Any of the Harry Potter books – I’d take my kids along too. I’ve always wanted to meet a Hippogriff, cast spells, apparate and own a time turner. Oh, and Molly Weasley’s magical kitchen, where the spoon stirs the soup automatically and dishes wash themselves, would come in pretty handy most evenings!
Q. What is your favorite season?
A. Springtime. I love the balmy weather when baby ducklings race over the pond to catch up with their mothers, brown twigs burst to life with sweet blossom; there is the abundance of possibility and renewal. I’m not good with extremes of temperature – immobilized by freezing cold or searing heat.
Q. What inspired your book cover(s)? Or what is your favorite book cover and why?
A. The cover for the US edition of The Waiting Room went through several incarnations, from a woman looking out a window, to a shot of someone seated in a waiting room. They were nice covers, but my publisher, Hannah Wood, challenged the Harper Perennial art department to come up with something really unique. They went out and bought an alarm clock and had fun smashing it with a hammer, to create the notion of imminent danger. The only problem was that the time shown on the face was out of synch with the storyline, so they had to do it all over again. They made a Facebook video of what inspires their covers and it’s well worth watching, to get an idea of how much work and passion goes on behind the scenes at every stage.
Q. Tell me something funny that happened while on a book tour or while promoting your book.
A. It’s more odd, than funny, but I was on a panel with Irish novelist John Boyne recently, talking about Truth in Fiction set during World War II. As the daughter of a Holocaust survivor, often the first question I am asked is whether The Waiting Room is autobiographical. John, on the other hand, is asked whether he has the right to fictionalize stories from this era. It raised important questions about the ownership of memory and the writers’ responsibilities when writing about war.
Q. Are you working on something new?
A. We’re All Going to Die is a hybrid non-fiction book examining our culture of death-denial, just released in Australia. I’m well into my second novel, which is based on a true story set in Berlin, Philadelphia and Tibet in the late 1930s, following the footsteps of a German zoologist and a swash-buckling American adventurer – kind of a ‘Faust meets Indiana Jones’ tale.
Q. Anything you want to say to followers of this blog or those that are just stopping by?
Without readers writers would be dust. I’ve been so deeply moved by people who have told me that The Waiting Room is their story too – whether they are Somali refugees, Germans who lived through the war as children, or victims of domestic violence, so many people have survived varying degrees of trauma in their lives. It leaves an imprint on subsequent generations, no matter which background you come from. Especially during these times of such upheaval and uncertainty, we are all faced with a certain sense of dread. Do we give into this feeling of powerlessness, or do we teach our youth to embrace love and compassion instead, living lives filled with value and making a difference in the world?