The Ropes That Bind by Tracy Stopler

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My Review:

WOW! The Ropes That Bind is a heartbreaking, powerful and hopeful story of a woman’s journey and her quest for healing and growth after being sexually assaulted as a young girl.

As Tali crosses the street to get to her elementary school, a man in a white limo asks her for directions.  It is raining and he says she should get in to the car so she doesn’t get wet, and Tali wants to be helpful so she gets in and shuts the door.  For 3 1/2 hours she is missing and experiencing the unthinkable, but nobody knows.  Tali lives with this secret that perpetually tries to suffocate her inner light as she spends her life attempting to erase the pain and outrun the demons.  Her journey is remarkable and through several relationships, medical, religious and spiritual education, talk therapy and physical challenges, Tali reaches a place of acceptance, healing and the ability to move forward and make a difference.

Her continual search for answers, her pursuit for healing, validation and reasons to love and be loved, along with her inner strength, courage and never ending will to contribute to society in a positive way and help people, sets an example for all of us on how to live – how to break free from our own personal ropes that bind. Heartbreaking, terrifying and wonderfully inspiring, I highly recommend this fictional novel based on a true story.

Q and A with Tracy Stopler

I am lucky enough to have connected with debut author Tracy Stopler and had the wonderful opportunity to ask her a few questions about her incredible book and her very full life.

It is hard not to question the possibility that your main character, Tali Stark, might be you, Tracy Stopler.  Was Tali’s abduction and abuse experience your reality?

The simple and honest answer is yes, The Ropes That Bind: Based on a True Story of Child Sexual Abuse, is based on an event that happened to me when I was nine years old. I first wrote this story as a memoir, but I had to create some scenes to move the story along and I felt it was more honest (and easier to write) once I called it fiction (“based on a true story”). With this being said, the majority of names have been changed but mean something to me as the writer. There are two exceptions: One, the names of the missing children; and two, the name of Tali’s colleague, Rich Faust, who was my dear friend, colleague and editor. Prior to Rich’s passing he told me that he wanted his real name to be used. Because he never got to publish his work on personality types, I was thrilled to honor his request. Some of the other characters are actually two or more combined personalities of people I know.

What part of Tali’s story is fiction? The relationship with her older mentor, Daniel?  The failed marriage to Stuart?  The relationship with the smart but slightly deviant Avi? Her ultimate reconnection with Alex?  The car accident, the hernia, the trip to Israel?

The relationship with her older mentor, Daniel is a true story and a true blessing.

Interesting how the term “failed marriage” still stings. This is mostly true and mostly a blessing. My own demons got in the way of more blessings, but I’m so happy that our friendship continues today.

The relationship with the (very) smart, (very funny) and (very) deviant Avi is also based on someone I know, but there is a lot of creative writing in this section. Here is where Tali learns to trust her intuition and chooses to walk away from love rather than stay in an unhealthy relationship. I was very proud of her ☺!

The reconnection with Alex is unbelievable, not only to me, but also to anyone who knows the story. In real life I had not been in contact with “Alex” in over 30 years. I wrote that entire section of the book as fiction with the exception of Tali’s dream of going to the 25th High School Reunion and reconnecting with Alex. (FYI: All of the dreams written in this book were real dreams of mine).  After the book was complete, but prior to publication, “Alex” called me (in real life). The only thought that came to my mind in that moment was the quote from The Ten Commandments. “So let it be written, so let it be done.”  

Moses (played by Charlton Heston): “… Let my people go.” 

Rameses II (played by Yul Brynner): “So let it be written, so let it be done.”  

I thought this real life reconnection was a beautiful coincidence. Not to ruin a happy ending for the readers, but, “Alex” and I were never romantic. But, don’t be sad, we are each in a healthy and happy relationship with other people.  

The car accident, the hernia on Mount Kilimanjaro and the trip to Israel are all true, but some of the dialogue on the mountain was creative writing and I did not take the Kabbalah class in Israel; I took it in New York. 

Tali doesn’t talk much about her relationship with her mother.  It seems like maybe her mother chose not to, or was not able to be as supportive as Tali needed.  Can you tell me more about that relationship?

Many mother-daughter relationships are complicated. Growing up, my relationship with my mom was no different. What I can say now is that we have a wonderful relationship. I know with 100 percent certainty that we both did the best that we could with the knowledge that we had. 

