Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Review of The Thief of Auschwitz plus Q&A with author Jon Clinch

Q&A with Jon Clinch
The Thief of Auschwitz
Just one quick note to mention; Jon has agreed to be my featured author in October of 2013 when we’ll discuss as a group this wonderful novel.

Debbie - Jon, welcome to the B&N.com General Fiction forum.
Jon -Thanks so much for inviting me. As you can imagine, writing can seem like a one-way street, without the chance to be around readers now and again. So moments like this mean a lot.

Tell us about your newest release, The Thief of Auschwitz.
My last novel, Kings of the Earth, was in many ways a memorial to upstate New Yorkers of my parents’ generation—country people whose voices are dying out and whose stories are on the verge of vanishing forever. In The Thief of Auschwitz, I hope to have created a second memorial to that same generation, this time honoring those on my wife’s side of the family of man—the Jewish side—whose stories are likewise in danger of being lost.

Reading and rereading the first-person accounts of Wiesel and Frankl and Nyiszli over a period of a year or two, I had no plan to write a book. But along the way I discovered something within myself that disturbed me to no end: the more closely I studied the raw materials, the more repellent they became and the more difficulty I had in maintaining my focus on them. It was as if the facts themselves, horrible and numberless as they were, were conspiring to drive me away again and again, preventing me from connecting with the people behind them as fully as I needed to.

Supposing that other readers might face the same difficulty, and intent on the preservation of these voices and these stories, I wondered if fiction might provide an answer. I hope that it has, at least a little, by way of The Thief of Auschwitz.

All three of your novels are historical fiction. What draws you to write in this genre?
I think I like the remoteness of it, the possibility for myth-making, the chance to bring readers to a place they’ve never been before. In Finn, it was the American frontier of the 1840’s, a place and a time that have been romanticized in our popular culture. I wanted to deliver the dark underbelly of it, which Twain hoped to show in Huckleberry Finn but in the end couldn’t deliver, thanks to the expectations of his Victorian audience. Writing in a different age, I set out to give his world to my readers warts and all— “with the bark on,” as Twain might have said.

The setting of Kings of the Earth was personally familiar to me and the history was a whole lot more current, because the book takes place in and around my home town during a period ranging from my parents’ youth to my own. It’s a feat of memory and mime, really, in which I worked to bring back to life a whole group of people—a whole way of life—that may seem foreign to readers in whose minds the phenomena of bone-deep poverty and backbreaking labor are tied more to the South than to the North. But believe me, it’s all real.

The Thief of Auschwitz is a different beast. Like Finn it’s based on research, not experience. My intent, though, wasn’t to provide some kind of new truth about the Holocaust anyhow; the facts are well known and thoroughly documented. Instead, I wanted to use the tools of fiction—character, plot, pacing—to tell a story that would bring those facts to a new and different kind of life.

Can you tell us how you researched for this novel?
The first-person accounts were the most helpful and inspiring, of course. Elie Wiesel’s Night, Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning, Miklós Nyiszli’s Auschwitz: A Doctor’s Eyewitness Account. More recently, Laurence Rees’ work—particularly Auschwitz: A New History—has added tremendously to the literature and was invaluable to me. (Rees’ 6-part BBC documentary, Auschwitz: Inside the Nazi State, is unforgettable.)

One thing I didn’t do was travel to Auschwitz, and there’s actually a very good reason for that. I’ve learned over time that in the business of creating a narrative I’m easily overwhelmed and constrained by the details of place and setting, and I wanted to keep myself free to move characters around without too much restraint.

You have a very eclectic background. Does this influence your writing?
On my father’s side I come from people who work with their hands, and on my mother’s side I come from people who work with their brains. As a result I tend not to shy away from either kind of work, and I see the grace and the honor in both kinds. This background has suited me for what’s been essentially a lifetime of entrepreneurship, mainly in advertising (my wife and I ran our own agency for about twenty years) and more recently as a novelist.

The first rule of writing is to sit down in front of the keyboard every day. The hours are long and the rewards are few, distant, and uncertain—so it helps to be self-motivated and unafraid of the long slog. It also pays to have a thick skin, which is something you can’t help but develop over a career as an advertising creative. My experience in advertising has also proven extremely valuable in my efforts to micropublish The Thief of Auschwitz instead of selling it to a major publishing house.
That’s the long answer. The short answer, of course, is that everything you do influences your writing—as long as you’ve been paying attention to the world around you!

Are you a reader?

Do you enjoy fiction or non-fiction?
I grew up on fiction, and I still read a lot of it, but to tell the whole truth I’ve been reading a ton of non-fiction these days.

Who are your favorite authors?
How much space do you have? Starting with fiction, let’s say Larry Brown, Raymond Chandler, Flannery O’Connor, Mark Helprin, David Foster Wallace, and Thomas Pynchon. On the non-fiction side, the list includes Robert Caro, David Quammen, John McPhee, and the late Paul Fussell. Start anywhere with any of them. You won’t go wrong.

How does this release day compare to the first?
It’s pretty quiet, but then again they’re always quiet. The trigger gets pulled on release day, but the bullet never seems to leave the gun until a week or two later. There’s plenty of build-up and a lot of advance work, and then there’s a lag until the reviews start arriving and readers start finding the book and talking about it. That’s when the traction kicks in.

Plus, up here in Vermont where I live, there’s not a lot of action of any sort. It’s pretty much snow, moose, and maple syrup.

Your award list for your previous titles is impressive. Is there one that stands out for you?
Without question, the biggest moment was when the American Library Association named Finn a Notable Book. To have had the nation’s librarians decide that my work wasn’t just worth stocking on their shelves but deserved to be singled out as exceptional—worthy of becoming a core part of many library collections—was just beyond thrilling for me.

Do you have any Barnes & Noble signings or events planned?
Not yet, but I’ll keep you posted.

Jon, thank you for taking time out to chat with us.  Good luck with your novel.
My pleasure. And thank you.

My Review of The Thief of Auschwitz

The Thief of Auschwitz
Jon Clinch
Unmediated Ink
258 pages

The story starts in 1942 when the Rosen family with no other alternative arrives at the train station to Auschwitz where for the next year through death, humiliation, degradation and torture their lives are documented. The story is told in excruciatingly painful words to read but also with all the humanness that makes this such an important novel. We’re introduced to all sorts of characters from the soldiers to the prisoners, from the truly cruel to those who’s cruelty resulted from the circumstances created by camp life.
And between the chapters of terror we learn of Max, the son who’s obviously made it through to an old age, who’s obviously followed in the footsteps of his artist mother, who suffers no fools, but has suffered greatly from the experience of monsters in the death camp known as Auschwitz.

There have been many stories written of the Holocaust; of the atrocities of the Nazis to the people they thought beneath them, who they thought less than human, most of who were Jews. I hope that trend continues especially now when we’re loosing the last of the victims, the heroes and all those who lived through WWII in one way or another.

In Jon Clinch’s latest novel he gives us a unique perspective of Auschwitz, the most recognized death camp during the Nazi devastation of Europe. He follows one family, not necessarily religious Jews, a family of some influence who unfortunately with no where left to run, no where left to hide found themselves at the train station deceptively made to look inviting by the flower boxes and the trompe-l’oeil clock always set at half passed three. The mother a painter, the father a barber and the children a boy of 14 and a small girl with a cold.

As all of these stories whether true or fiction it wasn’t easy to read, it’s comprehension is somewhat unbelievable to those of us who can’t imagine such evil. But it’s none the less an important story and I’m fortunate for the opportunity to have read it.
I will definitely be reading more of Clinch’s work.

Buy the book here visit the author's website here


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