In the early 1900s, Redondo Beach might have been considered an idyllic seaside community full of maritime charm.
But, said author Ashton Politanoff, the city has not remained untouched by disease, war and civil unrest.
This was evident in local news clippings from around 1911 to 1918, a time that not only lasted World War I, which killed around 20 million people, but also the 1918 flu which killed around 50 million. dead in the world; Illness, including the 1918 flu, caused about a third of military deaths during World War I.
These clippings inspired Politanoff to write “You’ll Like It Here”, a historical fiction novel – although the author portrays it in a genre-defying way – which was published this summer and features news articles edited, advertisements, recipes and other clippings from long-gone South Bay newspapers like the Redondo Reflex.
Politanoff will discuss his novel and how he researched its premise on Saturday, October 15 at the Redondo Beach Main Library.
While working on the book, Politanoff said, he wasn’t even sure what would become of it, but he was drawn to the historical newspaper clippings.
“I was obsessed with them (clippings), with the kind of poetry and magic that I can find in each of them,” he said. “But if I had to label it, I’d say it’s a hybrid work of historical fiction, curation, found poetry, and photography.”
But not all the news was grim and dire.
Take, for example, a brief story he found in 1913 about a woman who finds a dead bird on the beach and makes a hat out of bird feathers. Politanoff added her own twist to the story, with the woman soaring into the hills of the Palos Verdes Peninsula.
“The Redondo hunters mistook his hat above the bush line for a live bird,” Politanoff said, adding that in his version of the story the hunters had shot the hat.
Politanoff said he often changed his name in clippings — except one that featured Dr. Butts, a well-known doctor in the area — or embellished a clipping about a lawyer who took his own life.
“A lot of times I just tried to drill down into the details,” said Politanoff, who lives in Redondo Beach with his wife, Katie, and their boys, Grayson and Archie, 5, who will turn 2 in December.
Politanoff, a 2003 Mira Costa High School graduate, is an English teacher at Cypress College. He earned a bachelor’s degree in literature from UC San Diego and he earned a master’s of fine arts in creative writing, with a major in fiction, from Cal State Long Beach.
For a number of years, Politanoff said, he was obsessed with writing about the South Bay to capture the region, but in an artistically creative way — through fiction and non-fiction.
He was digging through some online archives around 2016 when he came across a clipping from Redondo Reflex from the early 1920s about someone faking his own death, walking away and starting a new life.
But, Politanoff said, he didn’t take a screenshot of the clipping and when he started scouring thousands of pages of archives online, he couldn’t find the article. .
“I found myself drawn to databases,” he said. “The Reflex had its hold on me from then on.”
Politanoff said he discovered the themes of industrialization, financial desperation, and ruin heralding the Great Depression. He also detected fear from the “outsider”, with concerns of espionage as the country neared its involvement in World War I.
Politanoff began writing the book in late 2019, early 2020. But, he said, it picked up steam during the initial COVID-19 lockdown.
“I wasn’t sure what this was all leading to,” Politanoff said. “But as I started hoarding the clippings and thinking about the structure, building towards the flu (1918) seemed like a natural end point.
“Reading these articles,” he added of the flu stories, “felt oddly comforting because we got through it. I found comfort in that.
For Politanoff, creating “You’ll Like It Here” was a transportive experience.
“Through the process of conservation, modification and creative intervention, I came back to Redondo Beach in the early 1900s,” he said. “I hope to offer the same experience to readers with this experimental novel.”
Politanoff will appear at the Main Library, 303 N. Pacific Coast Highway, from 11 a.m. to noon. Saturday.
For more information, call 310-318-0675, option 5, or visit Redondo.org/library.