Category Archives: The Orphanmaster

The Orphanmaster-edition Francais

The French advance reading copy of The OrphanmasterLe Maitre des Orphelins – has landed on my doorstep. The publisher 10/18 will bring it out in May. Isn’t the cover art terrifying?

Lucky Peach 2

The Orphanmaster has already come out in Holland and will soon be published in Italy, Hungary and Taiwan as well. So cool to think of people from all corners of the world voyaging in their minds to 1663 Manhattan.

Lucky Peach 3

The jacket designers at 10/18 and Viking must have been drinking the same KoolAid. Look at the art for The Orphanmaster’s softcover… it hits the stands in America April 30.

Orphanmaster Paper Official Cover

I don’t know if the vulnerable child in either image is meant to represent a specific character in the story, but all I can think of is one of my favorite characters, the toddler Sabine, known as “the Bean,” she with the winning way and persistent lisp, holding up her just-baked “tookie,” blissfully unconscious of the evil that stalks her. Luckily she’s got Blandine van Couvering covering her back.


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Awaiting Snow and Book

Firewood, check. Water, check. Milk, check. Generator, check. Gas in car, gas for generator. Candles. Chicken for pot pie.

The storm advances, and all that’s left to do is put out a pot to catch snow for snow cream (snow plus sugar plus milk plus vanilla; stir).

Small flakes fall, but the big snow isn’t supposed to strike until tonight.

Waiting. Hunkered in a cozy house with a pile of books (The Snowman by Jo Nesbo on the top of the pile, The Unexpected Houseplant, the next one down.)

Plenty of books, and one of my own on its way this spring. The Orphanmaster comes out in softcover on April 30th.

Orphanmaster Paper Official Cover

What a cover. It sets even me atremble.


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All This and Guacamole Too

I attended my first meeting of our neighborhood book club tonight. I have always had a slight hesitation about attending a reading group because I thought I would shoot my mouth off – though politely, of course – and somehow embarrass myself. But recently, having visited with some groups to talk with them about The Orphanmaster, I saw how much fun people were having talking about books, the very thing that I love. In a group. Rather than just Gil and I sitting around talking about books. Which is fun, too. Still.

So I went. The book for this month, as it happens, depicts North Korea in all its repression and suffering, but manages to pull it off as a relative page turner. Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea had journalist Barbara Demick interviewing scores of North Koreans who had escaped to South Korea in the past 10 years or so. It’s gripping from the first page, when she describes how the country goes black at night; there is literally no electrical grid.

dark north korea

Her ability to capture the perfect detail in describing everything from spare, crumbling apartments to bodies decaying in the street to the typical day’s menu is spectacular. Especially the day’s menu – much of the book is about food, getting it, processing it, starving when it’s not available. The people Demick profiles literally eat grass and tree bark to (just barely) survive. But their spiritual starvation is perhaps more profound, as the state exerts its totalitarian stranglehold on personal liberty.


My fellow readers tonight parsed all this carefully, thoughtfully and with a sense of humor – especially when we were temporarily diverted by the subject of Beyonce’s halftime gyrations – and I came away better informed than when I got there. It was a little weird to sit around munching on cashews and guacamole as we talked about scavenging for twigs. Yet I felt a strange sense of wellbeing,  too, that this particular author, Barbara Demick, had cut through whatever concertina-wire of red tape she found in order to document this sordid, complicated chapter of life on our planet and had done it admirably. It didn’t cancel out the deprivations/nuclear threat of North Korea, but the fact that she did it offered a different, counter story, that someone was willing and able to research and create such a book. It is a tribute to the human imagination and the powers of empathy.



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De weeskinderen

The Orphanmaster (De weeskinderen) comes out in Holland!

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I Patina, You Patina

I think patina should be a verb, as in, the Down Town Association really patina’d tonight. To glow in an extremely historic way.

Everything, from the gleaming nickel-sized mosaic tiles at the threshold, to the polished mahogany woodwork, to the aromatic fire, to the mitred turquoise ceiling, shone out as if to say, We’ve been here on Pine Street, a Romanesque Revival facility for a distinguished New York City social club, since 1887 – don’t hate us ‘cause we’re beautiful.

Down Town Ceiling

The dress code said blazers, and I actually happened to have one on.

JZ Down Town

I kept thinking a performance of The Nutcracker might break out upon the scene at any moment, it was that Christmas-y and old-fashioned lovely.

Some curiosities adorned the cloak room, which was not the nondescript entity you would expect. We found a handsome set of three old phone booths, labeled for your convenience.

