|BWS Stories - "Mrs. Brown You've Got A Lovely Daughter"...Stories About Mom|
"Mrs. Brown You've Got A Lovely Daughter"...Stories About Mom - “Nana”
S. Nadja Zajdman is a writer in Canada. She has had short stories, essays and memoirs published in newspapers, magazines and literary journals, as well as being aired on radio.
In the nightmare world of the Warsaw Ghetto there was a
half-starved orphan so in love with literature that when the German occupiers
banned the act of reading, she became a courier in a clandestine network
calling itself a walking library. Risking her life, Renata would deliver books to readers. Sometimes she would receive a tip in the form
of a piece of bread, but her payment was that she had access to the books. Literature, always loved, became her weapon
against despair. Eerily, hiding in the
ghetto, Renata read Franz Werfel’s Forty
Days of Musa Dagh, his account of the Armenian genocide. Crouched in a corner of the room she shared
with a myriad of relatives, Renata began to read Emile Zola’s Nana—a story about a French prostitute,
who is the ruin of every man who pursues her. Her older brother pulled the novel out of her hands. “You’re too young to read that. You can read it when you’re eighteen.” Matter-of-factly the hollow-eyed youngster
replied, “I won’t live to be eighteen.”
herself, the Jewish girl with the name meaning ‘reborn,” survived. In time she married, and then became a
mother. Mine. When I was a little girl, my mother encouraged
and guided my reading, gladly feeding my appetite for books. All my English teachers envisaged my becoming
a writer—indeed; there was one who insisted on it. It was with great solemnity that, one frosty
afternoon after school, my mother presented me with Anne of Green Gables. “When
I was your age, I read this book in translation. This book introduced me to Canada. When I was your age my vision of Canada was of a
faraway, peaceful land filled with snow. I could never have dreamed that one day my very own daughter would be
Canadian-born and I would be giving her Zajdman, Page 2 of “Nana” this book in the original
English.” The entire Anne series had been on my mother’s
walking library list. Anne of Green Gables was her gift to
both of us.
brother’s eldest daughter surmounted a learning disability, and became a
passionate reader. She would prop up her
novels at the lunch table, read by flashlight in bed, hide with her books in
corners of a large family home, and evade visitors in order to escape into the
pages of her latest literary voyage.
after my mother turned eighty, we attended my (now) eighteen-year-old niece’s
high school commencement. Sitting in a
gymnasium, witnessing the celebration of carefree teenagers in the serene land of Anne-with-an-E, tears streamed down the
cheeks of my niece’s “Nana.”
with the interior of my mother’s apartment, the concierge of the building in which she lives has dubbed her “The
Lady Who Loves Books.” The cancer my
mother lives with has slowed her down, so she doesn’t get to the libraries as
often as she would like. My mother holds
a membership card in not one, but two libraries. At the beginning of winter I registered her
in a program run by the library in her neighborhood. A team of volunteers deliver material to the
members who are shut in. My mother
cheerfully peruses the catalogues and contentedly creates lists of the books
she wants to read, which are filled by couriers who brave the ice and the snow
to bring them to her.
Lady Who Loves Books refuses to read to the end of Emile Zola’s Nana.
She’s afraid that if she does, her life will arrive at its end, too.