After a full career as a concert pianist, followed by 45 years as a piano teacher on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, Chaim Freiberg discovered St. Petersburg.
“I wanted to start a new chapter in my life,” he said. “I moved here in 2019 and have never looked back.”
That new chapter turned into an entire book. Published by St. Petersburg Press, Ms. Flora and the Squirrel, And Other Tales of Friendship and Gratitude is a collection of short and utterly charming fables about animals, people and the power of fellowship and loyalty.
“My stories,” Freiberg explained, “are really the world that I would like to see; that I would have loved to live in. I find that I can be there through my writing. There is a lot of me in my stories.
“They have a lot of longing and yearning that reflects, somehow, my own internal way of feeling.”
Each story is paired with colorful illustrations by Erin Salzer Hanna.
Freiberg’s fables are sweet, simple and to-the-point; there are lessons there, if you’re looking for them. On another level, they exist to entertain.
As an instructor, said the author, “I found a particular interest in working with children, and that’s where my storytelling world began. I always said to the children to relate to the music as a certain kind of storytelling. A narrative.”
The birds, frogs, butterflies and other small creatures who inhabit Ms. Flora and the Squirrel could exist anywhere. St. Petersburg itself is a character in the book.
“I love St. Petersburg,” Freiberg exclaimed. “I found the right place. I was born in Israel, and when I came here there was something about St. Petersburg that resembled the place where I was born. There was something here that told me that I was home. And that has never changed. I still feel that way.
“Life is like a cycle. I feel like I did a full cycle and I’m back where I started. Which is, I’m going back to my childhood but as a grownup.”
His first book, Ms. Adelaide’s Piano (and other tales of Music and Love), was written soon after Freiberg settled in the Sunshine City. He’d received, he said, warm encouragement from a local writing instructor, which gave him the confidence to begin this second career.
“People always ask me ‘Are they for children or adults?’ If it’s a grownup I’ll say ‘Did you enjoy the stories?’ And they say yes, and I say ‘They’re for adults.’
“I say I’m writing about my childhood experiences but as an adult. You have to be a grownup to write the stories, but you can enjoy them as a child.”
Perhaps not surprisingly, he equates this with music. “Robert Schumann wrote Scenes from Childhood, but they cannot be played by children. You have to be an artist to play them.”