Author Gabriella Goliger’s speaks about A Girl Unwrapped

Published: January 3rd 2011
in Culture » Books

A Girl Unwrapped
Gabriella Goliger

Gabriella Goliger was born in Italy, but has lived throughout the world. She grew up in Montreal, but has also resided in Israel, the Eastern Arctic, Victoria B.C, and Ottawa. Goliger settled down 30 years ago, and now calls Ottawa home.


Goliger’s first book, Song of Ascent, won the Upper Canada Writer’s Craft Award in 2001. She has won many other awards including the 1997 Journey Prize in 1998 for short fiction and the Prism International award in 1993. Goliger has been published in journals and anthologies including Best New American Voices 2000 and Contemporary Jewish Writing In Canada.


She received a B.A from McGill University and an M.A in English Literature from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.


Goliger’s latest book, A Girl Unwrapped, is a beautiful and powerful coming of age story set in 1960’s Montreal.  We follow protagonist Toni Goldblatt, starting at age 8, as she struggles to realize her lesbian identity which conflict with the expectations of her Holocaust survivor parents and the conservative mores of her times. We travel with Toni to Israel where she flees in hopes of re-inventing herself, only to discover the reality of life in the Middle East during the wake of the 1967 war are much more complex than anticipated. She returns to Montreal where her true journey of self-discovery and acceptance begin. A Girl Unwrapped is wonderfully descriptive, riveting, and a must-read.


Gabriella Goliger honored me with an interview discussing her new novel, inspirations, and her love of nature.




AB: How is Girl Unwrapped different from your previous work?


GG: My first book, Song of Ascent was a collection of linked short stories, while Girl Unwrapped is a novel. Song is about Jewish immigrant family that struggles with the legacy of the Holocaust, but the emphasis is on the first generation, the parents, whereas Girl focuses on the second generation – on Toni, the daughter.


AB: What inspired the themes and characters in this novel?


GG: I'm Jewish and a lesbian, myself, and a daughter of Holocaust escapees. I don't call my parents "survivors" because they weren't in the camp – which is a whole other category of experience. But they certainly lived through plenty of trauma, including losing family members to Hitler's death machine. That era they lived through is never far from my own consciousness. So, I felt compelled to write from these formative, dominant aspects of my identity. Being Jewish and lesbian compose an interesting heritage and make for interesting dilemmas. But I didn't want to write about myself. That would be a memoir, not fiction. I'm not a memoirist. I prefer the scope of fiction. I needed to step outside myself and find a convincing, engaging fictional character to carry the story.  Therefore, I worked to make Toni Goldblatt, the central character, different from myself. For starters, I gave her a very different body – tall and more athletic than me – and different intellectual interests. She is more of a "butch," less able to hide who she is and therefore forced out of the closet at a young age. (Whereas I was able to remain invisible to the world and to myself until my early 30s.) She is prickly, she has a temper, she clashes with her mother, she wears her heart on her sleeve, all of which make her a better dramatic character than I could possibly be. Of course, I do identify with Toni too. But at a certain stage of the writing process I felt her step away from me and become her own self. There is something magical about this process. It takes a lot of effort, but eventually it happens. 


Related articles: (Jewish, Israel, Author, Montreal, Lesbian, Holocaust)

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