The Jewish Advocate: Frankels Have the Right Stuff
The Jewish Advocate
by Susie Davidson
It was a busy few days for the Frankel family.
During a Jan. 17 private launch at the Boston Public Library (BPL) for his son, Neville’s new book Bloodlines, Freddy Frankel read poems about growing up white in apartheid South Africa.
Three days later, he was one of two featured poets at the Brookline Public Library’s Brookline Poetry Series, where his recollections were culled from his service as a World War II medic treating wounded Allied soldiers in the 8th British Army, and later, as Psychiatrist in-Chief at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.
Meanwhile, Frankel the younger’s new novel, a historical thriller reflecting the cold legacy of Apartheid South Africa, focuses on a Jewish woman, Michaela Davidson Green, and a Zulu man, Mandla Mkhize, who meet through political involvements and fall in love. Prior to Bloodlines, he wrote a political thriller, The Third Power, about the transformation of Rhodesia to Zimbabwe. His work on a BBC documentary, “Mind of a Murderer: Part I” won him an Emmy.
“Bloodlines is not my first foray into writing,” he told The Advocate. “I have always written stories, and was writing long before I knew that my father had been a poet from the trenches during World War II.” He says that observing his father’s post-retirement writing career has been a source of further, continuing inspiration.
The BPL program in the library’s Popular Reading Room followed a reception in the Map Room and Courtyard Restaurant. The program, emceed and moderated by the Rev. Liz Walker (who has helped women and girls escape from slavery in Sudan, and is the pastor at Roxbury Presbyterian Church), featured remarks from Assumption College Professor, and South African native Michael Langa, who worked alongside Bishop Desmond Tutu during the 1996 Truth and Reconciliation Hearings.
“Neville has done an amazing job,” said Walker. “This took me deeper into a story that I thought I knew. You think you know about apartheid, you think you know about South Africa, you think you know about Sudan – and then you read, and you learn more. That’s what this book did for me.”
Frankel read excerpts from his novel and participated in a question and-answer session. Encompassing five decades, the book delves into the natural beauty of the country, as well as Zulu culture; correspondingly, the event also showcased music, artifacts, photography, and foods of South Africa.
A financial planner, who was named among Boston Magazine’s 2010 list of Top Scoring Wealth Managers in the Boston area, Frankel is married to Marlene Nusbaum, and the couple has three grown children between them. Born in Johannesburg, his family immigrated to Boston when he was 14, following the ominous Sharpeville Massacre in 1960. After graduating from Dartmouth College, he studied English literature in a doctoral program at the University of Toronto. He also enjoys painting.
“When we arrived in Boston, I was focused on becoming an American,” he said. “It was not until I reached my 40s that I became curious about the country of my birth.” The first of several return trips to South Africa began in 2002.
Those travels accorded Frankel the opportunity to research book ideas, but also provided a learning experience about those affected by the shadow of the former all-white, racist-based government.
“I knew when we left in 1962 that black South Africans lived under the crippling restrictions of apartheid, but I discovered that they were not completely alone in their struggle against the immorality and appalling consequences of that policy,” he said. “I realized that there were white, middle class South Africans, many of them Jews, whose parents came from Eastern Europe and had socialist or communist ties, who were risking their lives in demonstrations, underground activities, and political organizing in support of the anti-apartheid movement.” He began to wonder what life might have been like if his own family had taken part in the opposition movement. It was that discovering of his own history, and that unknown speculation, that led to his newest book.
Frankel and his wife have continued their explorations of his native homeland.
“We have visited remote and extraordinarily beautiful areas and have met and been touched by some remarkable people,” he said.
As for sharing a spot with his father, he is still aglow.
“The fact that I could host an event that is both a celebration of South Africa and a forum in which we will both be reading from our work, is a richness that I could never have imagined or wished for,” he said.