Phone Booths

In the corner, an historic scale.


Astoundingly, hanging next to it by a chain was a tattered and flayed leather-covered notebook listing members’ names, dates and weights. Over many, many years, men had noted neatly every single day whether they had gained or lost a quarter of a pound. Would they eat a bite less capon as a result of this knowledge?

Scale Book

The walk-in humidor was locked, but free for the viewing were dozens of gorgeous old views of New York, including this one, which looks down toward the foot of the island and shows the old 42nd Street Reservoir next to the Crystal Palace.


The contents of the cloak room also included a later date (‘60s? ‘70s?) automated shoe polisher, still in vigorous working order. My boots got a nice massage and now have a glossy finish suitable for use during lipstick application.


The pleasant ambience of the club made everyone jolly, and the fact that most of the audience members had some affiliation with the New Amsterdam History Center meant we all had something in common regardless of whether you had yet read The Orphanmaster: a shared affinity for the volatile, earthy, intimate, dangerous place that was lower Manhattan in the mid 17th century.

We talked and talked.

I was glad of this chunky, thick-walled old water pitcher when I was done. It patina’d just right.

Water Jug


Filed under History, Jean Zimmerman, The Orphanmaster

New Amsterdam History Center

Tomorrow in Manhattan:

Christopher Moore will be having a conversation with me on behalf of the New Amsterdam History Center. Chris is the Curator of the New York Public Library’s Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. Come one, come all to the Down Town Association at 60 Pine Street. Seven o’clock. I’ll be signing books afterwards.

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NPR Shows Some Love for The Orphanmaster

“You can’t just stand there like a statue.” Elvis’ response to accusations of vulgarity when he was just launching his career.


Earlier this week I found out that NPR chose The Orphanmaster as one of the six best historical fiction titles of 2012.

Yes! In the same league with Hilary Mantel, incredible.

“Jean Zimmerman’s The Orphanmaster is a rip-roaring read, packed with action and dark suspense,” went the review.  “I was captivated by Zimmerman’s unforgettable evocation of New Amsterdam.”

Now, “rip-roaring,” that’s not standing there like a statue.


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The Orphanmaster Tour

I was a little embarrassed when an author who was about to embark on a book tour asked me what stop I’d liked best, and I didn’t have a ready answer. It’s partly because I visited so many places – it will be 32 by Christmas, with more to come in the New Year – and also probably because of my intense self-scrutiny when going “on stage” – e.g., Do I have salad dressing on my top?, Will I mangle the names of the central characters in The Orphanmaster? But some of the stores and other places I spoke at are honestly a little blurry.

So many books...

So many books…

Not so, these:

R.J.Julia Booksellers, Madison, CT, where the sparkplug owner of the shop had me upstairs behind the scenes to chat until just time to start

Book Passage, Corte Madeira, CA, which presented me with initial-engraved stationery as a keepsake as I went out the door

Bryant Park Reading Room, NYC, in the immense shadow of the New York Public Library I love so much

The Hudson Library, Hudson OH, a new, immaculate cathedral of a place that drew hordes of readers to my talk

The University Settlement Society,, where I spoke about Love, Fiercely, and met an outspoken descendant of my subject, I.N. Phelps Stokes

A stint at the continuing care facility where my folks live, with beaming, encouraging faces all through the audience

And finally the Miami Book Fair, a swirling, euphoric chaos of books and authors, where volunteers held the doors open for me when I entered the author hospitality suite and made me feel like a queen.

These are just a few highlights of the tour for which I am so thankful, which made me appreciate anew the affection people have for reading and for books, and even sometimes for authors.

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Filed under Jean Zimmerman, Love, Fiercely, Publishing, The Orphanmaster, Writers

Flaps and Clips

Yesterday at the White Plains Library, after I had the excitement of meeting the Mayor, there were about 25 books that the local Barnes & Noble wanted me and the other author, Karen Engelmann, to sign. Then they put a sticker on the cover and apparently that drives business.

Gil was nice enough to flap the books for me. A term that means taking each book in turn and turning to the title page and inserting the left-hand cover flap there, making it easy and faster for the author to grab the book and turn to the right spot and just sign. No fumbling, no muss no fuss. It’s common when you come in to a book store for an event to be introduced to a staff like this: Here’s Bob, he’s going to flap the books for you.

