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China on Her Plate
Critics have praised Talia Carner as "an author with the power to change society," and "one who saves the world one child at a time."
A seventh-generation sabra born in Tel Aviv -- and the author of China Doll -- Carner first learned of the atrocities of the Chinese orphanages known as "The Dying Rooms," where the death rate was that of Nazi concentration camps, about 80 percent, during her participation in the 1995 International Women's Conference in Beijing.
"I knew I had to write this book because when I was in China doing my research, I was overwhelmed by the sheer horror of what I learned, as well as by the problematic U.S.-Sino relationship, the complex social, economical, cultural and political developments in China that are tied to human-rights abuse," says the 46-year-old.
"I waited a while before tackling it all, but was exhilarated to tame my research material into storytelling, which propelled me into my writing 'zone.' I had already learned from my first two book-length fiction works not to allow myself to be carried away by the powerful effects of the research to the point that I could not get on with the writing."
Carner, who served as a former Israel Defense Force corporal during the Six-Day War -- and followed that with several highly successful careers -- turned to writing books and producing her debut novel, Puppet Child, which reveals the weakness and ineptitude of the American family-court system. It was listed among the Top 10 Favorite First Novels of 2002 and launched the passing of legislation in several states.
"In many ways, stories find me, then they don't let me go," she explains. "Such was the case with China Doll, although it took a lot of research. I went to China in '95, and that's where the research began -- research in the tastes, flavors, sounds and smells of the country.
"Sometimes, I think of writing like driving at night, where all you can see on a dark road is only as far as your headlights. You don't see the end of the road. That's what happened to me in writing this book. Events began hitting me one by one, and became a major part of the book. It was a case where the research drove the story and the story drove the research."
'Indifference to Life'
China Doll tells the story of a young woman who strives for success after surviving a past no child should have to endure. It is the story of two worlds -- the music industry and China's orphanages. It is the story of a pop star driven by her love for an abandoned baby to become a formidable heroine. It is a story not only of human-rights injustices running rampant in a stunningly picturesque land, it is the riveting tale of a woman coming into her own.
Carner is a board member of Hadassah-Brandeis Institute, the Jewish women's research and documentation unit at Brandeis University's Women's Studies Department. She is also known as WordFairy2 to the hundreds receiving her daily mailings of articles on global terrorism, anti-Semitism and the Israeli-Palestinian relationship.
In her speeches to Jewish groups, Carner talks about her writing as tikkun olam, fixing the world one child at a time. She discusses how her Jewish values underpin her compassion and action, which, in turn, make her novels platforms for social change.
Steeped in the tradition of storytelling that came from her grandmother, Carner looks forward to writing more books and attempting to right so many wrongs. She says her recent work gave her a platform to talk about infanticide and get it on the agenda of the U.N. conference on the status of women coming up at the end of this month.
"The idea that you would discuss the status of women globally and not bring out the millions of baby girls put to death is unbelievable," she concludes. "These babies have absolutely no voice at all. Nobody's speaking for them. These babies are already here.
"Some are abandoned right after birth, and some are abandoned at the age of 3 or 4. Families have to decide on who they want to keep, with little girls having no value according to Chinese tradition.
It's absolutely mind-boggling. "Here's this country with amazing culture and art, but with a horrific indifference to life. I am trying my best to do something about that."