Alphabet Streets Author Alexis Landau Releases Second Novel
By STEVE GALLUZZO | Sports Editor
Courage and determination will take you a long, long way.
Wife, mother, writer, professor, ballet enthusiast and proud resident of the Palisades Alexis Landau has just completed her second novel called “Those Who Are Saved,” a story about a mother’s heart-wrenching choice to leave her daughter once the Nazis occupied France during World War II.
Published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons (an imprint of the Penguin Group since 1996) and released February 23, the book, which was named Book of the Week by People magazine, is a 432-page tale in which the author draws upon her own experience growing up in Los Angeles without a lot of awareness of her Jewish heritage to create believable characters that readers will be fully invested in.
“I wanted to tell this story in part to show how Los Angeles has historically been and still is, in some senses, a pioneering city where people come to recreate themselves and start over,” the author shared with the Palisadian-Post. “Especially when dipping into Hollywood during the Golden Age, LA had this magical magnetic quality that attracted so much talent and creativity from all over the world. In writing the book, I wanted to celebrate this lesser known aspect of LA history.”
Landau’s latest work tells the story of Vera, a wealthy Russian Jewish émigré to France, who receives notice that all foreigners must report to an internment camp, leaving her only a few hours to decide whether to subject her 4-year-old daughter Lucie to the horrible conditions of the camp or put her into hiding with her beloved and trusted governess until she can retrieve her.
Believing the war will soon end, Vera opts to leave Lucie in safety. She cannot know that she and her husband will have an opportunity to escape to America or that Lucie’s governess will have fled with the child to family in rural France, too far to reach in time.
The separation and journey take the main character overseas to Villa Aurora in Pacific Palisades, and although her marriage falters, she has faith that she will one day reunite with her daughter.
As Vera’s determination to return to France and find Lucie crystalizes, she meets Sasha, a man on his own search for meaning. Together, the two will search for Lucie and discover her fate.
“In researching this book, I realized that generations ago, many European exiles fled to Los Angeles to escape fascism and start new lives, such as novelist Lion Feuchtwanger and his wife Marta, Thomas Mann, writer Salka Viertel, Bertolt Brecht, musicians Erich Korngold, Stravinsky, Schoenberg and Theodor Adorno, directors Otto Preminger, Fritz Lang, and so many others,” Landau explained. “These exiled artists formed a community congregating and living in the very places where I grew up: Pacific Palisades, Brentwood and Santa Monica.”
Landau was born on the Westside and attended Harvard-Westlake. She studied at Vassar College in New York, received her MFA from Emerson College in Boston, and her PhD in English literature and creative writing from USC.
She explained that she used to hike up Paseo Miramar, off of Sunset, “passing such rich history without knowing that years later,” she would write a novel with various scenes set at Villa Aurora—“a beautiful Spanish revival home nestled in those same hills.”
“Built in 1927 with the support of The Los Angeles Times, along with investors Arthur A. Weber and George Ley, it was a sample home designed to attract more people to settle in remote areas of Los Angeles,” Landau explained. “After passing through various hands, the Feuchtwangers purchased Villa Aurora in 1943 (for $9,000), and their home soon became the epicenter of exile culture in LA.
“I was delighted and intrigued to learn so much about this piece of LA history, and even more excited when I realized all this history was breathing just beneath the surface of the very place where I grew up and now live with my family.”
Landau now lives in the Alphabet Streets with her husband, a film producer from Europe, and her children, Levi and Lucia. She worked for several years at the Brentwood bookstore Dutton’s. She was still a young girl when her parents got divorced and her father started dating an Orthodox Jewish woman, prompting her to explore her own religious identity.
“Those Who Are Saved” has already garnered praise among Landau’s contemporaries.
Devin Murphy, author of a national bestseller “The Boat Runner,” wrote: “‘Those Who Are Saved’ is an achingly beautiful epoch about love’s endurance. I was hooked from the start by the chance meeting of Sasha and Vera who are driven by creative energies to remake their fractured worlds.
“This tense journey encompasses exile from Eastern to Western Europe, then across the ocean to the glittering promise of Hollywood, only to be haunted by whispers of what was left behind. Alexis Landau is an amazing storyteller and her novel will whisper to you long after you finish.”
The first book Landau wrote, “The Empire of the Senses,” a historical novel about the juxtaposition of events that led to the Holocaust, hit shelves six years ago and was a National Jewish Book Award finalist in 2015.
Villa Aurora, in collaboration with USC Libraries and Putnam, is hosting a “Reading and Discussion with Alexis Landau and Michaela Ullmann” on March 24, which will be available via the site’s YouTube channel. For more information, visit vatmh.org.
“Those Who Are Saved” can be found on Amazon, Apple Books, Barnes & Noble, Target, Powell’s, BAM, Kobo, Hudson’s Bookseller and Bookshop.
For more about the author or to request a signing or appearance, visit her website at alexislandau.com or Instagram @alexis.landau.
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