‘I like my life, whatever I’m doing,” Scott Turow told me. “I get out of bed in the morning and I know that there’s something I’m going to look forward to, which is a blessed way of life.”
Not so for his characters. “Someone pointed out to me that in all my books the characters struggle for identity,” Turow said. And so it is in his latest, “Testimony,” in which fifty-year-old Bill ten Boom decides to chuck it all; over the next four years he sheds his marriage, his law firm partnership and eventually his country. But this isn’t your normal mid-life crisis. Turns out that ten Boom’s Dutch-born are Jewish; they’d hidden their true identity from him since escaping the Holocaust.
“Everything ten Boom had done in his life, his accomplishments, his successes, rising to the top of his profession, two kids he gets along with, his marriage is disrupted by the news,” Turow says.
Ultimately, Bill accepts a job as a prosecutor at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, looking into how a group of 400 Roma people disappeared during the Bosnian War.
“This is not an unprecedented experience,” Turow said. “I have a friend in England, a business acquaintance. We were having dinner and she told me the story how, when she turned 30 or 35 and already had kids, her quite elderly parents called and said we need to tell you that we’re actually Jewish. Like ten Boom she immediately began crying and asked ‘why would you do this?’ They were German and probably thought another Holocaust and Jewish persecution was inevitable. They were doing it for the safety of their kids.”
Turow, 68, grew up in a Jewish neighborhood in Chicago in a household that observed what he calls “a secular, humanist, agnostic kind of Judaism on both sides.”
“I can’t say there was no religious observation in my life. My parents insisted I go to temple on major Jewish holidays. But they didn’t go with me, except maybe on Yom Kippur. My father was a doctor and the rebbetzin was my father’s patient. My mother’s parents we’re basically socialist but committed culturally to being Jewish.”
Turow still practices law occasionally, “either for personal reasons or because I think the case is really interesting.” Once in a while, his two professions meet. “Once, when a case ended, the judge said ‘Mr. Turow, can I see you and chambers?’ He had been a good judge, really stern. I had no idea what he wanted, but when I got there he opened his desk drawer, took out a copy of my latest book and asked me to sign it.”