Author writes about her grandmother’s tale of survival, strength


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British author Lisa Cooper has written her grandmother's story in her book A Forgotten Land, but the book weaves a tale of adventure, survival and strength that will draw in any reader.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 22/05/2018 (1540 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

British author Lisa Cooper has written her grandmother’s story in her book A Forgotten Land, but the book weaves a tale of adventure, survival and strength that will draw in any reader.

The story begins in Russia but touches down in Winnipeg in 1924 when Lisa’s grandmother Pearl arrived at age 22 by boat. She married Itzhik Cooper two years later and the couple ran Cooper’s Lunchbar near Winnipeg’s Canadian National Railway station until 1956.

Cooper, a writer, artist and journalist who lives in Cornwall, England, is in Winnipeg this week to promote her book and give two presentations related to it on Wednesday at 12:30 p.m. at the Millennium Library and Thursday May 24 at noon at the Shaarey Zedek Synagogue.

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS British author Lisa Cooper is in Winnipeg to promote her new book, A Forgotten Land, which is about her grandmother's life as a Jewish woman escaping persecution and famine in Russia.

The book chronicles the journey and survival of her Jewish family in the late 19th and early 20th centuries through persecution, famine, the First World War, the Russian Revolution, and civil war.

“This was the period of civil war, famine and millions died during this period,” said Lisa, 49. “It’s a story that I think people will find absolutely inspiring. In a time when women weren’t independent — they were dependent on a husband or father for everything — my grandmother was one bloody, strong-willed woman.”

Lisa said her book describes how Pearl saved her family in Russia and in Winnipeg.

Young Pearl used her ingenuity to find ways to bring food to her younger siblings and grandparents who raised them after their parents’ deaths. Pearl eventually became a black-market gold dealer and many times travelled alone by train between Russian villages to help her family and other families trade gold for hard currency to help them survive.

There’s another Winnipeg connection in Lisa’s book.

When Pearl came to Winnipeg in 1924, she came on a boat ticket and travel paid for through a loan from Doodie Rusen, the grandfather of Monty (Halparin) Hall, the famed host of the TV program Let’s Make A Deal. Rusen was married to one of Pearl’s cousins.

Fearless determination and back-breaking labour in jobs such as filling jelly jars and stitching mattresses helped Pearl raise the funds to bring her grandmother, two sisters and a cousin to Winnipeg only a year after she arrived. After she married Itzhik Cooper in 1926, the couple raised their children, who included Lisa’s father, Morley, and eventually moved to Los Angeles.

“The feedback (on the book) I’ve had has been so phenomenal, especially from families who have a similar family background,” Lisa said. “A lot of what my grandmother lived through was universal to (people and families from) Ukraine, the Russian Empire, the First World War, the Russian Revolution. There are parts of the history that are very specific to the Jewish community but there’s also parts that affected everybody living there.”

Pearl died when Lisa was 18, but Lisa said the story came to her in Pearl’s own voice. Lisa’s father had recorded conversations with his mother in Yiddish, her first language. Morley translated them for Lisa.

Lisa said A Forgotten Land was originally intended to be her dissertation for a Master’s degree in Russian history but once she delved into the fascinating story, she decided to write a novel instead based on her own family’s lives and experiences.

“When I was listening, I thought these stories were amazing and just incredible. I was utterly gobsmacked by what I was hearing,” she said. “This was a story I wanted to be able to tell to a wider audience than simply writing it for a university tutor.”

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