Speaking of which, I learned yesterday about a subset of the Flappers of the ’20s called the Shifters, a group that identified themselves by the paper clips on their lapels and were renowned for a short time petting parties and other indicators of loose morals. They took up terms such as “ankling along” for taking a walk and “tomato” for a girl who likes to dance but has no brains, and some less known today, like the “destroyer,” one who dances on your feet.

Sidebar: When I trolled through the Stokes archives at the New York Public Library to research Love, Fiercely, I found that most of the pages, dating to the beginning of the 20th century, were bound together by straight pins, now somewhat rusty. I assumed that paper clips had yet to be invented, or popularized. Now I discover that paper clips had been invented in the 19th century and were in use by the 1890s — and certainly by the ’20s, the Flapper Era. Perhaps in the ’20s they represented, for the Shifters, the newest, coolest thing going.

Old-fangled Clip

Old-fangled Clip

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Filed under History, Jean Zimmerman, Love, Fiercely, The Orphanmaster

White Plains/The Orphanmaster

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November 29, 2012 · 10:03 am

A Place Called Joe’s

The violet and gold neon of Ocean Drive in South Beach is a far cry from the Miami Book Fair.

South Beach From a Convertible

But that’s where I wound up after the hectic, stimulating two days of panels, lectures, and sometimes electrifying, sometimes tiresome schmoozing. Finally, dinner with bookish friends: Joe’s is an institution in Miami Beach (the restaurant is now a century old) and its stone crab claws are not to be believed — hunks of flesh that you pull off the cartilage with your teeth the way you would an artichoke leaf, after dunking in a creamy mustard mayonnaise. Then there are fried green tomatos. And a key lime pie almost as good as mine. I don’t know how the ladies of South Beach suction themselves into those tight black minidresses after the crabs at Joe’s, but they seem to manage okay.

Earlier today I served on my book panel. The prose of Da Chen is often admired as lyrical, and I can say as a fellow panelist that his presentation skills are equally lovely. He was at the Book Fair to talk about his most recent novel, My Last Empress, and after executing a standup routine about his impoverished upbringing in China that was both soulful and hilarious, he took out his flute and ably delivered a haunting melody. Only then did he read briefly from his new work. And that wasn’t too bad either.

Da Chen and His Flute

What I found, I think, even more remarkable than his presentation was his mode of performing autographs. He unwrapped a tray of black ink along with a soft brush, and applied personalized calligraphy to the book of every person who approached him for a signing. He then stamped his name in red. Here is the inscribed flyleaf of my copy of his book.

“For a Book Friend,” it reads, with the characters for gold and for pen. I think that giving back to readers in this way is just what authors should aspire to.

When I found the writerly atmosphere a little stuffy — yes, it happened —  I explored the bookseller tents outside. There were some amazing nuggets in the stalls, with, as usual, the things I wanted not found desirable by anybody else and thus available for only a buck or two.

A 1934 edition of The Home Arts Magazine, with this the nostalgic image on the front cover:

And this on the back. You’ve come a long way, baby.

I also found a copy of a book that haunted me as a young reader.

And possibly the most useful item, a book titled 59 Authentic Turn-of-the-Century Fashion Patterns, with exacting instructions for assembling a Ladies’ Street Costume or a Gentlemen’s Night Shirt. Or a Stout Ladies’ Costume, for those who might indulge too often in the high life at Joe’s.

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Sign Here

Signing. A lot of it going on around the Book Fair, at rectangular tables with author name cards and lines of readers in front of them, books tucked under their arms. Don’t cry too much, but it’s tough to be a big-name writer, armed with nothing more than a Sharpie and a smile. Naomi Wolf gave so rousing (arousing?) explication of the vagina-brain connection — it was practically a religious revival in that Miami Dade lecture hall — that when she reached the signing table outside some steam seemed to have gone out of her step. Another signer, a graphic novelist, puts down a full, funny illustration of himself on the title page. Takes time to get through a line of signature seekers when you go all out like that. It’s good there’s entertainment here while you wait.

The Miami Book Fair

For some diversion on this subject, check out the autograph auction that will be held November 29th by Swann Galleries in NYC. You can see all 294 lots online and whether you like Americana, presidents, artists or writers, there’s something for you. Not that you can necessarily afford one of these scraps of ephemera. A handwritten quote from Mark Twain from his Pudd’nhead Wilson is starting at $3,000 to $4,000. “Consider well the proportions of things: it is better to be a young June-bug than an old bird of paradise.” Whatever that means.

A woman who interviewed me today for a radio show asked for my signature in The Orphanmaster even though, she unapologetically announced, she hadn’t read the book. “It might be worth something some day!” she said with a funny tone, as though that was actually the least likely scenario that would ever come to pass.

