In a decorated home nestled between Squirrel Hill and Oakland, 20 people gathered to hear Howard Goldenberg, an Australian doctor, author and marathoner, share familial anecdotes alongside excerpts of his published works.
Goldenberg was in Pittsburgh for a personal visit. A small gathering was held to welcome his arrival.
While nearly all in attendance donned sweaters and neatly pressed pants, Goldenberg very much dressed the part of the at-times absent-minded professor: He wore an open-collared and untucked blue button-down shirt, dark slacks, lime green reading glasses, brown leather boots and fiery red socks. His talk was far from professorial, however.
Sitting at the head of the room, Goldenberg selected “My Father’s Compass” (Hybrid Publishers, 2007) — a text serving both as memoir and tribute to his late father, Myer Goldenberg — as his first reading. The recited passage recalled a moment shared years prior between father and son aboard a boat. At the conclusion of the reading, someone asked Goldenberg how old he was at the time.
“Eleven,” responded Goldenberg, “but it didn’t make a difference. To my dad I was always 11.”
Goldenberg explained that his father descended from the celebrated 18th century rabbi known as the Vilna Gaon and served as an Australian physician, shipwright and cook. He humorously added that the elder Goldenberg also served as the community’s mohel. To much laughter, Goldenberg quipped, “If you meet a really nice-looking penis from Melbourne above the age of 30, my dad did it. He left his mark on people.”
Goldenberg revealed that his father’s passing ultimately generated “My Father’s Compass.”
“I wanted my family to have a record of the privilege I enjoyed being his son, and I wanted the world to know about him,” the author explained.
After brief applause, Goldenberg read from “Raft” (Hybrid Publishers, 2009), a text relating his experiences working with Australia’s Aborigine communities. For years, Goldenberg has traveled to
the Outback providing medical care. Often, these destinations featured “extreme situations,” which Goldenberg considered both “morally and spiritually challenging.”
He claimed that while several incidents weighed heavily on him, writing eased his burden.
“A way of dealing with things is to write about it and come to terms with events, divert some of the pain or confusion, work through it and put some of it on paper,” he said.
As with his first reading, Goldenberg’s second was met with applause. Continuing along, he followed by reading from “Carrots and Jaffas” (Hybrid Publishers, 2014), a novel regarding redheaded identical twins who become separated after a kidnapping.
In the passage shared, Goldenberg described with painstaking detail the kidnapper’s preparatory activities, such as methodically locking car windows and doors, applying child safety restraints, and repeating the aforementioned processes to ensure the impossibility of escape.
When Goldenberg completed the passage, no one stirred. Aware of the silence, Goldenberg claimed, “It isn’t a miserable book.”
He then read from a subsequent passage, allaying many listeners’ fears.
Throughout the evening, Goldenberg offered several reflections.
On venturing beyond his boundaries, Goldenberg stated, “Whenever you go somewhere different, you encounter yourself as much as someone else.”
He added, “Throughout my life I have written things that have felt significant. In the process, I have learned what I think.”
Goldenberg closed by thanking those in attendance and signing copies of his books.
After receiving a personalized inscription, Jerome Parness called Goldenberg “an amazing soul.”
Adam Reinherz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.