Author reads from novel about love and Esperanto


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Bob Dylan has inspired many musicians. He also inspired Joseph Skibell to be a writer.

When Skibell was 12 years old he found out that Dylan read all of author John Steinbech’s books, which led him to want to read them, too. The more Skibell read, the more he thought he could make writing his future career.

Skibell will read from his new novel, A Curable Romantic, at 7 p.m. today at Prairie Lights Books, 15 S. Dubuque. Admission is free.

The novel follows the character Jacob Sammelsohn, a young doctor, through 60 years of his complex love life. Sammelsohn married at a young age and his father forced him to divorce. Then he married Ida, who later drowns. Sammelsohn makes a new life for himself in Vienna where he met Sigmund Freud in the 19th century. A relationship forms with Freud’s patient and it turns into something the character couldn’t predict.

Sammelsohn believes his dead wife has become a proponent of Esperanto. This concept deals with the Jewish mythological position called dybbuk — when a dead person’s soul refuses to be judged so it seeks a human body.

“It’s kind of crazy and complex,” Skibell said.

The young, Jewish character of Sammelsohn is part visionary and part comedic, and one who looks for love in all the wrong places. His dreamy state makes him naïve in the beginning of the story.

“[This] new novel is a masterpiece — comic, tragic, and full of information about the cultural moment,” said Max Apple, a friend and reader of Skibell’s work.

The idea behind the novel, Skibell said, came from Freud treating a patient with what seemed to be hysteria. Skibell thought it would be interesting if it wasn’t hysteria but something else. The ideas of Esperato grew from there.

“Skibell is a singular talent. His fiction is not afraid to be wild and not afraid to be nerdy, a winning combination,” said Ester Shore, a poet and professor of English at Princeton University. “His novels get better and better.”

A Curable Romantic took Skibell five years to write. He had to research a lot to acquire the appropriate knowledge to write about all the ideas involved in the storyline.

He specifically paid attention to information about Freud and the 1895 era. The Esperanto movement research lead him to finding out many things that he never knew existed. Finally, he read memoirs from the Warsaw ghetto to understand the time and Jewish hardships.

“It was difficult reading, but necessary,” Skibell said.

Skibell has been writing fiction since 1993 but began writing plays and screenplays 10 years before that. Inspiration for his writing comes from what he finds interesting, meaningful, and dramatic.

“If I knew where my ideas came from I would have more of them,” said Skibell.

After thinking of an idea to take to paper he tries to work a little each day. Writing a certain number of pages a day then refining it is what helps Skibell achieve his writing goals.

In addition to writing, he also finds time to teach creative writing as well as fiction playwriting and screen writing at Emory University in Atlanta. Being able to teach his own subject and have time to do extra work is what works best for him.

“Writing is a lonely business, every time you get recognition it’s like a ray of light,” said Skibell.

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