In many ways the childhood trauma made Tali more productive and focused. The obsession with keeping a list of abducted children was time consuming and I wondered if that made Tali feel she wasn’t alone or did it perpetuate her feelings of helplessness?

There is no right answer here. I want the reader to have their own opinion as to why Tali kept track of other missing children and whether or not it helped her to move forward. 

Often people who experience trauma turn to drugs alcohol or other addictions to escape the pain of the memories in an attempt to forget. Why do you think Tali was able to be focused on health and education and intellectual growth and understanding?

Tali may have passed the test of avoiding drugs and alcohol when she was in college, but she certainly had other obstacles. As the writer (and as a survivor), I wanted Tali to be in control. Tali wanted Tali to feel in control. But being and feeling in control are two different things. Hopefully the reader was able to follow Tali’s transformation.  

People often do big things to overcome inner struggles and climbing Kilimanjaro would be one of them. Was this accomplishment helpful for Tali in terms of moving forward?

Overcoming obstacles may require several steps. Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro was huge for Tali. Finishing this book was huge for me ☺. 

I enjoyed all the references to Judaism (you sparked my interest in Kabbalah and the ability to receive light and share it), I remembered much of the news you mentioned regarding missing children (and then realized my knowledge of AIDS/HIV in the 80s was limited, probably due to the stigma the disease carried and the assumptions about who had it and how it was transmitted), and joyfully recalled my own family memories at the mention of Allan Sherman (10 years ago I rebought My Son the Folksinger in CD form so I could listen in the car)…did you, Tracy, study Kabbalah, keep a list of the missing, do HIV/AIDS related research…and what was your research process for the book?

I hope seeing Allan Sherman’s name made you smile. I did study Kabbalah, but not in Israel (as mentioned in the book). I took classes in NYC, on Long Island and studied a lot on my own. Although I kept a list of missing children, I was not as thorough as Tali was. I think if I were actually keeping track of how many children were murdered, I would have become devastated. As a registered dietitian I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to work with patients living with HIV and AIDS. I did this twice – as portrayed in the story – once, right out of college when I worked at the Bronx VA Medical Center and then again, years later, when I took a position in Rockland County. The research for this book was never ending. Just when I was about to publish the story (for the first time), Jaycee Lee Dugard’s captors, Phillip and Nancy Garrido was sentenced to 431 and 36 years respectively; another little boy, eight-year-old Leiby Kletzky from Boro Park, Brooklyn, went missing and was found murdered; on a happier note, Elizabeth Smart who had been missing for nine months was now on the cover of PEOPLE Magazine – she had just gotten married. And then there was the BREAKING NEWS; the craziness: Pedro Hernandez had confessed to murdering Etan Patz. This was followed by the three missing Cleveland girls found alive. It was such an emotional time and I couldn’t sleep. I just wanted the world to stand still for 24 hours. 

Your calling seems to be helping others who experienced childhood trauma and teaching, and you have done so much personal work to get to the place of comfort in having your voice be heard publicly…do you have any plans to tackle something huge like climbing another mountain or are you content with your current contributions to this world (and are they mutually exclusive?) 

Thank you, Jennifer. Like Tali, I have had many opportunities to physically climb other mountains and I have declined. I choose to channel my energy by paying it forward in helping others to find their voice. In doing so, I have truly summited. 

See Tracy Stopler’s Powerful Tedx Talk at Adelphi University Here.

Have you ever met any of the high profile abductees who were “found”, like Michelle Knight?

No, I haven’t met any survivors of childhood abduction, but I have met too many survivors of childhood sexual abuse. Remember, the percentage for child abduction and/or sexual abuse by a stranger is far lower (~7%) than the percentage by a known and trusted person (family member, teacher, coach, clergy, babysitter) (~93%).

Finally, was this book written solely as catharsis to help with healing, and do you have any plans to write another one?

I started journaling from the time I was ten years old. A lot of my writing from the past was adapted for this book. Finishing the story was a therapy assignment. At the time, it was part of the healing journey. I continued writing long after therapy and although it wasn’t always cathartic, I can honestly say that now that it’s done, and it’s helping others find their path to heal, nothing hurts! 

I have started another book. Although Tali is a character in the book, the main characters are her two precious dogs, Java and Binah (who are both mentioned in The Ropes That Bind). This light-hearted story is a memoir written in the voice of both Java and Binah. Unlike writing The Ropes That Bind, this book is so much fun to write. I truly love being inside the head of the different dog characters. Although this is a completely different book than my first, it still has life lessons for both parents and children. 

