arts & entertainment
In former Michigander Mindy Raf's debut novel, a Jewish
female protagonist faces teenage challenges.
indy Raf always thought of
herself as a creative enter-
tainer, coming up with her own
standup routines and introducing her own
songs through vocals and guitar.
It surprised her that someone in a small
New York audience would suggest the
most novel idea of her professional life: an
actual novel for young adults.
The outcome, The Symptoms of My
Insanity (Dial; $16.99), kept her up
throughout long nights of writing about
situations that touched upon some of her
own teenage experiences while growing up
The main character, Izzy Skymen, a
Jewish teenager living in a Detroit suburb,
has a lot to face. She worries about physi-
cal changes she's enduring while her moth-
er actually confronts serious illness.
Tied to a deadline for an art scholarship
submission, Izzy also has to make deci-
sions about a tentative boyfriend who lets
a revealing photo go viral and a girlfriend
whose personality seems to have changed.
"I'm happy that I allowed people to
visit all those subjects through a comedic
perspective that makes it all less daunt-
ing; Raf, 32, explains in a phone interview
from New York.
"I really do love all of the characters, even
the ones who have made bad decisions. I
like that hopefully people can relate to them
as they tackle difficult subjects.
Special to the Jewish News
At The Movies
Opening Friday, May 10:
The Reluctant Fundamentalist is a
political thriller directed by (Asian)
Indian filmmaker Mira Nair, whose
movies include the well-received
Monsoon Wedding and The Namesake.
It is based on an acclaimed novel by
Pakistani author Mohsin Hamid.
In the novel, the main character,
a Pakistanti named Changez, tells
his story in the first
person. In the film,
he tells his story
in flashbacks to an
ist (Liev Schreiber,
45) as they sit at a
We learn that a
May 9 • 2013
"My overall goal was to make this about
girl power while giving readers a realistic
slice of a teenager's life
Raf, who remembers putting on plays
for family when she was still quite young,
filled after-school hours with singing and
dance lessons. Summers involved perfor-
mance training at Cranbrook's Summer
Theatre School and Nancy Gurwin's Camp
of the Arts.
After graduating from Andover High
School, Raf earned a bachelor's degree
in theater and European history at
the University of Michigan, where she
appeared in university productions.
"I always got cast in the funny roles:'
recalls the debuting novelist, whose reli-
gious activities were with Temple Israel.
"I had standup in the back of my mind
but did not pursue it until my senior year
when I went to an open mic night. I had a
great time on stage.
"After I graduated, I moved to New York
and did some characters in musical come-
dy, storytelling shows and standup comedy
with singing and guitar. That's when I real-
ized I preferred writing my own material
over performing someone else's:"
Raf, whose writing has appeared on
humor websites and her own blog, has
performed and recorded as her alter-ego
Leibya Rogers. In 2010, she raised more
than $3,000 to fund a full-length music
comedy record, LeibyaFair Live!
Raf's comic and writing talents came
together after she was approached by the
editor, who thought Raf would have a great
few years before 9-11, Changez had
finished his Princeton degree and
headed off to Wall Street to make
his fortune. He did well in his job and
by all measures was achieving the
American Dream — including a smart
and beautiful (if emotionally troubled)
American girlfriend (Kate Hudson,
34). After 9-11, Changez is wrongly
arrested and interrogated. He returns
to Pakistan and comes under the
scrutiny of American agents as a pos-
F. Scott Fitzgerald's great 1925
novel, The Great Gatsby, has been
made the subject of four previous
films, including a silent and made-for-
TV version. None, including the 1974
film starring Robert Redford in the
title role, have been seen as real suc-
cesses. We will see if this new version
directed by Baz Luhrmann (Moulin
Rouge) "grabs the brass ring."
voice to connect with teenage readers.
"I was doing a lot of freelancing when I
started the book:' Raf says. "I'm nocturnal
so I set up my writing schedule from mid-
night to 5 a.m. I love writing when every-
one else is sleeping.
"During the last revision, I was actually
working a full-time job taking on admin-
istrative responsibilities for a law firm.
That made my writing schedule a little
The Symptoms of My Insanity has the
main character telling the story.
"I started writing this as Izzy sharing
so many similarities with me Raf says.
"We're both a little neurotic and self-dep-
recating in our humor. We tend to focus
on others more than ourselves.
As I continued to write and got really
confident with the character, Izzy led me
off in her own direction and took over
the plot of the story. As things started
happening to Izzy and the action took
off, I started reacting to it as Izzy and not
The book went through three major
revisions, adding a tension to the mother-
daughter relationship that Raf had not
experienced in her own family. Sadly, the
author had to mourn the death of her
mother, Carol Raf, who went through a
"I wanted the book to say that you can go
through times in your life when everything
gets very bad:' Raf explains. "Maybe you
can't make it all better, but you can choose
how you respond and move forward.
The story of the persons in Jay
Gatsby's circle is told by Nick
Carraway (Tobey McGuire), a young
Wall Street broker who, as the film/
novel opens, moves near the palatial
Long Island home of the mysteri-
ous and apparently very wealthy Jay
Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio). Nick's
cousin is the lovely Daisy (Carey
Mulligan), a former lover of Gatsby.
Isla Fisher, 37, has a supporting
role as Myrtle Wilson, the wife of
a garage mechanic; she also is the
mistress of Daisy's husband. Amitabh
Bachchan, a very
famous actor in
Indian movies, plays
a Jewish character
who has a hold on
Gatsby and is mod-
eled after famous
Mindy Raf with copies of her comic
young-adult novel, The Symptoms of
My Insanity: A Jewish teenager living
in a Detroit suburb has a lot to face,
worrying about physical changes she's
enduring while her mother actually
confronts serious illness.
"There's a way to get through it even if
you can't tie up every single loose end in
a perfect way or find an immediate happy
ending. That's part of life:'
As Raf's schedule fills with promoting
the book, she continues with her standup
comedy and storytelling on stage. There is
not much time for Michigan visits with her
dad, Robert Raf, a retired math teacher.
When the family does get together, it's
usually at the home of her brother, Brian,
in Portland, Ore., or her sister, Stacey
Graff, in Chicago, each with a young child.
Raf, who is single, enjoys reading, yoga,
going to concerts and hiking.
"I have a couple of friends who also do
comedy, and they recently had comedic
memoirs published; she says. "I'm excited
about reading them.
"I never pictured myself writing a novel,
but I did and am really proud of it. I tell
others that if they want to write, they
Jewish gangster Arnold Rothstein
(1882 1928), also a major character in
HBO's Boardwalk Empire.
The Jewish Journal of Greater Los
Angeles recently covered the Los
Angeles Israeli film festival. Oscar-
winning actor Martin Landau, 85, was
awarded the festival's career achieve-
Here's part of his acceptance
speech: "Israel and I grew up togeth-
er. I was 28 and working in the art
department at the New York Daily
News when Israel became a state.
When I was struggling to make a liv-
ing, Israel, too, was struggling to
survive — to convert a strip of arid
land into a fertile farmland. Israel
and I have aged together, witnessed
and experienced massive change, but
we're still very much alive."