Ezra Choueke didn’t set out to write a book, but after hearing his grandmother’s fascinating stories, he knew he had to publish them.
When Ezra Choueke was in his early 30s, he started interviewing his grandmother, Lucie Choueke, about her life. She was in her 80s and lived in Japan, which was only a three-hour flight from China, where Ezra was working at the time.
“I needed some stress relief from working in a global business and this gave me the ability to shift my focus for a few hours a week,” he said. “My grandmother was in a different place in her life, but we actually had a lot in common. She was accustomed to business challenges, and was managing three successful businesses at the time, but wanted to tell her story to someone she trusted.”
Ezra didn’t set out to write a book, but after hearing his grandmother’s fascinating stories, he knew he had to publish them. Now, they’re available in a new biography called “Womb of Diamonds: A True Adventure From Child Bride Of Syria To Celebrity Businesswoman Of Japan,” which was released in late 2021.
The book details Lucie’s life, starting from when she was a child growing up in Aleppo, Syria. In her hometown, people used chickpeas instead of wedding invitations, and the souk, the market, was a magical place.
When she was just 13, she faced her first huge challenge: She was forced into marriage to a 29-year-old man and taken to Kobe, Japan to help him run his business.
Aside from being in an arranged marriage, she was also in Japan during World War II, where there were food shortages, bombs going off and homes being destroyed.
The hardships didn’t stop there. Aside from being in an arranged marriage, she was also in Japan during World War II, where there were food shortages, bombs going off and homes being destroyed. The country was a member of the Tripartite Pact with Nazi Germany and Italy, which Ezra said was worrisome for the Jewish community in Japan.
“At the same time, [Japanese diplomat] Chiune Sugihara issued transit visas to save many European Jews from certain death by giving them away to escape Europe and Russia. This was encouraging, to say the least, for the Jews of Japan. Many of these refugees ended up in Kobe for an extended period with no destination country that would accept them.”
According to Ezra, during the war, his grandmother had to adapt by changing her behavior, making decisions for her family, choosing her words carefully, and coexisting with the population at large.
“All of this [was] not to convince the Emperor Showa of anything in particular, but to instill the people around her and the police with a general feeling that she was not their enemy,” he said. “I believe a positive aspect of this is anyone can imagine themselves in the situation.”
Despite the turmoil going on around her, Lucie became a successful businesswoman, family matriarch, and respected member of her community. In the book, Ezra details how she started a black market business after the war to keep food on the table and officially took control of her family’s business interests around the mid-1980s when her husband fell ill.
“As Japan matured economically, she continually reinvented herself,” he said. “She [passed] on this knowledge with details such as how roasting a chicken in its own fat can help in property management and how to efficiently remove the bugs from rationed rice.”
Lucie passed away in November of 2019, seven days shy of her 100th birthday, and was still living in Japan. There, the family has a museum, the Choueke Family Residence, that they open for special events and charities. The family still lives in Kobe part-time.
Ezra, who was named after his grandfather, lives in Los Angeles now. Reflecting on the process of writing the book, he said it was very easy to interview his grandmother because she had a photographic memory and loved to talk. And, of course, she had a lot to say.
“She wanted to discuss her life without bowing to the opinions she had been forced to respect at a younger age.”
“She wanted to discuss her life without bowing to the opinions she had been forced to respect at a younger age,” he said. “She was finally able to express her joy, pain, anger, and gratitude with freedom from cultural restriction and peer pressure. And, by doing so, she could provide some insight to younger generations.”