An unforgettable saga, “The Debt of Tamar” spans generations, exploring the themes of love, loss, family and faith. From 16th century Portugal to modern-day Manhattan, it begs the question, how do we embrace not only the legacy of our forefathers, but also, the power within ourselves to forge ahead with our own destinies?
When the descendants of two illustrious families cross paths in modern-day Manhattan, the onus is upon them to right the wrongs of the past and break the shackles of their future. Follow a curse, a ring, and an unpaid debt as they travel through the generations wreaking havoc as they go. At heart, “The Debt of Tamar” is a love story with elements of fantasy, mystery, history and adventure.
Author Nicole Dweck is a community member, who grew up in Deal, NJ and went to Hillel Yeshiva. She was happy to answer our questions.
Q: Where did you go to school? Tell me about your upbringing.
A: My upbringing was a pretty traditional community upbringing. With a Sephardic father and an Ashkenaz mother, I was very lucky to experience both amazingly rich cultures in my household. Following my graduation from Hillel High School, I went on to study Journalism and Middle East Studies at NYU. Almost immediately after, I went on to pursue a Masters Degree in Global Studies while doing some freelance journalism.
Q: What were some of your favorite books/authors while you were growing up and now?
A: When I was in high school, reading was a very big deal. Books were my windows to the outside world, and I took my books very seriously. I read all kinds of books, but rarely ever did I read the ones assigned to us in Literature class! Some of the books that will always be associated with that time in my life are “Gone With the Wind,” “The Prophet” by Kahlil Gibran, “The Great Gatsby,” “Siddhartha,” Henry David Thoroeau’s “Walden,” and anything by Ayn Rand. I suppose that growing up, I was reading books that would seem extremely dramatic to a young person coming of age.
I would say my literary tastes have evolved along with my sense of personhood. The brooding teenager is no more. I am happy to lose myself in a beautiful love story like “Me Before You” and I feel confident enough to read (and very much enjoy )Young Adult novels like David Levithan’s “Every Day,” and John Green’s “The Fault in Our Stars.”
There’s the side of me that can get lost in beautiful prose like that in “The Art of Hearing Heartbeats,” or in Jhumpa Lahiri’s short story collection, but truth be told, I’ve been known to read some non-fiction too (anything by Jared Diamond).
Q: Did you always want to be an author? Why does your website (nicoledweck.com) say you’re a reluctant writer?
A: I always loved writing and thought that I would channel that passion through journalism. I really never thought I’d write a novel. I don’t think I’d even ever written a single piece of short fiction prior to writing “The Debt of Tamar.” But one day, I realized that deep down, I had a story in me! I had so much I wanted to express about my understanding of life, happiness, family and faith.
I began writing “The Debt of Tamar” only for myself. I grew to love the solitude of writing, the ability to express myself freely. What I didn’t really think about was the second part of the writing process—sharing—letting your readers in on your wildest thoughts and ideas, readers who 99% of the time are complete strangers. It takes a lot of chutzpah to do that. I’d be crazy not to be a bit reluctant.
Q: Were you confident writing about the 16th century?
A: It was definitely a challenge, but through literature, travel, and research, I managed to mentally immerse myself in the time periods and locations I was writing about. There would be times when I had been home all day writing for hours on end. This might be someone’s version of an incredibly boring day, but to me, it was as though I had been on an incredible journey around the world and back. My souvenirs, my memorabilia—the pages that would come back with me.
Q: Will there be a sequel?
A: Absolutely! There is a sequel in the works.
Q: What have people said about your book?
A: I am really thrilled with the feedback I have gotten. It’s hit the Amazon Bestseller List many times, has been featured as a # 1 Kindle Bestseller in Jewish Literature, a #1 Kindle Bestseller in the category of Middle East
Fiction, and one of the Hot 100 Historical Fiction Kindle Bestsellers. Most recently, it has received an Honorable Mention award from Writers Digest in the category of Mainstream Fiction.
I’ve also been fortunate enough to be a featured speaker at over a dozen book clubs/speaking engagements this year, including one scheduled at the SCC on March 4.
(The reviews of the book on Amazon.com were very impressive. There was one glowing opinion after another.)
“Well written and captivating,” said Victor.
Amy said, “What a beautiful book. “The Debt of Tamar” is more than a mere book, it is an experience. I loved every page. I would most definitely recommend it to anyone who wants an escape to another place and time. A veritable feast for the five senses.”
Ross wrote, “Gorgeous is the word that immediately comes to mind. Not only are there beautiful descriptions of 16th century Istanbul, with the Ottoman sultan’s palace and its luscious gardens, there’s also a heart-rending and engrossing love story that stretches across centuries and continents. The story is immensely readable and carries on at a great pace.”
Q: On a personal note, how did you meet your husband?
A: I was so lucky to meet my husband. He was born and raised in London to an Iraqi mother and Ashkenaz father. We both understood what it was like to be raised chetzi chetzi (half and half). Having studied abroad in England for a semester during college, I had come to know the Sephardic British community very well, but I had no idea that a few years later, I’d be married to one of its members.
Sometimes you have to go halfway around the world to find the one who makes you feel at home wherever you may be. It didn’t hurt when he told me his mother, now living in the UK, was from Deal, born and raised. Her Iraqi family was one of the very first to live in Deal. In fact, her house was located on the empty plot of land just south of The Deal Casino. All that time, I had been parking my car on the plot of land where my future mother-in-law’s home once stood.
My husband and I hit it off immediately. He was just the right blend of fresh and familiar. He had never been to Deal. Now he’s there with me every summer.
Q: Is there anything else you’d like our readers to know about you, your life or your book?
A: I love to experiment with new recipes, ski when I can get away, and read when I have a spare moment, but with a rambunctious toddler running around at home, those ‘spare moments’ are few and far between. I’m lucky if I manage to grab a cup of coffee in the morning. Cliche as it may sound, there’s nothing I love more than being a mom.