Published On: Tue, Sep 27th, 2016

Jeffrey H. Konis Explores the Life of His Grandmother, a Holocaust Survivor, in His Latest Novel ‘The Conversations We Never Had’

Konis Highlights the Importance of Family History. "Take the time to learn about your grandparents before it’s too late, " he says

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The Conversations We Never Had is a heartwarming story that will leave you eager to spend time with your family and learn more about them before it’s too late.

Jeffrey, please tell us, what is The Conversations We Never Had about?

The Conversations We Never Had is a compilation of conversations I wish I had with my Grandma “Ola” before she passed away. It is an imagining of the stories she might have shared had I only took the time to ask the questions.

What inspired you to write The Conversations We Never Had?

When I first told family and friends that I was writing about my grandmother and the relationship I wished I had with her, they asked me why I was writing this now, more than twenty years after she had passed. For the longest time, I couldn’t think of what exactly was the catalyst for this project and then it hit me: Million Dollar Listing: Los Angeles, a reality show depicting three young real estate brokers specializing in high-end properties, served as my inspiration, founded on remorse, for me to write this book. One of the brokers had a close, warm relationship with his grandmother who appeared to have much in common with my Grandma Ola. Both were Holocaust survivors who happened to share a similar style and mannerisms. They also shared a similar way of speaking: blunt, matter-of-fact and, occasionally, hysterical without necessarily recognizing or acknowledging the humor in something they just said.

 

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But it was the differences that struck me hardest. First, unlike the grandson on the show, I never sat down and asked my grandmother about her life back in Europe, or here for that matter. It wasn’t because I wasn’t interested – I was – but for reasons I am still struggling to understand. Second, Grandma Ola was not my real grandma; she was the younger sister of my dad’s mom, Sonia, who had died just before the second world war. Dad’s father, Efim, was taken and murdered during the war when my dad was just nine. He has no recollection of what kind of father he was, how he met Sonia or even what he looked like. No pictures of him exist and the only picture of Sonia is the cover photograph of her as a little girl holding Grandma’s hand. The gentleman sitting with them is their father, Eber, after whom my dad was named.
For one reason or another, my dad never asked Grandma Ola, who had taken him in after the war and raised him, about his real parents, Efim and Sonia. I had lived with her for over two years and she would have been able and willing to tell me so much about my real grandparents, my dad as a little boy and so much more had I simply asked the questions. I never did. Therefore, though much of this book is historically accurate, including the experiences of living with her, the stories told to me by Grandma Ola are necessarily fiction or embellishments of grandma’s actual experiences, hence the title.
How would you describe your grandma?

She was warm, gracious, elegant; the most well-mannered person I ever met. Grandma was smart and funny and a beauty. She left Vilna as a young girl, alone, to study abroad in Liege, Belgium, she attended the Sorbonne in Paris, pursued a career in medicine and survived a concentration camp. Most relevant to my own existence and that of my children, she took in a teenage orphan after just having survived the Holocaust and raised him as her own. She also loved me unconditionally.

Grandma was a special woman whom I admired and respected beyond words, literally, as I never told her so. I loved her so much and though I did tell her this much, I didn’t tell her enough. But then I suppose we never do. I am left with the hope, a hope that will never be answered, that Grandma Ola understood how much I loved her.

 

What do you hope readers get out of the book?

The importance of connecting with your relatives. I hope readers can learn from my mistake.

There were plenty of days when I could have spent more time keeping my Grandma company; she would have loved it and me, well, I would have felt I was doing a mitzvah, a good deed. I was too stupid and immature at the time to recognize, to see the value and benefit of spending just a little more time with my grandmother. I am pained just thinking, a quarter century later, about the extent to which I came up short as a grandson, to someone who deserved so much more and there’s just no going back to get it right.

I often remind my sons of their good fortune to be able to spend time with three of their four grandparents. My children can learn so much from them that I, their father, cannot teach them.

I ask you too – Take the time to learn about your grandparents before it’s too late.

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