Wednesday 10 July 2024

S. Nadja Zajdman talks about her involvement with The Best of CafeLit 13


I was led to Café Lit after discovering Bridge House Publishing in a writers’ newsletter.  The first story I submitted was accepted and published in Bridge House’s annual short story anthology.  That year, the anthology was called Gliterary Tales, and my story was called 'The Party’s Over'.  How wrong I was.  The party had just begun.  Ultimately "The Party’s Over" was republished in a story collection called The Memory Keeper, also published by Bridgehouse. Concurrently I discovered CaféLit, and began making submissions.  This is the third year in a row in which my work appears in a Best of Café Lit anthology, and the first in which three of my pieces appear.  "Let The Good Times Roll" began life in midsummer of 2023, as an e-mail to a friend in England.  “Daddy Kaye” began life in the late winter of 1987, in a letter posted by what was then known simply as “mail,” and traveled across the ocean, through the air, to a (not the same) friend in England.  Do we detect a pattern? At the time, intimates dubbed me “a twentieth-century (sic) de Sevigny.”  The family friend in England with whom I corresponded was wont to say, “One day, your letters will be published.”  When an early version of “Daddy Kaye” appeared in the literary supplement of a (Canadian) national newspaper, in London, in triumph, our friend quipped, “You see.  I told you that one day your letters will be published!”  (The date of the newspaper editor’s acceptance letter was the same date as my dad’s death anniversary.  Dad had died four years before.) 

           "The End of the Beginning", initially titled A Wedding in Heidelberg, was born towards the end of the last century.  I had long been fascinated by a photograph in my mother’s possession.  It was taken within two weeks of V-E Day.  It was a group photo of the first Jewish wedding held in Germany post-war.  My mother was the bridesmaid.  This was confirmed when I asked Mum, “How do you know this was the first?”

            Mum shot back, “Because the rabbi (the American Jewish army chaplain) told me!  He was very proud of it!”  (Proud of having the honour to officiate at such an historic event) 

            In the early 1990s, my mother connected with a U.S. army vet, then in his eighties, who was the displaced officer in charge of the sector Mum found herself in when they were both living under the American flag.  A correspondence began—first, between Mum and Lieutenant Hutler (who would be promoted to the rank of captain), and then, between Hutler and me.  Mum sent the Hutlers a video of her first recorded oral history.  Hutler sent us his memoir.  Between the source material and what my mother remembered of the period, I was able to write the story.  I sent it to the old soldier for feedback and was gratified to hear that I had gotten not only the facts, but the feeling right. 

            A year into our correspondence, Mum and I flew to California to meet Albert Hutler and his wife.  (Imagine the consternation of Jewish displaced persons, ushered into American Military Government headquarters, when they first saw the name plate on his office door: Lieutenant A. Hutler.)  Once they relaxed, among the survivors, the lieutenant’s name became the butt of jokes.  I tell this story in full, in the memoir I Want You To Be Free (Hobart Books, Oxford, 2022).


I haven’t written in cafes in decades.  During my university days I’d write in a downtown Montreal café called Café Prague.  The café’s owner, an east European, took a liking to me.  He grew protective as he watched me doing what he described as “testing yourself,” among the patrons, which generally consisted of fellow students, struggling artists, the owner’s compatriots, and the occasional tourist who found his or her way into the deliberately Old World ambience of an immigrant’s establishment.  The owner allowed me to linger for hours, often with a purchase no larger than a large pot of tisane, pen in hand and a notebook open on the table, as I observed, wrote, and “tested myself.” 

            A few blocks away, there was a dive called Limelight.  It was dark and cozy and hosted a similar clientele.  I wouldn’t know, but I assume these places are gone now.  It is my impression that these days, students perch their laptops on tables in branches of a chain like Starbucks.  These days, I write at home, alone, perched on a fitness ball in front of my desktop computer.     


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