Written History

Bestselling historical fiction author Jonathan Rabb found a home, and his latest novel, in Savannah

The two New Yorkers thought they’d be in Savannah for a year.

Author Jonathan Rabb and his wife Andra brought their twin son-and-daughter down South in 2008. Rabb was traveling often, both for a book tour and to Spain for research on a novel. The history-steeped Savannah seemed like a nice jumping-off point and way to get a little break from New York.

“We joked about taking ‘a year abroad’ in Savannah,” Rabb recalls. “We thought we would go back.”

A Novel Idea

As a writer, Rabb knows that a story doesn’t always turn out the way you planned. But as a political science student, and later as a professor, Rabb didn’t even know he would become a writer. Taking breaks from academic work, he would toy around with an idea he had for a book, and this creative distraction ended up becoming his first published novel, a thriller called The Overseer.

“I was a young guy teaching political theory at Columbia, so the hero of that book is a young guy teaching political theory at Columbia…who saves the world,” Rabb says with a smile. He followed it up with another thriller called The Book of Q. But it was his third book, Rosa, in which Rabb—who is the son and grandson of lifelong historians—really came into his own.

“I discovered that what I loved most was finding historical moments,” Rabb says.


To Savannah By Way Of Berlin

Rosa is named for Rosa Luxembourg, a real-life figure in post-WWI Germany whose mysterious death in 1918 draws in Rabb’s fictional protagonist, Detective Inspector Nikolai Hoffner. Rabb followed it with Shadow and Light and The Second Son, and the arc of his character’s life became the bestselling Berlin trilogy.  It was during the writing of the third book that Rabb and his wife, who are Jewish, decided to try Savannah for a year, with two young children in tow. 

“We rented a house and found the kids a school,” Rabb says. “And the community was unbelievably embracing.”

When they first arrived, the Rabbs were actually unaware of both the Jewish community in Savannah and of the academic community at the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD). They joined Mickve Isreal and learned that Savannah’s Jewish heritage actually goes back to the founding of the colony. Meanwhile, when SCAD learned of the Rabbs’ experience in writing and the performing arts, they were both offered positions at the school. The stars were aligning for Rabb not only to settle in Savannah, but also to write about it.

The Character Of Savannah

For years, Rabb had an idea for a book that would pay tribute to an older cousin, a man who had survived a World War II concentration camp as a child.

“I wanted to give a character like him hope, because I wasn’t sure if my cousin had ever found that again,” Rabb says. “When I came here, I knew I wanted to do something with the Jewish community but also the black community, and it just all made sense. Bring that character, but as an older person, to the Jim Crow South, to Savannah in 1947.”

The resulting novel, Among the Living, came out in hardcover last year and was just released in paperback. Different in style from the Berlin trilogy, Among the Living is a quiet book without a mystery to be solved. Writing it meant that Rabb, who always does extensive research for his novels, had to look unflinchingly at the past of the city that welcomed and inspired him.

“In all of the books that I’ve written, place is a character,” Rabb says. “Savannah had to be a character. So I’ll explain to people, ‘You’ll recognize Savannah, but it’s my Savannah.’”

Vital Communities

Rabb loved life as an author and professor in New York City. But he had grown up in the college town of Princeton, and he was soon reminded of a smaller town’s unique sense of community after moving to Savannah.

“Our family had a little bit of a scare when my wife had to go in for an operation,” Rabb recalls. “The response here was across the board. The Jewish community, the SCAD community, our neighborhood…they all asked how they could help, what they could do, if they could watch the kids. There’s something lovely about that communal commitment to one another.”

Rabb has also been pleasantly surprised with the local medical community. His mother-in-law also now lives in Savannah and underwent a double-knee replacement at St. Joseph’s Hospital.

“Now, granted, this is a very tough lady,” Rabb says, laughing. “But she was up and walking around in two weeks. This little neck of the woods takes medicine seriously.”

Moving On

Whether you are moving to a new city or just feel like it’s time for a change, finding a new doctor shouldn’t be stressful. Here are a few helpful tips to remember as you begin your search:

  • Ask family, friends, or co-workers for recommendations. Find out what they like or don’t like, and see how their examples match with your needs.
  • Check with your insurance company for a list of eligible providers.
  • Consider what kind of physician you really want. Do you prefer a DO or an MD? Does the physician having a certain Board Certification, such as one in Family Medicine, make a difference?
  • Contact a physician referral service if the local hospital provides one. For example, St. Joseph’s/Candler has a Central Referral Office, a health information referral center. The CRO can be reached Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. at 912-819-3360. St. Joseph's/Candler can also help you find your medical home in one of several offices within St. Joseph’s/Candler’s Physician  Network - Primary Care. Learn more here.

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