Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Interview - Pam Jenoff - The Last Summer at Chelsea Beach - Review

Please welcome Pam Jenoff back to the blog, she was here last year talking about her novel, The Winter Guest. Today she's here talking about her latest and also a WWII tale The Last Summer at Chelsea Beach.

ISBN-13: 9780778317548
Publisher: MIRA
Release Date: 07/28/2015
Length: 384pp
Buy It: B&N/Amazon/Kobo/IndyBound/Audible


Summer 1941
Young Adelia Montforte flees fascist Italy for America, where she is whisked away to the shore by her well-meaning aunt and uncle. Here, she meets and falls for Charlie Connally, the eldest of the four Irish-Catholic boys next door. But all hopes for a future together are soon throttled by the war and a tragedy that hits much closer to home.
Grief-stricken, Addie flees—first to Washington and then to war-torn London—and finds a position at a prestigious newspaper, as well as a chance to redeem lost time, lost family…and lost love. But the past always nips at her heels, demanding to be reckoned with. And in a final, fateful choice, Addie discovers that the way home may be a path she never suspected.

Pam welcome back to The Reading Frenzy.
Give us the cliff-notes version of The Last Summer at Chelsea Beach -  no-spoilers.
First of all, let me say how excited I am to be back at The Reading Frenzy – one of my very favorite blogs as a reader and you have been such a friend to my books over the years.
THE LAST SUMMER AT CHELSEA BEACH is the story of Adelia Montforte. Addie is just 16 when she comes to America alone to escape Facist Italy and the growing peril to the Jews there.  When she arrives in Philadelphia, her aunt and uncle take her to Atlantic City for the sumer and it is there that she falls in with the Connallys, the large Irish Catholic family next door with their four sons.  She develops a crush on the eldest, Charlie, and he finally notices her.  But right as they find happiness, war breaks out and changes everything…

Staying on the subject of no spoilers, your ending was quite surprising (readers will have to find out on their own).
Did you know how the story would end before you wrote it or were you as surprised as I was?
I usually have a vague idea of how the book will end.  A few books have surprised me in that regard, but for THE LAST SUMMER AT CHELSEA BEACH there was only one way it could end for me.  The getting there, the middle, always the part that I have to learn as I write.

Pam you deal with some societal issues that are controversial still today, and that were downright scandalous at the time the novel takes place.
Was it your intention to bring these instances to the forefront or was it just a by-product of the story?
I would say both.  I’ve long had an idea of a story for a young girl who meets the four boys next door (kind of a reverse LITTLE WOMEN).  But I realized that by setting it during the war, I could explore so many more societal themes:  life on the home front, immigration, assimilation, prejudice, ethnic, racial and religious divides.  Then there are themes that are timeless: family issues like alcoholism and depression, sibling rivalry, forbidden love and the tribulations of coming of age.   It was not so much that I set out to bring them to the forefront, but to show that they were a part of everyday life then as well as now.

Pam your heroine, Addie has such chutzpah that the readers can see right away and yet there’s also a vulnerability that you’ve expertly woven into her that makes her so lifelike.
Is she based on anyone in particular or all made up in that furtive mind of yours?
Furtive mind (ha!)  Addie is completely fictitious.  However, one of my favorite themes to explore in books is the way in which the war took young women out of their traditional roles and challenged them.  So think about what Addie’s life would have been had she never emigrated to America.  Or what if she had come to America and met the Connallys, but Charlie had not enlisted.  She never would have fled to England and had the experiences of a lifetime covering the war.  Etc., etc.  I think her chutzpah comes in part from who she is, but also from her experiences.
The other thing I will say is that I started writing THE LAST SUMMER AT CHELSEA BEACH almost 20 years ago.  So Addie and I have very much grown up alongside one another.  It was such fun to crack open the old manuscript and fall in love with her all over again.

In your novel I want to ask if the character of Claire in England is based on Churchill’s real niece Clarissa whose actually still living (Clarissa Spenser-Churchill-Eden 1920) or was that just a coincidence?
Were there any other characters based on real people or that were real people?
Pure coincidence!  I was originally fascinated by Churchills daughter, Mary, but since I wanted to make my character do lots of things I couldn’t pin on an actual person, I decided to fictionalize the niece completely.  Different age, different actions, different life!
There are times in my books where “real” people have made a cameo appearance, but other than perhaps trying to name an actual Under Secretary of State for purposes of historical accuracy, this one is all from my (furtive) mind :-)

