Ronit Lentin probably began writing her book, "Night Train to Mother," based on her own family history, when she was 5 years old in Israel. Her grandfather loved to sit with her and draw family trees.
"I've always had a longing for the past," she told the Deseret News in a telephone interview from Philadelphia. "In Israel we grew up without a past. We were more Israelis than Jews. The past was not part of our daily life. It was important for me to reconstruct it. You have to understand the past, what made us - to understand what's happening now."Lentin journeyed to Romania in 1984 to see where her father and mother were born. "I went to the place between the Northern Ukraine and Romania and visited the sawmill of my grandfather and where my mother and father were born. I was tracing my roots," she said.
"Americans understand this she said, referring to the Alex Haley phenomenon of "Roots." "We have been generation upon generation living as strangers in another land."
Four generations of Jewish women are tracked in Lentin's novel. Their journey takes them from Romania to Israel and back to Romania from 1895 to 1984. This is a book that celebrates matriarchy.
"I've had many people finish the book and ask me, `Where are the men?' " laughed Lentin. "I just liked exploring what the women do. They stay home and cook and raise families but at the same time they are very powerful. Behind the scenes they make decisions regarding business with their husbands. I wanted to give them a mouthpiece."
Of the periods traced in her book, through World War I and II, from Fascists and Nazis down to the time of Romanian dictator Ceausescu, it is the 1984 journey to Romania that is most compelling. Ruth Lax takes a night train to Romania to find the birthplace of her parents. Lentin describes the visit she made to Vatra Dornei through her fictional Ruth: "The old synagogue, once a formidable temple opposite the Lycee, lies empty, guarded by a gruff old Jew, embarrassed by your visit.
"You walk the banks of the Dorna stream, where Dorna Foresta, once Mendel's sawmill, still stacks timber as it did in his days. You walk the park, by the casino, where Mendel took Rosa when they first met here after the first war.
"Why do you feel so good here? Why does it feel like home? It is nothing like the Israel of your childhood, the Israel you have since left. But somehow it feels right, despite the harshness of the present. The journey is beginning to have a sense of destination."
For all of Lentin's journeyings to find "home," it seems a twist of irony that she has ended up living in Dublin, Ireland, for the past 20 years. "How did I get to Ireland?," she said. "How does any woman end up in a place? I married an Irishman. But I've come to like it, it's a fine place to live with no huge pressures like the East Coast. If you work hard you can make a name for yourself."
Lentin will be in Salt Lake City for the Jewish Book Fair and Hanukkah Bazaar at the James L. White Jewish Community Center, 2416 E. 1700 South. From 4 to 5 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 18, she will review her novel. The fair is open to the public that day from noon until 5 p.m.
Lentin, on a book tour of the major U.S. cities, said she had to laugh when her publisher apologized for booking her into a community where there are only 3,000 Jews. "There are only 1,000 in all of Ireland," said Lentin.