An Interview with Barry Denenberg about One Eye Laughing, The Other Weeping
- Grades: 6–8
About this book
Richard F. Abrahamson, Ph.D. & Eleanore S. Tyson, Ed.D.: You say that Anne Frank's diary was an inspiration to you as you wrote One Eye Laughing, the Other Weeping. How would you compare and contrast Anne Frank and Julie Weiss?
Barry Denenberg: I hope that Julie Weiss, like Anne Frank, acts and sounds like a real person, not a character in a book. Anne Frank's voice personalized the Holocaust: that is why it has spoken to so many people over the years. Although their situations are different, they both show young people confronted with impossible situations.
RFA & EST: In researching life in Austria during the Nazi takeover, what did you discover that you found most haunting, interesting, or surprising?
BD: Two things come to mind. One was the precipitous rise of anti-Semitism in Vienna. The second was the denial and self-hatred of the Viennese Jews.
RFA & EST: In Part One of One Eye Laughing, the Other Weeping, you do a remarkable job of showing young readers just how quickly things changed and the horrors began when Hitler entered Austria. It seems that all you have to do is turn the page to find the Nazis inflicting another evil on the Jews. Was this quick pacing something you consciously worked to accomplish?
BD: Yes, I did work on this pacing because it reflects the sad historical reality of the Austrians eager to embrace Nazism.
RFA & EST: Quotations from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland appear throughout the first part of Julie's diary. Lewis Carroll's crazy fantasy is an interesting book for her to cite in face of the terrible things going on around her. Why did you choose Alice ?
BD: For one thing, Alice in Wonderland was a book a young Viennese girl might read. In addition it reflected, I thought, the way Julie would articulate to herself the absurdity of what had, suddenly, become her life.
RFA & EST: As you wrote Part Two of Julie's diary detailing her new life in America, you say, "Julie and her new life evolved in a way that felt beyond my control." Why do you think that happened? Did it have anything to do with not being so tied to the actual historical events in Austria that drive the action in Part One?
BD: No, that was not the case, though I can see why you might ask that. The writing process can be a fascinating one. I try to let my characters, once placed in the accurate historical situation, develop without much intervention from me. As a well known writer advised me years ago: "I just get up each morning and raise the curtain. The characters do the rest." The coincidence of Our Town having its original production that same year was just one of the occurrences that weren't contrived by me. It seemed destined that Julie would be in that play and that the play would, in turn, reflect her evolving views of her life.
RFA & EST: Both Ben Uchida, the main character in your My Name Is America book The Journal of Ben Uchida, Citizen 13559, Mirror Lake Internment Camp, and Julie Weiss suffer ethnic discrimination and must leave their homes. In what ways do you feel these characters are similar?
BD: Although Ben and Julie are quite different, they share a kind of outside-looking-in perspective that is unique to kids. It is a kind of "can this be really happening?" quality that is lost when we become older and more realistic.
RFA & EST: One Eye Laughing, the Other Weeping is the first "Special Edition" book in the Dear America series. Would you tell us about this designation?
BD: The truth is the book was going to be the first Dear America diary published in two separate volumes, in two successive seasons. I became somewhat obsessed with the book, working twelve hour days, seven days a week and volume two came along quickly enough that we were able to combine both volumes into one special edition. I'm glad it worked out that way.
RFA & EST: What is one question you'd like to ask children after they've finished reading Julie's diary?
BD: I would simply ask my readers if they have any criticisms of the book.
RFA & EST: What is one thing you hope young readers will take with them after reading One Eye Laughing, the Other Weeping: The Diary of Julie Weiss?
BD: I hope they will leave the book with the understanding that history is something that happens to real people.
Interview conducted by Richard F. Abrahamson, Ph.D., Professor of Literature for Children and Young Adults, University of Houston and Eleanore S. Tyson, Ed.D., Clinical Assistant Professor, University of Houston, Department of Curriculum and Instruction, Houston, Texas.