Iowa City author Nina Barragan’s latest book isn’t just a memoir
Daughter of an engraver, wife of a painter
Iowa City author Nina Barragan (the pseudonym of Rocio Lasansky Weinstein) lived an exciting life, calling many countries home as she and her husband, artist Alan Weinstein, pursued their craft and followed their dreams. Having published three works of fiction, Barragan recently penned a carefully constructed memoir, “Printmaker’s Daughter, Painter’s Wife” which juxtaposes various personal experiences while weaving together a few short pieces of fiction, demonstrating how life often informs art.
What: Nina Barragan will read “Printmaker’s Daughter, Painter’s Wife”
When: 7 p.m. Wednesday, June 8
Where: Prairie Lights, 15 S. Dubuque St., Iowa City
She will read excerpts from her memoir at Prairie Lights at 7 p.m. on June 8. Barragan recently answered a few questions about being part of an artistic family and the importance of maintaining a positive attitude. This interview has been edited for clarity.
Q: How would you describe this book?
A: “Printmaker’s Daughter, Painter’s Wife” is a work of fusion that goes beyond memoir to become an act of juggling between reality and imagination. The story travels through mixed panoramas of the past and the present, of this country, of others, of the certainties, of the doubts and of the cogs of a large family. I hope the fictional inserts – revealing the connections between life and writing – will deepen the journey.
Q: Each chapter of your memoir takes place in a different time period and geographical location. How did you decide which moments to include and in what order?
Iowa City author Nina Barragan (pen name of Rocio Lasansky Weinstein) latest book, “Printmaker’s Daughter, Painter’s Wife,” is part memoir, part fiction, demonstrating how life often informs art. . (Nina Barragan)
A: First I had to decide on the anchor of the book. I landed in Iowa City one day, April 4, 2009, and visited my aged and failing parents. During this visit, realities and memories became stepping stones to youth and a year of early married life on the Mediterranean island of Ibiza. This April day became ballast, and the encounter with Ibiza shaped the chronicle of the book. The order of moments evolved organically. Everything flowed so naturally that this book seemed to be written over a period of three years.
Q: You write about a number of “pioneer adventures,” from summers on a backpacking property in Maine with no running water or electricity, to living in a rustic finca in Ibiza for over a year. You seem to approach these situations with joy and a sense of adventure. How did you channel that positive attitude and how did that attitude impact other areas of your life?
A: You mention Maine. The summer spot of our youth, the original Vinalhaven “poor farm,” was a Cape Cod farmhouse with an adjoining dormitory structure. Each of the 16 dormitory rooms had a window and a small cast iron stove. Although there was no electricity or running water when she came into our young lives, the “poor farm” provided us with space and privacy to pursue our interests. (My siblings and I each had our own study rooms.) These summer experiences reinforced our instinctive understanding of what was important and what wasn’t.
To answer your question about a sense of adventure and a positive attitude, yes, I have always veered towards basic simplicity. A kind of less is more, except when it comes to art and literature. What I consider superfluous is left out; what I can’t have, I don’t want. The reflex to identify with the first generation has been a close companion. I am a saver and recycler of just about everything from the necessities of life to emotions and words. I enjoy the energizing reality of independence, coping with it, and being resourceful; it fuels my self-confidence, makes me happy, and gives me the peace to write.
Q: Family history is very important to you, and through your research you have uncovered a number of tricky stories, including information about the death of your paternal grandfather and uncle. Why is it important for you to understand and talk about your family history?
A: When I was growing up, it wasn’t often that our extended family or our family history was the center of attention or conversation. I always sought to bring them to light, to understand and to decide their value for myself. I needed to identify with more than my present. By knowing and understanding family history, I can attempt to safeguard the positive, not perpetuate the negative. As the saying goes: Those who do not know history are destined to repeat it.
Q: One of the themes I noticed in your book is photographs: who in your family keeps them, who displays them — and who keeps them hidden. What is your relationship to photographs? Do you regret taking them or not taking enough?
A: I discuss the importance of memory in the book. Like memories, photographs, especially family images, capture moments in time and space. By sheltering us under protective canopies that extend from ancestors to grandchildren, our origins are secure as we move forward – links in the chain and as independent entities. I mention in the book that I’m sorry I didn’t have a camera in Ibiza. (We didn’t want to come across as tourists.) Because we have few photos from this important period, my memory and imagination had to work overtime for this book. It was a tremendous exercise in having to dig and dig until a moment or a scene presented itself.
Q: You are the daughter or engraver Mauricio Lasansky and wife of artist Alan Weinstein, as you ably acknowledge in the title of your book. In your memoirs you state that “the challenge of the engraver’s daughter, the painter’s wife, was mine alone to embrace and deconstruct”. Can you tell me a bit about how you navigated this role while building a career as a writer?
A: I’ve been a writer all my life, but I’ve never been involved in “building” a career as a writer. As a daughter, wife, mother of four, and for almost 25 years a synagogue administrator, I would like to say that I had no time. But in truth, I believe it has more to do with my reluctant personality and that I never felt that “making connections” was urgent – not very far-sighted of me. Creating time to write required ongoing focus, organization, and attention to priorities. Alan and I were partners in every sense of the word. Together we raised four children, together we managed the necessities, together we pursued our independent and creative lives. Privacy and working time have always been respected, never questioned. I think we were both incredibly lucky.
Q: What are you currently working on?
A: Fiction! New stories, and I plan to rework my unpublished novel. Segments of it appear in “Printmaker’s Daughter, Painter’s Wife”. Working on these memoirs was liberating. I feel free to move on. There is still a lot to write.