HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Remember when the year 1984 seemed so weird and far away? And then it arrived, and it seemed so strange. Though Big Brother did not appear. (That we know of.) 1985 arrived and we were fine and back to normal.
Then the year 2000! Whoa. There was going to be--what was it called? Y2K! And everything was going to collapse and computers were going to fry and we stockpiled tuna and cash. And then nothing happened.
Debut novelist Kira Peikoff is looking even farther ahead--to 2027. Her writer-brain has concocted a world where destroying an embryo is considered first-degree murder. Fertility clinics still exist, giving hope and new life to thousands of infertile families, but they have to pass rigorous inspections by the United States Department of Embryo Preservation. Fail an inspection, and you will be prosecuted.
Whoa. There's more.
Brilliant young doctor Arianna Drake seems to be thriving in the spotlight: her small clinic surpasses every government requirement, and its popularity has spiked—a sudden, rapid growth that leaves the DEP chief mystified. When he discovers Arianna’s radical past as a supporter of an infamous scientist, he sends undercover agent Trent Rowe to investigate her for possible illegal activity.
Can't you just envision the movie? Very Margaret Atwood meets Michael Crichton, don't you think?
But today Kira Peikoff lets us in on a secret--how fact and fiction can merge...across time and across years and across generations. And how one decision our parents made--can open the doors to new worlds.
A GIRL BY ANY OTHER NAME
I was named after the heroine of a novel. Props if you can guess which one. It always surprises me when strangers guess right off the bat, something that’s only happened a handful of times. Once on a plane, the lady next to me shocked me by sharing that the origin of my namesake was her top favorite book. Most people never make the connection. But, fellow mystery lovers, my first and last name are all you need as clues. OK, a little Google might go a long way too.
Growing up, I was somewhat afraid to read this book, to face the “Kira” of literary lore. I’d heard my parents talk of her courage, her strength, her goodness of spirit. It sounded like a lot to live up to. I have no siblings, so I imagined this Kira a little bit like an older, phantom sister. Someone on which to model my own character. No one I’d ever met shared our name, so even if that’s all we shared, it seemed like something. A connection. A link. But I didn’t know her yet, because I wasn’t ready to answer the question that lurks in my name: does my spirit live up to the expectation created by hers?
In my early years, the closest I would come to finding out was taking her book down from the shelves and opening to any random page, then counting the number of times our name appeared. It was greatly amusing for a lonely little kid with literary tendencies. I’d already discovered my love of reading, so I understood the singular joy and power of language to transport us to other worlds. My favorite characters felt as real as friends, so I believed Kira would too, one day. It felt almost rebellious to steal these peeks into her grown-up world, when I knew I was still too young to visit there. Then one day, I turned to the last page.
Kira got shot. She died a gruesome death, bleeding out on a snowy hill, alone.
I was horrified. Kira—murdered?! How could my parents have saddled me with such a legacy? I felt practically betrayed, and ignored the book for ten years. Why would I want to get invested in such a sad story, anyway?
But then one day, a few years after college, I decided to find out. It seemed ridiculous to go through life never having read the book that inspired my name. Also, by that point I’d read enough Tolstoy and Hugo to understand that some stories require unhappy endings. With my own life getting figured out, I finally felt ready to meet the other Kira, secure in the knowledge that I was myself, whether or not I was like her, and that was OK.
It was difficult, at first, to immerse myself in her world, one so different from my own. Communist Russia. Despair, darkness, extreme poverty. I wondered if I would be able to relate to this girl at all, having grown up in an idyllic seaside community with all I could ever want. But soon I found myself developing a real affection—and admiration--for Kira. She was the epitome of a pure, life-affirming soul. She struggled nobly against injustice, without sacrificing any of her spirit, until her tragic end. When she died, I burst into tears, real streaming tears—despite knowing all along what was coming. Rarely have I reacted to a book with such emotion.
I finally understood what my parents saw in her. My name, and all that it embodies, is a gift. Even though I’m not an oppressed minority in a war, I face my own battles every day, as small and insignificant as they are in comparison, and I draw encouragement from Kira. She loved being alive; she cherished beauty and her own spirit, the man she loved and the meaning of freedom. These precious things made her life worth living, even if, to keep them, she had to risk—and lose—everything.
As necessary as her death was for the story’s theme, it was only a paragraph in 464 pages of a heroic life. After all, it’s not so much endings that matter. Otherwise, my parents might have shied away from my name. It’s how we face our beginnings and our middles.
The heroine in my new novel LIVING PROOF, Arianna Drake, shares Kira’s strength of character and perseverance. She also faces an uncertain existence in an oppressive world, but her positive spirit shines throughout.
I won’t tell you her ending, but suffice to say, if a little girl is ever named after her, I hope she will find—as I have--nothing but hope and inspiration in her namesake.
HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Kira, you make me cry. Thank you. When my mother died, recently, I told her I had come to terms with the name she and my father gave me, Harriet. I had always loathed it, I thought it was so old-fashioned and uncool. After all , the cool girls were all Debbies and Lindas.
But recently I cane to realize--it's--competent. Strong. Harriet Vane, you know? I embrace it. Fully. And I cannot describe to you Mom's face when I told her that. It was like something had come full circle.
Reds, where did your name come from? And we'll give a copy of LIVING PROOF to one lucky commenter!
KIRA PEIKOFF has written for The Daily News, Newsday, The Orange County Register, and New York magazine. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from NYU and has worked in the editorial departments of Random House and Henry Holt. She lives with her fiance in New York City, where she is working on her second thriller. Visit her online at www.kirapeikoff.com.
A thought-provoking thriller by debut author Kira Peikoff, Living Proof is a celebration of love and life that cuts to the core of a major cultural debate of our time.