The Ropes That Bind by Tracy Stopler received the 2017 Independent Press Award and the NYC Big Book Award for “Distinguished Favorite” in the category of Women’s Fiction.

See The Ropes That Bind Book Trailer Video Here.

 

Child Sexual Abuse Statistics (as stated in The Ropes That Bind):

Child sexual abuse is an underreported crime.  The vast majority (86%) is never reported.

As many as 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men report being sexually abused before the age of 18.

Disabled children are 4 to 10 times more vulnerable to sexual abuse.

90-93% of the perpetrators are known to their victims.

Children rarely make up accusations of sexual abuse.

 

Goodreads Summary

 

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About the Author:

Tracy Stopler, M.S.,R.D., is a registered dietitian, with a Master of Science in Nutrition from New York University, and the nutrition director at NUTRITION E.T.C. in Plainview, New York. Her areas of expertise include Clinical and Sports Nutrition and Mind/Body Medicine.

Tracy has been an adjunct nutrition professor at Adelphi University for 20 years and has published extensively on the topic of nutrition and exercise. She earned her certificate in Clinical Training for Mind/Body Medicine from Harvard Medical School. As a pastry chef, she modifies traditional recipes for those with dietary restrictions.

Tracy is passionate in her role as the Enough Abuse Campaign Coordinator at The Safe Center on Long Island. With a dedicated team of volunteers, she helps to bring child sexual abuse awareness to the public. Prior to this role, Tracy served as a volunteer SAFER Advocate (Survivor Advocate for Emergency Response) and as a child victim’s advocate, working with abused children and their non-offending family members.

Tracy’s favorite personal achievements have been summiting Mt. Kilimanjaro and completing her award-winning debut novel, The Ropes That Bind: Based on a True Story of Child Sexual Abuse.

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Everything Here is Beautiful by Mira T. Lee

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My Review:

Author Mira T. Lee so eloquently shows us when someone has a mental illness, it affects each person in the family and impacts all relationships.  Miranda and Lucia grew up very close, as loving sisters, Chinese American and from New York.  When their mother dies, Lucia marries an unlikely match for her, a kind, Israeli man with one arm, and after a time leaves him and gets involved in a relationship with a younger hispanic man, has his child and moves with him to Ecuador to live in a tiny hut with no bathroom, adjacent to his extended family.  Her behaviors are extreme and even after she had ended up in the hospital and been given pills to keep her even tempered, her decisions seem questionable to her sister who struggles with how much she should interfere.

Miranda and both of the men in Lucia’s life offer her support and compassion in their own ways, bringing to light the fact that mental illness is only one aspect of a person and no matter how flawed one is, love and belonging is still needed and deserved.

Everything Here is Beautiful is a beautiful story of family bonds, sisterly love, devotion and responsibility in the face of mental illness and its potentially devastating and damaging consequences.  This is a messy family drama with lots of love, pain and forgiveness. A powerful must read.

 

As Seen on Goodreads: 

Two sisters: Miranda, the older, responsible one, always her younger sister’s protector; Lucia, the vibrant, headstrong, unconventional one, whose impulses are huge and, often, life changing. When their mother dies and Lucia starts to hear voices, it’s Miranda who must fight for the help her sister needs — even as Lucia refuses to be defined by any doctor’s diagnosis.

Determined, impetuous, she plows ahead, marrying a big-hearted Israeli only to leave him, suddenly, to have a baby with a young Latino immigrant. She will move with her new family to Ecuador, but the bitter constant remains: she cannot escape her own mental illness. Lucia lives life on a grand scale, until inevitably, she crashes to earth. And then Miranda must decide, again, whether or not to step in — but this time, Lucia may not want to be saved. The bonds of sisterly devotion stretch across oceans, but what does it take to break them?

Told from alternating perspectives, Everything Here Is Beautiful is, at its core, a heart-wrenching family drama about relationships and tough choices — how much we’re willing to sacrifice for the ones we love, and when it’s time to let go and save ourselves.

