The power of sibling love and rivalry is at the heart of Lynda Cohen Loigman’s new book, Wartime Sisters.
On the surface, her story is an intimate portrait of two very different sisters trying to resolve their conflict. But underneath, Loigman’s work is a tapestry of insights. It reveals the duality of our human nature and some of the natural inclinations that fuel internal and external conflicts.
It’s no surprise that Loigman’s Wartime Sisters is quite brilliant. Her first novel, The Two-Family House, was “Goodreads best book of the month in March 2016 and a nominee for Goodreads 2016 Choice Awards in Historical Fiction”. What’s apparent is how both works speak to the essence of what motivates us and the many of the questions and struggles in our relationships with one another.
In fact, one of the joys of interviewing Loigman for this article was her honesty about the personal experiences that weave their way into her stories and the role of her formative years that helped motivate the Wartime Sisters storyline from her own history as well her family’s history. The effect of this sweeping work is what happens when fine spices are added to a superb sauce. Bellisimo!
Growing up in Longmeadow, Massachusetts, Loigman received a B.A. in English and American Literature from Harvard College. A law degree from Columbia Law School soon followed, despite her love of poetry which frequently found its way among the pages of her law studies.
After working for years as a Trust and Estate lawyer, Loigman realized the family emotions and drama in her work drew her interest beyond the legal content.
The heartbreaking struggles surrounding sibling jealousy, illegitimate children, and spousal discord were captivating. So writing about these powerful stories and the larger human issues seemed like a natural transition for Loigman when she and her husband decided to move the family to the suburbs outside of New York.
There was also another fascinating dynamic to Loigman’s storyline about the relationship between sisters. It came in part from her longing for a sister of her own, as well as the admiration she had for her mother and two aunts. Ruth and Millie are the two protagonists in Wartime Sisters who speak to the complex relationship Loigman saw between her mother and two sisters.
Despite periods of fighting, Loigman’s mother and aunts always came together. Loigman also loved her spunky grandmother on her mother’s side. Her name was Tillie, and she obviously had qualities imbued in Millie’s fighting character. This combination of family women, as well as the women who Loigman discovered in her research for the book, had a profound influence.
While not all family dramas are peacefully resolved, the bond between the women in Loigman’s life impressed her. She realized most people long for peaceful sibling relationships but often desire what they don’t have. She also recognized how much we struggle to overcome jealousies in these love-hate family relationships. Exploring these dynamics certainly makes for a cast of rich characters and vivid scenes.
When done with honesty, drama translates into meaningful and relatable insights that are compelling and timeless.
That’s why Wartime Sisters is more than a good story. It’s a great story because we examine our own family relationships, assumptions and histories.
It was wonderful to find myself falling into Loigman’s characters, immersed in their reality and feeling a dual sense of familiarity and uncomfortable recognition of my own family stresses. For example, like Ruth, I am the older, smarter sister (although my sister would disagree!). I had problems dating and often felt uncomfortable socially.
My sister is very similar to Ruth’s sister; she was the cute, feminine, beautiful and attention-grabbing daughter. Like Millie, she had no interest in school and enjoyed life on her own terms and charms. I remember the feeling of being jealous and angry at my parents’ who indulged her ability to get away with more than I could.
Yet, instinctively, I still felt protective and wanted to guide my sister just like Ruth did. In large part, we see how Ruth and Millie’s parents also created different roles and expectations like many parents do for their children. Many of these roles rest on assumptions around our ‘natural’ birth order.
By capturing the silent tug of war between Millie and Ruth in the early pages of the novel, Loigman sets the stage. “After a childhood of bickering and hostile adolescence, they [Ruth and Millie] had entered adulthood almost estranged.”
But the real drama begins when Ruth leaves their familiar Jewish neighborhood behind and Millie is forced to go it on her own, without her sister. Just like Ruth and Millie who are forced to face to deal with some tragic events that change their circumstances, many of us create a new identity for ourselves when events force us into uncomfortable and uncertain circumstances.
Tune in tomorrow for Part 2 of A Spotlight on Lynda Cohen Loigman and Wartime Sisters