Roslyn native and current New York City resident Nancy Newman has published her first novel, Disturbing the Peace, a story about a subject that affects a large number of Americans. The novel concerns the trials of a middle-aged English teacher as she searches out her biological mother.
Even though it is estimated that there are seven million adoptees in the United States and that six out of 10 Americans say they have had personal experiences with adoption either through friends or family, few novels have been written about an adoptee's struggle to find a birth parent.
Disturbing the Peace is such a novel. The protagonist, Sarah Bridges, is a teacher and author who has also studiously avoided all thoughts about the birth mother she has never known. In a "heated interview" with one of her foreign-born students, Ms. Bridges unexpectedly shares a secret she has never revealed to other friends. As her carefully constructed world begins to unravel, she feels compelled to uncover the truth about her family, and embarks upon a touching and sometimes comical journey to find her birth mother and to make peace with the past. The outcome is a beguiling look at growing up regardless of one's age. The novel is being published by Avon Books and should be available in bookstores in mid-February.
This is Ms. Newman's debut novel. It was inspired by Ms. Newman's friendship with a woman who told of her own search for her birth mother. The two became friends at a neighborhood birthday party for toddlers. "We were both writers, our 2-year-old sons hit it off, and we soon became close friends," Ms. Newman recalled. "Over the next five years, she shared her search experiences with me, and openly described the many legal and psychological obstacles she encountered while seeking the truth about her biological family."
Claiming to be "fascinated" by her friend's search, Ms. Newman listened to her anecdotes, accompanied her to several search conferences, participated in workshops, and was even with her when she met her half-brother. Ms. Newman's friend eventually met her birth parents and made peace with her past. By then, the subject of adoption had caught Ms. Newman's imagination. A decade later, when she was pregnant with her third son, Ms. Newman was already working on a novel about an adoptee who feels stalled in her life and is propelled into a search for her birth mother.
After completing a draft of the novel, Ms. Newman realized that the novel was about more than simply an adoptee's search for her biological mother. "I recognized that it wasn't only the subject of adoption that had seized my imagination," she said. "It was the complicated and mysterious process of emotional growth that I was exploring---a subject that affects all human beings. What I was trying to figure out was: What must a person give up in order to grow?"
Looking back on the experiences of the novel's main character, Ms. Newman concluded: "By awakening Sarah Bridges from her dream-like state and forcing her to confront the facts of her life, I dramatized an emotional trip we must all take in one form or another...Whether we are adopted or not, it is necessary to take a careful look at myths we have created about our families and ourselves. And then we need to summon the courage to set out on that perilous, terrifying, but ultimately rewarding journey that allows us to create deeper, richer, more authentic lives."
As the book nears publication, Ms. Newman reminisced about her childhood in Roslyn. "When I was growing up in the '50s, I spent many hours at what was then the charming, ramshackle Bryant Library," she recalled. "In winter, the fireplace was often ablaze, and in summer, a duck would occasionally waddle up from the pond and through the French doors causing a flurry of excitement. The librarian was a sweet, child-sized woman who patiently helped me pick out books---not just one or two, but an armful at a time---and who encouraged me to curl up on the oversized leather sofa and take my time making my selections.
"My family wasn't wealthy, but I always felt like the richest, most privileged little girl when I was surrounded by those piles of books, and I attribute my lifelong love affair with reading and writing to those magical hours spent in the library."