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About the Author:

Mira T. Lee’s debut novel, EVERYTHING HERE IS BEAUTIFUL, was recently named a Top 10 Debut of Winter/Spring 2018 by the American Booksellers Association. Her short fiction has appeared in journals such as the Southern Review, the Gettysburg Review, the Missouri Review, Harvard Review, and TriQuarterly, and has twice received special mention for the Pushcart Prize. Mira is a graduate of Stanford University and lives in Cambridge, MA.

A Horse Walks into a Bar by David Grossman

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My Review:

A Horse Walks Into a Bar, the 2017 Man Booker International Prize Winner, is a stunning account of a middle aged, washed up comedian’s stand up show, but there is so much more.  Taking place in the Israeli city of Netanya, Dovaleh Greenstein has invited a high school friend from military camp, Avishai Lavar, to watch the performance and then let him know what he sees…the person he really sees.  In the audience, in addition to Lavar, now a retired judge, there is an unusual woman from Dov’s old neighborhood in attendance, a little person who endured bullying all her life, and throughout the show interjects comments and contributes her recollections from childhood.

Dov starts out marginally funny, a bit mean with injected political commentary on the state of Israel and her relationship with surrounding countries.  As he feeds off the energy of the audience he gains confidence and becomes focused on telling stories of his youth. He reveals in a joking kind of way the pain he felt as a young boy, small in stature, walking on his hands to avoid getting beat up but enduring hurtful slaps kicks and punches anyway. The small odd woman from his past doesn’t approve of his self deprecating act and refuses eye contact. Meanwhile, as he sits silently during the performance, the judge recalls his brief time with Dov when they were young and how he just observed the bullying and abuse Dov painfully endured without standing up for his friend.

Dov tells stories of how he tried to protect his Holocaust surviving mother, how his father beat him, how he felt like an embarrassment.  The little woman reminded him of his kindness and strength as he goes down this depressing, yet life affirming path on stage and only a few of the diminishing crowd lingers.  The comedy show turns into an autobiographical one man show and the audience, not getting what they came for continually thins out, but there are some who cannot resist the “temptation to look into another man’s hell”.  This cathartic sharing of his background and past experiences allowed Dov to relive the pain and suffering he has endured over the years in front of an audience.

At times painful to read, Doveleh’s stories bring to light questions about being an active participant in advocacy or an ineffective observer.  From Middle East relations to the Holocaust to bullying vs. kindness; what is our responsibility as an audience, a friend, a citizen?  While some of the comedy club crowd questions the heavy performance that night, “People come here to have a good time, it’s the weekend, you wanna clear your head, and this guy gives us Yom Kippur.”, I believe Dov wants to be recognized for his suffering.

Author David Grossman does an exceptional job with his characters, giving the reader just enough to grasp who they are, flaws and all.  His insights about society, Israel and life choices provide food for thought; I could not put this book down and highly recommend it for book clubs.

 

As seen on Goodreads:

The award-winning and internationally acclaimed author of the To the End of the Land now gives us a searing short novel about the life of a stand-up comic, as revealed in the course of one evening’s performance. In the dance between comic and audience, with barbs flying back and forth, a deeper story begins to take shape–one that will alter the lives of many of those in attendance.

In a little dive in a small Israeli city, Dov Greenstein, a comedian a bit past his prime, is doing a night of stand-up. In the audience is a district court justice, Avishai Lazar, whom Dov knew as a boy, along with a few others who remember Dov as an awkward, scrawny kid who walked on his hands to confound the neighborhood bullies.

Gradually, as it teeters between hilarity and hysteria, Dov’s patter becomes a kind of memoir, taking us back into the terrors of his childhood: we meet his beautiful flower of a mother, a Holocaust survivor in need of constant monitoring, and his punishing father, a striver who had little understanding of his creative son. Finally, recalling his week at a military camp for youth–where Lazar witnessed what would become the central event of Dov’s childhood–Dov describes the indescribable while Lazar wrestles with his own part in the comedian’s story of loss and survival.

Continuing his investigations into how people confront life’s capricious battering, and how art may blossom from it, Grossman delivers a stunning performance in this memorable one-night engagement (jokes in questionable taste included).

