KARMA KITAJ signing and discussing BEGUILED in conversation with Peterborough artist JESSIE POLLOCK.
Kitaj’s mother Jeanne Brooks Kitaj became the inadvertent muse for her first novel. The author’s initial thought was to write a story about the life of a woman such as Jeanne might have had, if she’d had the gumption. Which she did not. So, BEGUILED is purely imagination, a story that “just wrote itself, as if I were channeling it,” says Kitaj, who is not at all a woo-woo person.
The setting is early 1900s Boston’s old West End, that was erroneously razed by redevelopment, even though it was a vibrant multi-ethnic community. The protagonist is Miriam Levine, first-generation Russian Jewish girl who was taught to be someone special by her cultured Pop, who took her to theatrical performances weekly. This incited beautiful, bright and talented Miriam to dream of leaving her tenement neighborhood to be on stage, a dream that materialized only after a major error almost derailed her.
The story proceeds to Greenwich Village and Provincetown during the Roaring 20s where Miriam meets bohemian literati, who befriend and mentor her. She encounters many obstacles, not so different from girls of our day, but as she matures into a thoughtful young woman, the life of the stage fails to glitter.
The story's twists and turns will keep you reading all night long. It brings the reader squarely into the life of a girl with aspirations living more than 100 years ago. The social-cultural milieu is surprisingly contemporary, reflecting some of the dilemmas that the US faces today as it grapples with individualism vs. social responsibility