Sunday, March 22, 2015

PUYB Virtual Book Club Chats with Elisabeth Amaral, author of Czar Nicholas, The Toad, and Duck Soup #memoir



A native New Yorker, I have lived in the city for much of my life. My first jobs after graduating from NYU were jewelry design and case worker for the Departments of Welfare of New York City and Cambridge, Massachusetts. This was followed by co-ownership of a children’s boutique (Czar Nicholas and the Toad) and a restaurant (Duck Soup) in Cambridge near Harvard Square. I then worked as an industrial purchasing agent in New Jersey, and for the last 25 years have been a real estate broker in Manhattan, accumulating stories of the wonder and madness that is this city. I published a book of short stories (When Any Kind of Love Will Do), wrote two children’s books and a memoir (Czar Nicholas, The Toad, and Duck Soup), and am currently working on a novel.

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About the Book:

The mid-1960s through the mid-1970s was a heady, turbulent time. There was a lot going on back then, and author Elisabeth Amaral was in the middle of it all: the fights for women’s rights, racial
equality, a music revolution, be-ins, love-ins, riots in the streets, the rage against the Vietnam War, and sex, drugs, and rock and roll. It was an amazing time to be young.
In Czar Nicholas, The Toad, and Duck Soup, Amaral shares her recollections of those times. She and her husband gave up their jobs in New York City, relocated to Boston with their infant son because of mime, unexpectedly started a children’s boutique, and opened a popular restaurant in Harvard Square. Most of all it is a coming-of-age story about herself and her husband as they embarked on an improbable and moving journey of self-discovery.
With sincerity and humor, Czar Nicholas, The Toad, and Duck Soup offers a personal and revealing account that reaches out to those who find themselves striving to make a relationship work that, by its very nature, may be doomed. But this story is also one of friendship—and of finding the courage to move on.

"A truly wonderful memoir that reads like great fiction.  The characters come alive on the page."  – Elizabeth Brundage, author of The Doctor's Wife and A Stranger Like You.

“The story of how Liz Amaral and her husband became successful at the epicenter of counterculture businesses near Harvard Square / Cambridge from 1967-1975 with their boutique and restaurant is told with humor and insight. Swirling around them are all of the entrapments of the era, the drugs and free love and betrayal, as well as the politics that defined the times.
With a fierce dedication to her son and husband, Liz Amaral triumphs in this stunning memoir where she discovers that, while love isn’t always what we think it is, it remains, in all its multi-faceted transformations, the driving force of who we are and how we live our lives.”  – P.B. O’Sullivan, writer and mathematician

“In her intimate and humorous memoir, Liz Amaral reveals the challenges of a young family establishing a home in Cambridge amid the tumult of the late 1960s. You will discover the disconcerting truth about her marriage and the painful path she takes to find herself again. A true adventure of the heart.” – Kathrin Seitz, writer, producer, and coach

For More Information

  • Czar Nicholas, The Toad, and Duck Soup is available at Amazon.
  • Pick up your copy at Barnes & Noble.
  • Discuss this book at PUYB Virtual Book Club at Goodreads.
Thanks for joining us at the book club, Elisabeth.  I just have to ask – how did you come up with the title, Czar Nicholas, The Toad and Duck Soup?
Elisabeth: You're welcome. The title reflects the names of the businesses my first husband and I started in Boston and Cambridge. Czar Nicholas was the name of our hand-made beaded earring business. The Toad was the name of a small craft store in Cambridge. We became instant friends with the people behind The Toad and decided to open a craft store together.  We named it Czar Nicholas and the Toad, and it became something completely unexpected. You'll have to read the book to find out more. Duck Soup was the restaurant my first husband and I opened in Harvard Square.
What piques my interest about your book is the whole idea behind it.  The sixties was a turbulent time and yet they were magical and all this is inside your book which I am dying to read.  What part of the sixties would you say you enjoyed the most?
Elisabeth: I’d have to say I loved the sense of freedom, the feeling that life was ours to enjoy, to live as we wanted. Of course that wasn’t every young person’s life, but for those of us fortunate enough to experience those years as we wanted, it was a truly amazing time.
Which part of the sixties do you believe was the most turbulent? 
Elisabeth: The latter years, with the race riots, rage against the Vietnam war, the fights for civil rights and the start of the fight for women's rights. There was a definite, powerful change from the peace and love to something palpably ugly.
What were some of the challenges raising kids in that era in your experience?
Elisabeth: I don’t remember any challenges specific to that era. It certainly seemed much easier to raise a child back then that it is today. Kids played. They went to school. There were none of the pressures I see today that are placed on kids. And there were fewer burdens on parents. It seemed that you could live on a lower income with far less job pressure, which, of course, made child-rearing that much easier. 


Million dollar question – would you ever want to relive it?
Elisabeth: Parts of it, over and over again. 
How long did it take you to write your memoir?
Elisabeth: It took almost three years. Each time I reached out to acquaintances  from those years they provided more memories that became part of the book. And they put me in touch with someone else, who put me in touch with yet another. For the most part, these were colleagues who worked in our restaurant, and that experience, that place at that time, was truly magical for all of us. They offered not only memories too good not to include, but also recipes and photographs.  That generosity and enthusiasm was a joyful experience and helped make the memoir that much richer, but it also extended the time it took to finish it, because I have included it all.  
They say all books have a pivotal point when the reader just can’t put the book down.  What’s one of the pivotal points of your book that you’d like to share?
Elisabeth: In Chapter 1, my husband suggested we move with our infant to Boston so he could study mime. That decision started us on our journey. And I would like to share another point that was pivotal to me. Perhaps it will be to the reader, too. It happens in Chapter 28. In my attempt to reaffirm my own sexuality and self-esteem, and all the risk that entailed, I stood naked in the pouring rain in a tropical rainforest, and spent part of that evening alone in a nearby chicken coop.
After writing your book, how did you feel afterwards?
Elisabeth: My feeling was of relief. Shortly before the book was finished I had a heart attack. Because of this I decided to accelerate the process by self-publishing. I was immensely gratified by the results as well as by the responses of those who were part of my story. And I felt proud of myself for having had the courage to face my youthful demons.
What’s next for you, Elisabeth?
Elisabeth: I'm working on a mystery that takes place in New York City. This was something I started years ago and left, in order to write the memoir. Now I'm back with it, and it's giving me as much trouble as it did before, but I’m in love with the protagonist and so I will keep at it.  

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