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    Laguna Woods author to have book signing at senior center
    • October 25, 2023

    It’s not unusual for people who have lived compelling lives to hear: “You should write a book.”

    Laguna  Woods resident Barbara Wolk, a retired Spanish and English as a Second Language teacher, did just that. Under the pen name Diana Kingsley, she wrote “Mother in Name Only.”

    Wolk will have a book signing Wednesday, Oct. 25, at 1 p.m. in the Florence Sylvester Senior Center in Laguna Hills. Call the senior center at 949-380-0155.

    Written with emotional and intelligent clarity, the novel illuminates Wolk’s life growing up in New York as a “nice Jewish girl” saddled with all the constraints of coming of age in the 1950s and ’60s. That meant being taught to be obedient and chaste, to present the right appearances in manners and looks and, if need be, to be ready to forgive and forget transgressions – especially those committed by the opposite sex.

    “Mother in Name Only,” by Diana Kingsley, aka Barbara Wolk of Laguna Woods Village.
    (Photo by Daniella Walsh)

    Diana Kingsley, aka as Barbara Wolk, is the author of “Mother in Name Only.”
    (Courtesy of Dee Tucker)

    Laguna Woods resident Barbara Wolk is the author of “Mother in Name Only,” a poignant tale of a daughter, wife, mother and rape victim in the 1950s and 60s. Wolk, who uses the pen name Diana Kingsley, will have a book signing Saturday, Sept. 30, at 11 a.m. at the Barnes & Noble store in the Aliso Viejo Town Center.
    (Photo by Daniella Walsh)



    In the book, Wolk has become Myrna Kaye – Kramer after her marriage to Eli, a successful but icy lawyer – with a sister, Sandra, and their parents.

    Wolk writes of the sisters’ upbringing by a mother who did not have the emotional and intellectual capability to raise the girls under anything but unyielding authority. It was their father who provided warmth, love and emotional support and a measure of stability. He held the family together until the mother ran off to pursue an artistic calling.

    Her departure embodied the emotional absence of a woman who described herself to Myrna as “a mother in name only.”

    The title also alludes to Myrna herself. After she was raped and impregnated by an old flame, her husband forced her to give the boy up for adoption.

    “I had to make a difficult decision when I got pregnant – whether my husband would know – and decided that I had to do the right thing, to let him know that he was not the father of this child,” Wolk recalled in an interview in her home in the Towers. “I paid a heavy price. I felt like I, too, was a mother in name only.”

    Over twists and turns, and with the help of a psychiatrist, she reconnected with her son, but in doing so, she lost connection to her eldest son and, for a time, her youngest.

    “I had a reunion with … the son I was forced to give up 35 years later, but it did not turn out to be idyllic,” Wolk said.

    Later, however, she wrote in an epilogue, the son she gave up now refers to her as “mom,” and she is in steady contact with her two grandchildren.

    Born in 1939, Wolk captures the mores and overall tenor of times when women were, first and foremost, taught to protect their chastity against onslaughts by men who were under no such constraints. They were to be educated but not too smart, to present themselves attractively, to marry well and produce successful offspring.

    Women of that generation will undoubtedly recognize shades of their own lives in “Mother in Name Only,” and it will be an emotionally difficult read at times. The fact that Wolk is Jewish is salient, but women brought up in other faiths will have no problem relating.

    The instinct of self-preservation in the face of the desire to please and perhaps to succeed has prevailed across generations into the MeToo zeitgeist where women are fighting similar demons.

    Wolk started to write “Mother in Name Only” in 2004. She finished it in 2005 but waited nearly 20 years to publish it. The characters are real and thinly disguised, and events are based on reality. Consequently, she was afraid that her former husband would sue her for libel before his death.

    However, under the aegis of New York’s Adult Survivors Act and in line with California’s Sexual Abuse and Cover-Up Accountability Act, Wolk has initiated a lawsuit against her rapist.

    “As a retired New York City high school teacher, my bandstand is to teach women and men to not only find their voice, but to use their voice to report either verbal abuse or sexual abuse to a best friend, family member or law enforcement immediately so that they can have a witness to make the culprit accountable,” Wolk wrote in an email.

    “Mother in Name Only” was a finalist in the 2023 International Book Awards in the categories Inspirational Fiction, Women’s Fiction and General Fiction. Wolk has two book signings scheduled at local Barnes & Noble stores.

    In the postscript she writes:

    “Revealing this story to the world in its entirety is a catharsis for me. I have learned to better understand and accept in myself what has been diagnosed as a case of PTSD, post-traumatic stress disorder. I have felt such pure relief by just getting this poison out, this trauma.

    “I want to share who I really am; not just the facade, the shell of a person. By extension, I hope that others can learn to reveal their secrets, disappointments and pain. … Acceptance and forgiveness are the keys to living a better and healthier life with peace of mind.”

    ​ Orange County Register