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Ask Hilary: A novel problem, and an inter-faith wedding

    Q My daughter has had her fair share of troubles, but has come through them after time in rehab. Now she is writing a novel based on her life.

    She is so happy and enthusiastic, it is wonderful to see. She is determined to get it published, and has had interest from a literary agent.

    But I am worried that people who read it will identify my husband and myself as the parents in the book. We are prominent members of our community, and it could be embarrassing. How can I ask my daughter not to wash her dirty linen in public?

    A Not only has your daughter come through her troubles and got her life back on track, she is now happy, productive and has the real possibility of being published. She has turned her life around, and this is something to be celebrated and encouraged.

    Why do you care so much what the community thinks? Is it more important than your daughter’s health, happiness or future? Are you worried because they will learn of her past problems and perhaps blame you for them? All families have issues and secrets. Those who matter will understand and won’t judge; the rest are irrelevant. Show people you’re proud, rather than ashamed of her, and they’ll find it harder to be negative. How many of them have such strong, talented children? She should be seen an inspiration, not an embarrassment.

    And remember, this is a novel — fiction — not a memoir. While some experiences from her own life will doubtless find their way into her story (they say all first novels are semi-autobiographical), it won’t actually be about her or you. As a novelist myself, I know only too well how often readers insist they recognise people in your characters, even when it’s not intentional. Conversely, those who have actually inspired a character rarely, if ever, recognise themselves! My point is: your daughter could write a novel about aliens from the planet Zog, and people who know her would still attribute their characteristics to your family. If authors worried too much about this, no novels would ever be written.

    You can’t censor your daughter. If, as it sounds, you are supportive, loving parents, it’s unlikely that she’s going to write anything that shows you in a terrible light. You have to trust her. Talk to her about her book and show interest in reading it, but try to put your selfish fears aside.

    Q I have recently got engaged and my fiancé and I are planning a wedding which will reflect both of our backgrounds — he is Hindu, I am Jewish. His family are happy with this. But my family say it is impossible to blend two religions, and they would find it easier if the wedding was completely neutral — no religious aspects at all. I can see their point, as neither of us are very religious. But how do we keep everyone happy?

    A Congratulations on your engagement! Sorry to tell you, but it’s utterly impossible to keep everyone happy, and trying, while admirable, is a mug’s game. So stop worrying about what your family wants and concentrate on your own happiness. It’s your big day.

    What’s great is that you and your fiancé, despite coming from different religions, seem to share similar values, which bodes well for the future. A neutral wedding might please your parents (who, reading between the lines, I’m guessing might prefer a totally Jewish wedding) but would you or he be happy with that? You may not be religious but it sounds like you’d both like to celebrate your individual cultures within your nuptials. It might be possible to have a registry office affair, followed by a blessing ceremony in each of your religions.

    But again, if having one blended, fusion-style wedding ceremony is your choice, it’s also your right. Who says you can’t wear Hindu dress and dance the Hava Nagila, or have Indian food at your reception? (Most Hindu food is vegetarian, so there are no major kashrut issues.)

    It sounds like your family may feel uncomfortable with the idea of any Hindu elements to your wedding. This could come from fear that they’ll be forced to take part in something they don’t understand. Could your fiancé talk to them and try to reassure them? Or even better, could you get both families together before the wedding? The fact is, Jewish and Hindu weddings aren’t so different: in both there is a wedding canopy, and while Jewish grooms step on a glass, Hindus step on a clay pot. Stereotypical Jewish and Hindu mothers also share a lot of characteristics!

    Contact Hilary via email at agony@thejc.com, anonymously or not. Or write to her at 28 St Albans Lane, London NW11 7QEContact Hilary via email at agony@thejc.com, anonymously or not. Or write to her at 28 St Albans Lane, London NW11 7QE

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