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Home >> Customers >> Success Stories >> Diane Armstrong's "Mosaic"

ISYS Hits The Best Seller List

Starring on best-seller lists for months since its release in October 98, Mosaic, a chronicle of five generations, is the first book by journalist Diane Armstrong. It is the result of many years of dedication and hard work on the part of the author, as well as a lot of help from ISYS search software.

Mosaic is the true story of Diane Armstrong's own family which spans one hundred years, four continents and five generations. Compiling the story involved copious research, taking Diane to visit relatives scattered across the world. ISYS was crucial for Diane in finding her way through the many facts and stories she collected.

The title of the book was aptly chosen as Diane pieces together her family's history by interviewing a number of aunts and uncles and older cousins. Mosaic also means 'pertaining to Moses' and this story follows the fortunes and misfortunes of her Jewish grandparents, Daniel and Lieba Baldinger living in Poland with their eleven children, as they journey through the constantly changing face of Poland, two world wars, the Holocaust and its repercussions. The current use of the word Mosaic to denote a cultural melting pot is particularly relevant to the third part of the book in which Diane describes her transition from a Polish child into an Australian one.

Since graduating from Sydney University in 1960, Diane Armstrong has had over 3000 articles published in many countries but Mosaic marked her first incursion into book writing. Although she initially set out to write about her relatives, as the research intensified she realized that this was going to expose a lot about herself as well. "This was the most amazing thing about the process," said Diane. "I started writing a story about other people and then realized that I would have to become a character in my own book. I'd always thought of myself as the child of Holocaust survivors, but suddenly I realized that I was a survivor myself." This startling revelation was brought home to Diane when, during a visit to Poland, she unexpectedly encountered the priest who had assisted her parents and herself to survive during the Holocaust.

Diane started Mosaic by interviewing her five surviving aunts and uncles. Collecting over 100,000 words in interviews, she then transcribed them onto computer. The result was a collection of stories of the richness and turmoil of family life, of sibling rivalry, conflicts, tragedies, trivialities and triumphs, of courage, endurance and the strength of the human spirit. Told by people with remarkable memories and equally remarkable personalities, these interviews formed the basis of Mosaic.

The result was a huge information base of places and events; people who would become central characters of the story and others who would only pop up occasionally. But this was not a clean, chronological piece. These were the memories of people laid out as they remembered the various places and incidents of their lives. Herein lay the conundrum. Diane was faced with the task of sifting her way through all this material to create a coherent book.

How would she know what happened to even a single character? Several different accounts may make up the story of one life. Different people would supply different details depending on where they were in relation to events. The trick was to find all the relevant stories of the character or episode in question and map them out so that they could be understood, firstly by Diane herself and then by her reader.

This is where ISYS came into play. ISYS text indexing and retrieval software reads all of the words in all of your documents and creates an index, just like the index in a street directory. ISYS can then be used to interrogate large volumes of multi-paged documents for any specific word or phrase. This gives users of ISYS the ability to establish relationships between seemingly unrelated pieces of information, which is just what was needed for Mosaic.

ISYS was perfect for Diane's research. After adding her own investigations into the history of the period as well as collecting archives and making observations, she indexed her entire folder, dubbed 'Family', with ISYS.

The results were remarkable. "It was so simple. No matter what I needed to know, it was easy to find," said Diane. "As an example, when I wanted to find all the references to the death of my Aunt Karola, whose last words were scrawled on a postcard and flung out of a train bound for a concentration camp, I simply keyed in the words Karola/train/postcard. Every reference to the event was immediately listed in the ISYS results table."

Diane used ISYS in several ways. 'Sometimes, before I started writing a chapter, I would sit down and use ISYS to locate all the relevant historical facts I might need to use. Then I could cut and paste that information or simply remember what I needed. At other times, while writing, I would need to know where a particular person had been in 1913 or what had happened to someone's husband in 1941 and I'd just ask ISYS.'

'I was amazed at the speed of ISYS and the way that it highlighted hits. It didn’t matter what I needed to find, I had my answer in seconds.'

ISYS was so helpful during the writing of Mosaic that Diane, who is now researching her second book, will use ISYS again. "I wouldn't dream of writing a book without it," she says.

Mosaic has featured on best seller lists in Canberra, Brisbane and Melbourne. The Australian Bookseller and Publishers Association listed it in the top ten non-fiction books for October 98.



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