Longtime JP resident Roger S. Gottlieb is no stranger to writing. The author and college professor has written or edited 21 different books and more than 150 articles, and recently released his first novel, The Sacrifice Zone.
Gottlieb, who has resided in Jamaica Plain since 1974, is a professor of philosophy at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, and has a deep interest in religious environmentalism.
“I had always turned to the natural world for solace, beauty, comfort, and joy,” he told the Gazette. “I started to read a great deal and do a lot of writing, and stumbled into religious environmentalism.”
Gottlieb’s CV is packed with various publications of nonfiction work on topics such as the relationship between religion and politics and contemporary spirituality, but he has also penned a collection of short stories titled Engaging Voices: Tales of Morality and Meaning in an Age of Global Warming, which received the Nautilus Book Award for fiction.
“That gave me the courage to start a novel,” he said. The novel, which came out about a month ago, “asks a very simple question,” Gottlieb said. “When we’re surrounded by pain, by loss, by injustice, by suffering that we cannot cure, how do we live?”
There are three main characters in the novel, Gottlieb explained. Two of them, one of which is an active environmentalist, struggle with the world around them. “He can’t stand the pain,” Gottlieb said of the character. “He’s bitter, angry, and working hard,” and “he made a mistake which injured his daughter” that he cannot forgive himself for.
Another character is an older woman grappling with her sister’s heroin addiction. She “takes refuge in buddhist meditation,” but her past begins to “haunt her,” Gottlieb said. The third character is a woman in her 40s who has been an environmental activist since college, and “she has a knack…a way of living where you face the truth and you’re not destroyed by it,” he said. She is able to face the difficulties while still doing the work, and she finds joy in the nature around her. Her “heart does not become the sacrifice zone.”
Gottlieb said that, “in a way, all the characters are me—some of the best parts of me and some of the worst parts of me.”
The novel partially takes place in Jamaica Plain, and “it celebrates some of the very special things about JP,” he said, and the reader is able to get a sense of JP through the streets depicted and through several scenes of Jamaica Pond.
“The pond is sacred space,” he said. “Somehow it heals us. I’ve had a very difficult adult life; I have needed support over the years and that place has given it to me. I totally believe it means that to countless other people.”
He said he chose to place the book in Jamaica Plain because “Jamaica Plain is what I know. It’s a very interesting community. You can see the characters here.” One of this other books, A Greener Faith: Religious Environmentalism and our Planet’s Future, was dedicated to the Jamaica Pond area as well.
Gottlieb said that his years of studying environmental issues and spirituality has made it easier to weave the topics into a fictional narrative, as “these stories and issues come alive through characters that are relatable.”
The Sacrifice Zone is available now in both paperback and e-book from Amazon or Barnes and Noble. An excerpt can be found here: http://www.rogersgottlieb.com/#excerpt.
For more information on Gottlieb, visit his website: http://www.rogersgottlieb.com/.
“I think it’s a good read,” Gottlieb said of the novel. “I think it will move you and I think it will help you if you take its message seriously. Maybe, just maybe, it will help you with the pain.”