Friday, March 23, 2007 Communities of Memory/Disasters in Fact and Fiction

I made it to two Virginia Festival of the Book programs today (plus a little time for coffee drinking and reading at the Mudhouse). Both were really well done.

I knew the first (Communities of Memory: The Holocaust and Beyond) would be packed, not only because of the topic but because one of the presenters, Daniel Mendelsohn, just won the National Book Critics Circle award for his book, The Lost. So, I got there early and still had to sit in the back row, in the corner, and soon the stairs were lined as well. Mendelsohn spoke first and read the opening pages of his book, which explains how he came to be compelled by the search for six relatives who were killed by the Nazis. What he read was much more lyrical than I was expecting and even funny, and then he went on to discuss the process of interviewing people who had known his relatives. It sounds like an excellent book.

Next was Yaacob Dweck, the translator into English of Haim Sabato’s The Dawning of the Day. Dweck also read a beautiful section on the subject of memory.

Last in this program was Robert Satloff, author of Among the Righteous, in which he describes his search for Arabs who saved Jews in the Middle East during World War II, a fascinating topic with some obvious modern lessons. During his talk Satloff mentioned that his wife, who works for the World Bank, had been posted to Morocco and that it coincided with the time he was doing research for the book. Afterward I learned who his wife is--someone I had worked with on Vietnam when I was at the Bank!

Then it was off through Charlottesville’s horribly congested Main Street to the Barnes & Noble for the next program, Disasters in Fact and Fiction. I wasn’t particularly interested, frankly, but it was on the way home and I wanted to stop into B&N to pick up something else. I was glad I stayed. The first reader was Stefan Bechtel, whose book Roar of the Heavens is about Hurricane Camille. That storm had a huge impact in these parts and people still talk about it, so I think it will be an interesting read. Next was Elise Blackwell, whose novel Unnatural History of Cypress Parish is about the 1927 floods that devastated New Orleans. Ken Foster talked about his book, The Dogs Who Found Me, which isn’t a disaster book per se but begins with the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and ends with Hurricane Katrina. And the final presenter was Katharine Weber, whose novel Triangle is based on a 1911 garment factory fire in New York. An excellent program with four thoughtful presenters.

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