On the subject of never knowing what might come to pass, I visited a panel that had four participants: the two authors of Beautiful Creatures, Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl, and two young actors who will star in the 2013 film adapted from that teen novel. The two writers met when one was the teacher of the other’s adolescent daughter. They hatched the story and wrote it over seven weeks, only as a means of entertaining their daughters and their friends, with what  Garcia called a “human coming of age story in a magical world.”  An author friend submitted the manuscript to a literary agent behind their backs. That book and sequals have gone on, of course, to be mega mega best sellers. Stohl, the teacher, even had to quit her teaching job — she said sorrowfully — she just had to spend so much time touring internationally on behalf of the book, it wasn’t fair to the kids she taught. As for the movie, they were thrilled, thrilled, and one provocative detail is that the set and actors were so perfect, when the book’s editor visited she burst into tears.

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Raindrops and Book Groups in Miami

At a pre-Book Fair backyard party under the Miami palms and a light drizzle of rain, I talked to writers. One had published a novel about the last week of Marilyn Monroe’s life. One was working on a history of Los Angeles and water. One, a MacArthur-winning poet, had written about sea monkeys. One had just brought out a book about the Wall Street implosion.

I spoke with an archivist who lives here in Miami. She knew all the head librarians at the great Manhattan collections — the New-York Historical Society, the Manuscripts room at NYPL, the Morgan, all of them.

I know your book! she told me. My book group just read it this past month! They’ll all be there Sunday for your panel.

Very, very nice, under a palm tree, under a light sprinkling of rain, in Miami.


Filed under Jean Zimmerman, Poetry, Publishing, The Orphanmaster, Writers, Writing

Coming Events-Late Fall 2012

I’m updating my coming events, which are available elsewhere on the site, but just in case: this is an interesting array of venues, from the very exclusive Union Club in New York City, which holds a book-selling charity event every year, to the fun and funky Spotty Dog, up the river in Hudson and one of the best-liked bookstores in the Hudson Valley. A few of these you can’t go to unless you’re a member — perhaps a reason for joining the Women’s Club of Larchmont?

Saturday, November 10, 1:30 pm: Ossining Public Library, Ossining, NY

Sunday, Nov. 18, 12 pm panel: Miami Book Fair, Miami, Florida

Monday, November 26, 7:30 pm: Kendal on Hudson, Sleepy Hollow, NY

Sunday, December 2, 2 pm: White Plains Library, White Plains, NY

Wednesday, December 5, 7:30 pm: The Spotty Dog Books & Ale, Hudson, NY

Thursday, December 6: The Union League Club, New York, NY

Wednesday, December 12, 6:30-8:30pm: New Amsterdam History Center at the Down Town Association, 60 Pine Street, NYC

Friday, December 14, 11:30 am: Larchmont Women’s Club, Orienta Beach Club, NY

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Library Thoughts

I met a couple of women at the talk I gave last night in Dobbs Ferry. They were part of a big, pleasant audience of history buffs. These ladies had read The Orphanmaster with their book group and had been inspired to recreate all the recipes and foodstuffs in the book — including fortified wine! What a great idea. They had a feast, though they told me they had a hard time finding cumin cheese.

I wonder if they ate by candlelight.

We are conserving our candles, our water and our gas. Now there is no fuel to be had anywhere, and we have one generator-full left — about eight hours — and three quarters of a tank in the car. We’re rationing. Two hours of power per day. All the estimates could be kerflooey, but they’ve been saying at least a week before the power comes back, and all bets are off re: finding gas.

Nonetheless, we have driven to the Ossining Public Library (where I will talk on The Orphanmaster next Saturday), well lit and warm, to spend the afternoon with hundreds of other aftermath-refugees, all determinedly using the beefed-up outlets here to charge their phones and computers. Within walking distance: our favorite local lunch place, with succulent, crispy-skinned Carribbean roast pork, yellow rice and red beans, coconut water. It’s nice to be out of the house.

This morning we got some sun on our faces, hiking up with Oliver to the clearing. Shattered limbs covered the trail, many of them too heavy to move. I keep having the feeling, whether watching the images of devastation on tv or passing the eerily quiet service stations (“No gas,” one sign read, “We did the best we could.”) or walking up the path through our woods and sighting over the hill to those majestic wind-overturned cedars, I didn’t know it could be so bad. I just had no idea.

And yet there are hot showers constantly on tap at the gym. So who am I to complain.

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