Goldie Goldbloom‘s first novel, Toads’ Museum of Freaks and Wonders, comes out in February after having won the AWP Prize, one of the biggest literary fiction prizes in America. Actually, one of the most difficult parts of her victory was finding her. Goldbloom, a prolific writer, is not a prolific Internet surfer. She wrote all the drafts of Toads’ Museum by hand. She has published in journals as prestigious as StoryQuarterly and
, but, until recently, didn’t even have a Facebook account. The contest judges finally tracked her down after Googling her name in a local Chicago Jewish newspaper and contacting the editors — and were as surprised as anything to learn that this broad, sweeping account of rural Australian life circa World War II was written by a quiet Hasidic Jewish homemaker living in in Chicago with eight kids.
Not that I have any experience either as a prisoner of war, an Italian, or a western Australian, but the book, both in tone and in history, feels unshakeably genuine. The narrator, an albino pianist named Gin, is rescued from an asylum by her husband, Toad, a five-foot-tall farmer who’s overprotective, socially awkward, and more than a bit of a terror. They live on Toad’s farm in Wyalcatchem, a remote town several hours outside Perth, with their two surviving children (their oldest daughter, Joan, died very young). Into this confusion, they are assigned two Italian prisoners of war to work as farmhands. The arrangement is anything but straightforward, however. As passions of all kinds are inflamed on everybody’s sides — Antonio, one of the POWs, seems to be falling for Gin; and her husband seems to be falling for the other — World War II seems to pale next to the wars being fought in the Toad household.
We spoke to Goldie Goldbloom about the division between life and fiction, and how it feels for a Jew to write a World War II-era novel without mentioning the Holocaust.
MJL: The subject matter of your novel — a pair of Italian POWs carrying on an unconventional relationship with a married couple in WWII-era — is incredibly specific. Why this time? Why these people?