Pam we discussed last year, HERE on the blog that your passion for writing about this time partly stems from your work on Holocaust issues for the State Department in Poland and the proximity to these historically tragic places you found yourself in. I think your experiences are partly why there’s such passion in your writing about these stories.
Did you travel to Europe for research on this novel or did you let your fingers do the walking?
Thank you for noticing the passion in my writing!  My life was profoundly changed by my years in Poland working on Holocaust issues for the State Department.  I call my books “love songs to Jewish Europe.”  And that includes THE LAST SUMMER AT CHELSEA BEACH, even though it is predominantly set on the home front. I have not been able to travel to Europe lately (three small kids tend to clip your wings).  However, I find it ironic that while all of my books set in Europe were written stateside, THE LAST SUMMER AT CHELSEA BEACH (set stateside) is the one book I started writing when I lived in Poland 19 yeas ago.
The other fun research for this book was local.  A big portion of THE LAST SUMMER AT CHELSEA BEACH is set in Atlantic City.  My family is from there – my grandparents owned hotels there in the 1930’s and 40’s and I summered at the shore as a girl.  It was such fun to drive the streets where Addie would have lived and to poke through the archives of the Atlantic City Library to discover what life was like there during the war.

Pam even though the novels you’ve written that I’ve read all deal with harsh realities and hard times there’s also an upbeat feeling to them almost a Happy Ever After feeling for readers by the time the novel is finished.
Is it that way in all your works?
I don’t see myself as a happy endings type.  It is fun, where possible, to show what happens after the story ends. But I’ve had a number of books with ambiguous, walk-off-into-the-sunset kind of stories without clear resolution.  What is important to me in a book is exploring the gray areas in people, the difficult choices we make in dire circumstances. I want readers to ask, “What would I have done?”

Pam I know you have small children at home.
Whats your writing schedule like?
Are you a full time novelist?
I have a very chaotic schedule.  Three kids under the age of 6, plus a day job as a law school professor.  I adore all of it.  But it does force me to be disciplined.  I have written in beautiful castles and writing retreats.  I have also written in my doctor’s waiting room and in my car. 
On January 2 this year, I issued myself a 100 days of writing challenge: to write every single day for 100 days.  It worked so well that in April when it ended I just turned around and started the next 100 days.  As of July 1, I’m still going!
My biggest challenge is that I am a short burst writer: I would like to write 7 days a week but I have trouble going for more than 3 hours at a time.  So I’m always trying to improve my stamina.

What’s on the agenda for your next tale?
I am so very excited to tell you that my next book, THE AERIALIST, will be out next year.  It was inspired by true stories and it tells of a young woman who rescues an infant from a Nazi train car full of babies headed east, and find shelter with a German circus that is rescuing Jews.  Stay tuned!

Pam thanks so much for taking the time to chat with me again.

 My Review of The Last Summer at Chelsea Beach
Pam Jenoff brings a heart-wrenching tale of loss and forgiveness, first loves and second chances. Her story shifts between Europe and the US during the World War II years. Her narrative is haunting and eloquent bringing to life her fresh, unforgettable, and a few unconventional characters, her devastatingly amazing depiction of war torn Europe and a family ripped apart by unthinkable tragedy. This reader especially loves the realness and the perseverance and forever-hopeful optimism she gives her characters.
I love traveling with Pam through her stories, timelines and worlds and I
m packed and ready for the next journey.

In the summer of 1941 16yr old Adelia Montfortes parents send her to live with her aunt and uncle in Philadelphia to escape the rising turmoil in Italy. Assimilating into a prejudicial population already on edge is not easy for an olive skinned Jewish girl especially one with an Italian accent. Luckily shes been befriended by the boisterous Irish-American-Catholic Connally family that includes four brothers, the oldest three around her own age. Her first summer in America is full of sun and fun spent with this seemingly idyllic family that fills many voids for Addie from familial to confusing when she becomes enamored with the oldest boy Charlie.
Then unexpected tragedy strikes that once again upends Addies world and sends her on a long perilous journey thats equal parts escaping and self discovering.

Connect with Pam - Website - Facebook - Twitter- Goodreads

Pam Jenoff was born in Maryland and raised outside Philadelphia. She attended George Washington University in Washington, D.C., and Cambridge University in England. Upon receiving her master’s in history from Cambridge, she accepted an appointment as Special Assistant to the Secretary of the Army. The position provided a unique opportunity to witness and participate in operations at the most senior levels of government, including helping the families of the Pan Am Flight 103 victims secure their memorial at Arlington National Cemetery, observing recovery efforts at the site of the Oklahoma City bombing and attending ceremonies to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of World War II at sites such as Bastogne and Corregidor.

Today's Gonereading item is:
Some Clearance items
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  1. This so sounds like my kind of read! I love how books sometimes take the author's by surprise too with the endings, I think that is kind of fun.

  2. Love the setting, I could totally see myself curled up reading this!

    1. Oh yeah Kim I can totally see you curled up w/this one as well

  3. Books like this gets personal as far as I'm concerned. I haven't experienced war (thank god!) but Adelia's story sounds universal in the sense that any reader will be able to relate to it somehow.