In advance of the 68th Annual National Jewish Book Awards ceremony on March 5th, 2019 (which you can buy tickets for here), Jewish Book Council is sharing short interviews with the winners in each category.
Ronald H. Balson’s The Girl from Berlin is the winner of the 2018 Miller Family Book Club Award in Memory of Helen Dunn Weinstein and June Keit Miller. Balson’s novel centers around a seventy-eight-year old woman, Gabrielle, who is facing eviction from her Tuscan villa by one of Italy’s largest wine producers. Her nephew hires a Chicago lawyer and private investigator to help her keep her home. A handwritten memoir from the 1930s enters the picture; it holds the key to resolving the mystery of Gabrielle’s emotional attachment to the property, and the rightful ownership of the villa and land. The Book Club panel judges write that The Girl from Berlin is “a fast-moving, suspenseful and well-researched novel that illuminates the cruelty and horror of Nazi Germany and the heroism of ordinary people.”
Which three Jewish writers, dead or alive, would you most like to have dinner with?
Elie Wiesel, for his wisdom and poignant memories. Leon Uris, to discuss how he researched and created his stories. Jake Tapper, because of the clever things he would say.
What’s your favorite book that no one else has heard of?
There is no such book. I love old Joan Didion books. I read them when my prose gets stiff and I need a new voice.
Which Jewish writers working today do you admire most?
Not a fair question. Who to leave in, who to leave out? There are so many excellent Jewish writers.
What are you reading right now?
Mainly research on a new book. On the side I’m reading Eunice by Eileen McNamara, and Big Fella by Jane Leavy.
What are your greatest creative influences (other than books)?
(Do my eight children count? Can I say that?) OK, then it would be music.
What do you hope readers will take away from your book?
I hope my readers will gain a better understanding of how the gradual impact of Nazification affected artistic life in Berlin, and ultimately Italy as well. I also hope readers will appreciate that the issue of Nazi seizures and confiscations continues through the present day.