Twenty-seven years ago, Roni Robbins inherited a well-worn cardboard box with ten audio tape cassette recordings of her grandfather, Simon Farkas. These tapes contained reminiscences of Farkas’s long life, told over a two-year period, before he died at the age of 85.
From the recordings, Robbins learned how her grandfather had been born in a small town in the Carpathian Mountains of Eastern Europe, how he had made his way to Canada, where he jumped ship and eventually made his way to America, married and had a family of five, including Robbins’s mother. Along the way, there was tragedy and joy, adversity and achievement and a summing up of the many lessons Farkas had learned.
Now, all these many years later, those tapes have become the inspiration for Robbins’s new novel, “Hands of Gold: One Man’s Quest to Find the Silver Lining in Misfortune.”
Robbins, a former staff writer for the Atlanta Jewish Times — and, later, the paper’s associate editor — has used the tapes to weave a tale of Jewish family life against the backdrop of modern American and world history.
When she was first given the tapes, Robbins had just recently married and was beginning her own life as a parent in Marietta. As she rode along in her car listening to them with a young child in the backseat, she learned from her grandfather the deeper lessons of life.
“I was becoming a parent; he also was a parent. I mean, I guess I began to understand him more. I imagined what he was like as a younger man and meeting the woman of his dreams and I think that I was just fascinated with learning about him at this stage, versus learning about him like when I was a child, when he was just grandpa.”
After Robbins’s second child was born almost 23 years ago, her imagination shaped the dramatic adventures that had made an imprint on her grandfather’s life, how he had survived tuberculosis during the 1930s by becoming an early human guinea pig for new antibiotic treatments. And how he had had the good fortune to live when so many of his family in Europe had died in the Holocaust — how so much in his life was shaped by the love of family and faith in G-d. Meanwhile, in the five years that Robbins worked on the book while her young family was growing, she too was changing.
“I learned to appreciate the importance of family life while family members are still living. I really think that is one of the main messages I learned, to leave your legacy behind in some ways. He passed on to my mom, who passed on to me, not just the tapes, but his love of Judaism, his love of music and literature, the food we all loved so, and the Yiddish that I have made a part of how he speaks in the book. That’s what family life is like.”
Finding a publisher for her book, Robbins admits, was almost as hard as writing it. It took 15 years to find someone who would actually commit to putting the novel between covers.
“I didn’t know I could get a book published,” she said. “I think, mostly, I learned about how persistent and determined I am, and just how much luck plays a role in your life. Being at the right place at the right time. I got my publisher through a cousin, a family member, and because of that I’ve helped other writers. I think that that’s something I’ve learned from the whole process, you have to help people and then it will come around and it will help you, too.”
Today, Robbins’s two children, who were just toddlers when she began thinking about the book, are grown and starting adult lives of their own. The book and its publication are, in a sense, part of a living link that ties it all together. Although she calls her book “Hands of Gold,” it could just as easily be described as strands of gold that have been woven out of her life, her imagination and her love of family.
“I hope that this is my legacy,” Robbins said. “This is what I’m passing on to my children, that they should appreciate those that came before them, too, because like me, you are who you are because of where you came from.”
“Hands of Gold” is available in all forms for purchase at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Judaica Corner and other retailers.
- Arts & Culture
- Roni Robbins
- Hands of Gold
- Bob Bahr
- Simon Farkas
- Atlanta Jewish Times
- Carpathian Mountains
- Eastern Europe
- Hands of Gold: One Man’s Quest to Find the Silver Lining in Misfortune
- Jewish family life
- modern American
- World history
- antibiotic treatments