A New Novel Blends Loss, Memory, and the Consequences of Choices
Hannah Assadi’s “The Stars Are Not Yet Bells” follows a woman from her youth during the Depression through the onset of Alzheimer’s.
March 30, 2022
At the end of the Great Depression, Elle Ranier believes that by marrying a wealthy man, Simon, she is saving her life. Young and impressionable, she leaves New York City for the island of Lyra, off the coast of Georgia. There, Elle harbors a secret. Her so-called “cousin,” Gabriel, who comes to stay, is really a boyfriend from back home—and the love of her life. Fifty years later, her memory clouded by Alzheimer’s, Elle looks back at her life and tries to untangle it.
A. I came across an old photograph of my grandmother with a man no one recognized. She looked happy, in love, and so alive, whereas I had only ever heard her described in relation to the disease that defeated her—Alzheimer's. I wanted to write about how the course of a life can be altered by a single decision. Also, as a novelist, having always been interested in memory and time, Alzheimer's was inherently intriguing to attempt portraying.
Q. How does the intersection of writing and teaching affect you?
A. As much as I learn reading from the Greats, I learn from teaching and engaging in dialogue with my students. It almost feels like a spiritual exercise to participate in the types of conversations that occur in the classroom on the craft of fiction. More than anything, I feel fortunate to teach.
Q. How important to the craft of writing is reading?
A. A writer must read constantly. Even when she isn't reading a book, she must close-read her life, her relationships, her past, and her surroundings for her craft.
Q. What have you read lately that you would recommend, and why?
A. I recently reread The Great Gatsby,and I still think it's one of the most perfect (because it's imperfect) novels of all time. I just taught the story, "In the Cemetery Where Al Jolson is Buried," by Amy Hempel, and it still makes me cry. I read a beautiful, recently published novel called Tides by my former MFA classmate, Sara Freeman, which I highly recommend. And I am looking forward to a forthcoming title, Walk the Darkness Down, by my dear friend, Daniel Magariel.
Q. What are you teaching this semester?
A. I am teaching a graduate fiction writing workshop.
Q. What are you working on now?
A. A third novel, and something new for me—I am doing research on a historical figure for a screenplay.
Q. You're hosting a dinner party. Which three academics or writers, dead or alive, would you invite, and why?
A. William Faulkner, because I want my guests to drink too much. Emily Bronte, because I want to talk about Heathcliff. Rumi, because I want the party to get a little transcendent.