New York

I COULD NEVER write this as well as Sherry tells it, so this story is in the words of Sherry Arden, a vice president and the subsidiary rights director of William Morrow and Co.: About a month ago, I got a call from Dr. William Lannik, who was someone from my ex-life in suburbia. He said, "Do you remember my mother?" I thought, and I did remember his mother, who must be in her eighties by now. She was this really funny, wonderful lady from the midwest. And he said, "Do you remember she was writing a book?" And my heart sank. Because every afternoon when she would visit Bill Lannik in Merrick, Long Island, she would say, "Excuse me, ladies, I got to write mine book." She had been writing "mine book" every day for 15 years, in Yiddish. "Oh, Bill, you want me to read it," I said reluctantly. "Would you?" "Sure . . . send it to me."

The manuscript arrives and it's been translated into English by Bill's sister, and it's dedicated to her: "To my daughter, Jeannette Bernhard, who worked her fingers to the bone, her husband a doctor." The title is Such a Life, by Edith Lazebnik. I began reading the first five pages, and I couldn't stop. It started with high drama, and the Yiddish accent was still there. It's Fiddler on the Roof, it's Jewish Roots, it makes you laugh, it makes you cry, it makes you feel good. So I thought, something's wrong; I've lost my objectivity; it can't be what I think it is. So I ran downstairs with the manuscript to Hill [Hillel Black is executive editor at Morrow] and I told him, "I don't think I can be objective about this. I think it is so wonderful, so special, so superb I must be crazy. Please read it, read it overnight and read it yourself. Don't give it to an assistant to read. That night, Hill calls me up at home at midnight and yells, "Sign her! Sign up that book."

Wait, that's not the end. I had lunch with Bob Wyatt [editorial director of Avon Books] and gave him the first page and he said, "That's a perfect Reader's Digest Condensed book." And now Jack Beaudouin [editor of the Reader's Digest Condensed Books] has taken an option on the unedited manuscript. But there's more. Bill Lannik met a man from United Artists at a party, and the guy said, "Send me your mother's manuscript." And the next thing I know, Marc Jaffe [editorial director, Bantam Books] is calling Larry Hughes [president of Morrow] for the manuscript of Such a Life, because Marcia Nasatir of United Artists had called him from Hollywood. So I held up everything on it until everything is evaluated. We publish in the spring. But I want you to know how it's written, its lyrical style. In the Old Country, a boy of 13 is betrothed to a girl of 19, and she dies, two weeks after he marries her at 16, and now he's riding home on a train. He meets a little red-headed girl on the train and he asks her to share an apple, and they start to talk. Then they start to laugh. They look out of the train window, and they see a cow, and they laugh. They see a field of corn, and they laugh. They see a horse, and they laugh. And she says, "Nu, at the beginning you always laugh."