Open marriages and war criminals: Vancouver Jewish book festival goes virtual (again) with 27 authors in 2022

Toronto-raised and Boston-based novelist Jonathan Papernick decided to write his latest novel on a subject some may regard as taboo—open marriages, where partners continue to be in a romantic relationship while seeing other people.

“The book deals with a reconfiguration, or recalibration, of how relationships are,” said Papernick, the author of I Am My Beloveds. “I wanted to write a story that a generation ago would have been a story about infidelity, but this generation is about… how relationships are evolving, what’s acceptable and what’s not.”

Papernick is one of 27 authors participating in Vancouver’s 37th annual Cherie Smith JCC Jewish Book Festival which is taking place online Feb. 6-10.

His book is about a Jewish couple who embark on an open marriage, which mirrors his efforts to salvage his relationship with his ex-wife.

“Ultimately, we did end up splitting, but we’re a lot closer now than we were the last half-decade of our marriage,” said Papernick.

He said the stigmatization of open marriages stems from an insecurity among some that “by somebody being open, somehow that threatens their own marriage.”

Papernick recalls someone he knows in an open relationship who went on a date with someone who spent the entire time lecturing him on the evils of open marriages.

“She was just there to yell at him,” said Papernick. “That never happened to me. I met a lot of interesting people.”

He said he hopes readers will come away with an understanding that there are many different ways to have a romantic relationship, as well as an appreciation for the complexity of the novel’s characters.

“We all have different needs and there are different ways to satisfy those needs,” he said.

Another author speaking at the festival is Judith McCormack, whose book The Singing Forest made the New York Times’ top 10 list of historical fiction for 2021.

McCormack’s novel follows the fictionalized efforts of Toronto lawyer Leah Jarvis to have an elderly Soviet-era war criminal who has assumed a new identity deported for his crimes during the Stalinist purges that culminated in the mass graves at Kurapaty, Belarus.

“One of the questions is what to do about him and, to some extent, what to do about war criminals in general,” she told The CJN. “Interwoven in there is all kinds of issues of truth and memory… and happenstance.”

The author, who is part Belarusian, says she was inspired by reading up on the killings at Kurapaty.

“I was astounded. I knew vaguely about Stalin’s purges the way most of us do, but I had heard nothing about this. I wanted to bring it to light that this had happened,” she said.

There are autobiographical elements “sprinkled all over” the story, McCormack added.

Like McCormack, who is a lawyer by trade, the novel’s protagonist has a Jewish mother and gentile father.

“When I was growing up with these different parents, it seemed kind of anomalous. I didn’t know anyone else who had this combination,” she said. “You often feel that you’re odd or an anomaly, or you’re kind of diluted in some way in terms of being Jewish.”

But with the growth of intermarriage, McCormack is far from alone. “People like me are a significant part of the future of Jews,” she said, referring to the “infinite variety” of Judaism.

Dara Horn, author of People Love Dead Jews: Reports from a Haunted Present and David Baddiel, author of Jews Don’t Count, in conversation with Marsha Lederman, are the festival’s opening speakers.

For tickets, visit You can see McCormack’s talk on Feb. 7 at 11 a.m. PST; Papernick speaks Feb. 9 at 6 p.m.