|Interview with Talia Carner '74|
Talia Carner Interview
New-York-based Talia Carner was the publisher of Savvy Woman magazine. A former adjunct professor at Long Island University School of Management and a marketing consultant to Fortune 500 companies, she was also a volunteer counselor and lecturer for the Small Business Administration and a member of United States Information Agency (USIA) missions to Russia. She participated at the 1995 International Women’s Conference in Beijing, where she sat on economic panels and helped develop political campaigns for Indian and African women. Ms. Carner’s first novel, Puppet Child, was listed in “The Top 10 Favorite First Novels 2002” and launched a nationwide USA legislation (The Protective Parent Reform Act). China Doll made Amazon’s bestsellers list and served as the platform for Ms. Carner’s presentation at the U.N. in 2007 about infanticide in China—the first ever in U.N. history. Her novel, Jerusalem Maiden, won the Forward National Literature Award in the “historical fiction” category. In June 2015, HarperCollins will release Carner’s newest novel, Hotel Moscow, which tells the story of the American daughter of Holocaust survivors who travels to Russia shortly after the fall of communism.
Talia sat with Alana Cooper, AFHU Director of Alumni Relations and Miyam Greene '05, AFHU Public Relations Writer and Marketing Coordinator, to discuss her life and work.
On the Basis for Her New Book, Hotel Moscow
In the late 1980s-early 1990s, while running my marketing consulting firm for Fortune 500 companies, I was also a volunteer counselor for the Small Business Administration, specifically for women’s programs in New York. That’s how I was tapped in 1993 by the US Information Agency to fly to Russia to teach women business skills. After the fall of communism these were survival skills they sorely needed, and indeed, my first trip in May 1993 was an amazing, eye-opening—and very gratifying-- experience. I met a highly educated group of women, many were doctors and engineers, who were essentially reduced by Soviet shortages to becoming “hunters and gathers.” Furthermore, with the fall of communism, the country’s legal system was obliterated. Women lost their minimum 1/3 quota of representation in the Duma, the Russian parliament, as well as social safety nets such as school lunches for children and whatever medical services had been available in a country that never had Aspirin or Band-Aids in its stores. Speaking to these female professionals and learning their stories left a lasting impression upon me.
Six months later I was excited to return, but unfortunately I landed in Moscow only two hours after the uprising against the president, Boris Yeltsin had begun. In the coming three days I asked ‘too many’ questions of our handlers who denied that anything was going o n. “It was all Western propaganda,” they said about CNN accounts we received from home. By some twists of events, the militia came after me, threatening me with jail. After the U.S. Embassy whisked me out of the country, the 23-page report I wrote to the USIA launched my writing career.
On Her Writing Process
My stories are all social issues painted on large international canvases. The topics that I’ve written about it, such as infanticide or women’s lives in oppressive societies grab a hold on me until I must write about each. With research and numerous editing and revisions, each novel takes about five years from start to finish.
The plot of a story emerges naturally by placing a character in particular settings and under certain conditions. This character reacts to the events in a particular way that is cohesive to her personality and values. For my latest book, Hotel Moscow, I had the idea about a New York liberal Jewish woman who is the daughter of Holocaust survivors. I wanted to juxtapose her feelings of being “Holocausted-out” against blatant anti-Semitism, so I sent her to Russia, using my previous experiences, and just allowed the plot to develop from there.
The craft of fiction writing a is very fine. Penning Hotel Moscow, I didn’t want it to be perceived by readers as “another Holocaust book.” I wanted to offer a new perspective, that of a second-generation Holocaust survivor, that is tired of the subject, exhausted by the legacy “to remember.”
Why must a protagonist come out victorious at the end? A person beaten by life is not a story. A good story is interesting where the human spirit rises above the forces that control our lives, be it psychological, economical, geographical or political. It’s the trials and tribulations along the way, with some surprising twists, that make a compelling read.
On Studying at Hebrew University
I studied sociology and psychology at The Hebrew University. As part of my studies, I learned an enormous amount of statistics, which was immensely helpful in my marketing career. Because I understood statistics, I was able to identify trends that have gone unnoticed, and then introduce fresh perspectives to the marketplace. As an HU student, I also had to be very disciplined to study for hours—many all-nighters--in order to succeed. After all, we crammed four years into three. We had to take 22 to 24 credit hours a semester. This work ethic has continued throughout my life. I write for long hours that stretch into weeks, months and years.
On Women’s Rights
I was an early feminist without the lexicon to describe what I was feeling and observing. It took moving to the USA to be able to embrace being a feminist. Growing up, I was admonished when I expressed what seemed to be radical questions. It was as basic as denying me information when I was in the hospital for the birth of my first child; the doctor ignored my inquiries into what was happening. Finally comprehending feminist concepts was incredibly liberating—not the militant version, but rather the ability to grasp the issues and, at times, being able to help other women. My marketing consulting firm ‘Business Women Marketing Corporation,’ serviced Fortune 500 companies in reaching the top of the pyramid of the women’s market, but the profits were channeled to training and educating professional women.
One of the important ways for women to improve their status and to grow is through education. We see in underdeveloped countries a huge difference for educated women: older marriage age, lower numbers of children that leads to lower babies’ and maternity mortality rates, and critical positive changes in the immediate clan or village: when women are educated, they tend to work and when they do, a chain of events can happen. A husband stops physical abuse, a wife’s in-laws stop enslaving them, their sons get a new vision of what women can be like, and their daughters develop hope for their own futures. Furthermore, these successful women are more likely to run for leadership positions, open schools, and support other women to start their own businesses. Sometimes when you educate one woman and you change a village.
However, in countries such as Russia, education has long been achieved. What was needed at the time of my visits was legislation for equality and a government that understood women’s unique position in a society where most men went MIA due to the malaise of alcohol.
On Her Leadership Roles
Although I know nothing about sports, for the past 30 years I’ve been supporting my husband, Ron Carner, the president of Maccabi USA in his unrelenting efforts to bring young Jews back into the fold. I’m amazed at how the Maccabi games bring Jews together from all around the world. For the past 10 years, I’ve also become involved in helping Jewish women in particular, which is why I’m on the board of Hadassah-Brandeis Institute (the Jewish women research center at Brandeis University,) and for the last few years, on the Israel Grants committee for the Jewish Women’s Foundation of New York.