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About the author:
Leading Israeli novelist David Grossman (b. 1954, Jerusalem) studied philosophy and drama at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and later worked as an editor and broadcaster at Israel Radio. Grossman has written seven novels, a play, a number of short stories and novellas, and a number of books for children and youth. He has also published several books of non-fiction, including interviews with Palestinians and Israeli Arabs. Among Grossman`s many literary awards: the Valumbrosa Prize (Italy), the Eliette von Karajan Prize (Austria), the Nelly Sachs Prize (1991), the Premio Grinzane and the Premio Mondelo for The Zig-Zag Kid (Italy, 1996), the Vittorio de Sica Prize (Italy), the Juliet Club Prize, the Marsh Award for Children`s Literature in Translation (UK, 1998), the Buxtehude Bulle (Germany, 2001), the Sapir Prize for Someone to Run With (2001), the Bialik Prize (2004), the Koret Jewish Book Award (USA, 2006), the Premio per la Pace e l`Azione Umanitaria 2006 (City of Rome/Italy), Onorificenza della Stella Solidarita Italiana 2007, Premio Ischia – International Award for Journalism 2007, the Geschwister Scholl Prize (Germany), the Emet Prize (Israel, 2007)and the Albatross Prize (Germany, 2009). He has also been awarded the Chevalier de l`Ordre des Arts et Belles Lettres (France, 1998) and an Honorary Doctorate by Florence University (2008). In 2007, his novels The Book of Internal Grammar and See Under: Love were named among the ten most important books since the creation of the State of Israel. His books have been translated into over 25 languages.

Nonfiction recommendations for you!

It’s the doldrums of winter and you may have a vacation planned or you may be snowed in, but either way, use any extra time to catch up on your reading, expand your knowledge base, understand others’ perspectives and enjoy a little nonfiction. Here are some wonderful books not to be missed.

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Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J. D. Vance
As stated in Goodreads:
From a former Marine and Yale Law School Graduate, a poignant account of growing up in a poor Appalachian town, that offers a broader, probing look at the struggles of America’s white working class. Part memoir, part historical and social analysis, J. D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy is a fascinating consideration of class, culture, and the American dream.

 

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When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
As stated in Goodreads:
At the age of thirty-six, on the verge of completing a decade’s worth of training as a neurosurgeon, Paul Kalanithi was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer. One day he was a doctor making a living treating the dying, and the next he was a patient struggling to live. Just like that, the future he and his wife had imagined evaporated. When Breath Becomes Air, which features a Foreword by Dr. Abraham Verghese and an Epilogue by Kalanithi’s wife, Lucy, chronicles Kalanithi’s transformation from a naïve medical student “possessed,” as he wrote, “by the question of what, given that all organisms die, makes a virtuous and meaningful life” into a young neurosurgeon at Stanford, guiding patients toward a deeper understanding of death and illness, and finally into a patient and a new father to a baby girl, confronting his own mortality.

 

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Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity by Katherine Boo
As stated in Goodreads:
From Pulitzer Prize-winner Katherine Boo, a landmark work of narrative nonfiction that tells the dramatic and sometimes heartbreaking story of families striving toward a better life in one of the twenty-first century’s great, unequal cities.

In this brilliantly written, fast-paced book, based on three years of uncompromising reporting, a bewildering age of global change and inequality is made human.

 

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Let There Be Water: Israel’s Solution for a Water-Starved World by Seth Siegel
As stated in Goodreads:
As every day brings urgent reports of growing water shortages around the world, there is no time to lose in the search for solutions.
Beautifully written, Let There Be Water is and inspiring account of the vision and sacrifice by a nation and people that have long made water security a top priority. Despite scant natural water resources, a rapidly growing population and economy, and often hostile neighbors, Israel has consistently jumped ahead of the water innovation-curve to assure a dynamic, vital future for itself. Every town, every country, and every reader can benefit from learning what Israel did to overcome daunting challenges and transform itself from a parched land into a water superpower.

If you want to learn more about how you can help with the water crisis check out Innovation Africa, a worthy organization that is making a difference.

 

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Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine
As Stated in Goodreads:
Claudia Rankine’s bold new book recounts mounting racial aggressions in ongoing encounters in twenty-first-century daily life and in the media. Some of these encounters are slights, seeming slips of the tongue, and some are intentional offensives in the classroom, at the supermarket, at home, on the tennis court with Serena Williams and the soccer field with Zinedine Zidane, online, on TV-everywhere, all the time. The accumulative stresses come to bear on a person’s ability to speak, perform, and stay alive. Our addressability is tied to the state of our belonging, Rankine argues, as are our assumptions and expectations of citizenship. In essay, image, and poetry, Citizen is a powerful testament to the individual and collective effects of racism in our contemporary, often named “post-race” society.