Marcia Fine is fascinated by family secrets, the kind that burrow deep and create fissures over time. They are a common thread in her books, and her newest, Paris Lamb, is no exception.
This is a story about many things — biblical archeology, art auctions and fiercely competitive academia — but at its heart, Paris Lamb is about a woman with a secret, and the pain and problem it causes her (and her son) when she keep it under wraps for decades.
“Every family,” says Fine from her home in Arizona, “has its secrets. There are all kinds of things that go on behind closed doors.”
Fine, who graduated from Coral Gables High in 1963 as Marcia Blumenthal, is back in Miami Tuesday to speak at the Coral Gables County Club. Her homecoming is replete with real-life twists and ironies that you might find in one of her books. For example, the country club that now welcomes her would not have allowed her family to be members because they’re Jewish. And the charity that will benefit from her talk, Orchestra Miami, is led by Elaine Rinaldi, whose parents were Fine’s school teachers.
The story of biblical archeologist Michael Saunders moves from New York to Paris to Miami. With the suspicious death of an important professor, Saunders is asked to authenticate the ancient artifacts commonly known as God’s Gold. Over the centuries these priceless objects have passed through some nefarious hands before ending up in the Vatican for safe keeping, and when Saunders judges these artifacts as the real thing, confrontations with some very strange characters ensue.
Set in the 1990s, Paris Lamb provides plenty of flashbacks to old Miami. There are mentions of Jackson Memorial and Andalucia Bakery and Vizcaya — but there are also chilling examples of an anti-Semitism that was prevalent in the 1950s, a prejudice that Fine herself experienced.
That anti-Semitism prompted many to keep their religion private. In fact, Fine added, her family never discussed the Holocaust in post-World War II Miami. Her father, who taught orchestra in the Miami-Dade Public Schools, had to use a different name to land his gigs at night.
“They were different times,” Fine recalls. “You didn’t draw attention to yourself. You didn’t talk about your family outside of your home. And you definitely did not bring up your problems or discuss them in public.”
Though Fine has lived most of her adult life elsewhere, she returns to Miami at least once a year to visit relatives and close friends. Fine will also be speaking at an interactive workshop at the Jewish Museum of Florida-FIU on Wednesday from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. on “Why Your Family History Matters.” The session at the museum, 301 Washington Ave., Miami Beach, is open to the public and free with museum admission of $6 for adults, $5 for seniors and students; for information, visit www.jewishmuseum.com.
“South Florida,” Fine adds, “has always been my anchor. I’ve always included it in all my books.”
She began writing in 2000, after holding down several jobs that included English teacher and corporate trainer. First she wrote two satires featuring Jean Rubin, a women-and-literature teacher at the community college who is married to a physician. But then she turned away from poking fun at the upscale Scottsdale crowd to pen a story inspired by her grandmother’s life.
Paper Children: An Immigrant’s Legacy chronicles the lives of three generations of women, all of whom are inextricably bound by the Holocaust. It was a finalist in the historical category for Foreward Magazine Book of the Year
Fine them went on to research and write The Blind Eye, A Sephardic Journey, the parallel stories of two women exploring their identities, one in 15th century Portugal and another in modern times. Set against historical events, The Blind Eye was chosen as the 2015 adult choice for ONEBOOKAZ, a program run by the Arizona State Library, Archives and Public Records. The initiative brings communities together through literature by encouraging them to read the same book at the same time, then participate in discussions and programs centered around the winning titles.
Fine says her book ideas come from her personal interests, and it helps that she loves to do research. For Paris Lamb, she traveled to Vatican City and went on a dig in Israel “to see what it was really like.”
She’s currently working on a book set in 1790s Mexico, where the Inquisition remains a destructive force. She jokes that while her books are filled with families making hard decisions in order to survive in a world full of conflict and danger, her life has really been quite uneventful.
“I grew up in a very creative, unconventional home,” she says. “There wasn’t much conflict, but I still love these family stories and creating characters that are real.”
If you go
What: Lunch with Marcia Fine, author of Paris Lamb.
Where: Coral Gables Country Club, 997 N. Greenway Dr., Coral Gables.
When: 11:30 a.m. reception, noon lunch on Tuesday.
Cost: $60, includes lunch and autographed copy of Paris Lamb, with a portion benefitting Orchestra Miami.
Information: firstname.lastname@example.org or 305-632-5996.