About the Author

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Kay Gill grew up in Muncie, Indiana – after stops in Bloomington and Indianapolis, Indiana, and Louisville, Kentucky. She now lives in Pewee Valley, near Louisville, where she and her husband raised their two sons.

Kay co-authored two books: The Brown Hotel and Louisville’s Magic Corner, and Kentucky Center for the Arts: Opening Night. She served as editor for Two Hundred Years at the Falls of the Ohio: A History of Louisville and Jefferson County, edited two cook books by Camille Glenn, and for ten years served as editor of “High Roads Folio,” an annual life-style magazine published in conjunction with the Hard Scuffle Steeplechase. She graduated from Indiana University with a degree in journalism and from Spalding University with and MFA in fiction.

The American Printing House for the Blind in Louisville released a braille version of Mirel’s Daughter.

 

On Writing Mirel’s Daughter

By Kay Gill


I was five or six when my mother, Sonia, first told me stories of her childhood in Russia, simple stories at first, and sweet. She lived in Brusilov, Ukraine, with her mother, Mirel, and an older sister and brother; her father had died when she was a baby. Her mother had a maid, Ulka, a gentile woman who had been with them “for thirteen years when the trouble started.”  In the late summers, she said, her mother and Ulka made jelly. Not on a stove. Outside, in a kettle hung over a fire. She told me about coming to America on a ship – “in first class,” she always added.

As I look back, I realize that writing Mirel’s Daughter has been a journey that began with those stories.
Years later she told me hard tales of loss and hope – about pogroms against the Jews, about being driven from their home. It was difficult for her to tell these stories, difficult for me to hear, but slowly I gathered enough threads to weave the tale that I knew I must write.

Mother was in her seventies before she could tell me everything. The “bad things” were still vivid in her mind, but by now many details of daily life had drifted away – her friend’s name, the food they ate. And, because she was so young when all this happened – only 12 when she came to America – she was innocent of the politics that had brought it about .

We cried, but there was laughter, too, as when she tried to draw a floor plan of her family’s house so that I could comprehend how different her life in Brusilov had been from mine. “Back here in the kitchen was a barrel,” she said. “A man came to fill it with water from the town well. And we had a porch; I remember taking naps on that porch.” “Bathroom?” she laughed. There was a privy in back. Out here somewhere,” she said, pointing to a spot behind the drawing of her house.

When I had heard all she had to tell me, I began to fill in the blanks with research. As I wrote, I relived her story. I understood my mother as I never had before. And I understood that her story is one story but that it is universal, that in every war from the beginning of time, a child like Sonia has been there.