This is your second novel set in Nazi-occupied Europe. How did the experience of writing this book compare to that of The German Girl? Did you find one more challenging than the other to write?
I spent over a decade doing research about the MS Saint Louis and writing The German Girl. The process was emotionally draining, because of its history and because it was my first novel. With The Daughter’s Tale I enjoyed the process much more because I was able to play with the language; I avoided using first-person narrative, and I wrote with a lot less anxiety, if that’s even possible.
Both The German Girl and The Daughter’s Tale explore themes of memory and trauma. What draws you to these themes?
I grew up with the story of the Saint Louis from the time I was a young boy, though it was a forbidden topic in Cuba. My grandmother, the daughter of Spanish immigrants, was shocked when Cuba refused entry to the Jewish refugees onboard the Saint Louis. I too am a product of exile; I’m an immigrant as well. I came to the U.S., leaving my family behind, leaving my books. When you’re exiled, you try to set down roots, but you always live—consciously or not—with the fear of loss. I’ve always been interested in historical events, mainly from WWII, which show human vileness and are forgotten in time. They cannot be forgotten. I’m afraid of forgetting.
Discuss the structure of the narrative. Why did you decide to bookend the story with the point of view of Elise as an older woman? Why not just set the entire novel in the past?
One always lives with a secret. Sometimes it’s huge, sometimes it’s very small. But as insignificant as it may seem, it’s still a secret. We safeguard them and tend to forget them. I wanted that to be the premise. In my case, I tend to forget the negative, the sad, the illnesses. First because resentment cannot survive in me; I can’t deal with the energy around resentment. Second because it’s healthier, and a defense mechanism. In the book, I wanted to sum it all up in one secret: forgetting, pain, guilt, betrayal. The only problem is that secrets and lies are always exposed, brought to light, in the end.
Why did you choose to write about the horrific crimes committed in Oradour-sur-Glane? What was the research process like? Did you uncover any facts that were particularly surprising?
There are many events from WWII that tend to be glossed over, forgotten. For example, the Saint Louis tragedy is just now being revived. Why did we avoid talking about the Saint Louis? It’s one thing to say Hitler killed more than six million Jews but to face the fact that the rest of the world turned its face away from that monstrosity, let those crimes unfold in front of them—and that it was Cuba, the U.S., and Canada who sent more than nine hundred Jewish refugees aboard the Saint Louis to their death—is equally painful. Some say it’s better to forget.
The same happened with Oradour-sur-Glane. The SS ordered and directed the massacre of more than six hundred people who were burnt alive inside a church. But we choose to ignore that many French soldiers, under Nazi command, perpetrated that crime.
I looked for documents, read many books about the massacre in Oradour. I saw the before and after images of the town, but when I visited and spent the day among the ruins I was crushed by their dimension. It was a city, not a couple of buildings and a church. When you go there, you see the impact of the crime is so much greater. Then, there’s the cemetery where you find the graves of all the people who perished. Entire families.
The Daughter’s Tale takes on the paradoxes of love and war. For example, Amanda muses ‘she had always loved her [daughter], and that it was precisely that love which had led her to abandon her’. Do you view paradox as a central theme in the novel? Is the paradox of these moments due to the circumstances of war, or do you think paradoxes like these are simply part of the human condition?
Paradoxes are an essential part of human existence. Abandonment can be proof of love. As parents, we spend our lives sacrificing for our children. There are sacrifices that lead to loss. I don’t think I could survive it. I admire Amanda so much. She lost her parents, then her beloved library, then her husband. To save her daughters, she had to abandon them. Truly, I could not.
After Amanda sacrifices her life to save Lina’s, Lina takes over as the narrator of the novel. Discuss this transition. How do you get in the right headspace to switch character perspectives?
Lina is the hope. Lina is in essence the result of all of Amanda’s sacrifices. They were worth it because even in death, Amanda had saved Viera, even though she wasn’t certain of it at the time. But she did the best she could. The good thing is that Lina can say goodbye knowing the truth.
What is your next project?
I spent four years writing a novel, The Silence in Her Eyes, a psychological thriller. When I finished The German Girl, to give myself a break, I would work on Silence. It was my therapy, my way of returning to normalcy. When I finished The Daughter’s Tale, I went back to Silence and spent a year finishing it. It takes place in New York, in the present, in my apartment building, in my neighborhood. It begins with a twenty-eight-year-old woman who suffers from akinetopsia, a strange yet irreversible neurological illness that makes her blind to movement. She sees the world only in still images; she registers movement as trails of light. The night her mother passes away, she returns to her apartment all alone, and her world takes a turn from which she will never recover.
Now I’m taking some time to finish the last part of what I call my WWII trilogy and hopefully The Silence in Her Eyes will give my readers a respite before it comes out. Well, sort of a respite, because I’m sure that some readers won’t be able to sleep for a few days after reading it.
Armando Lucas Correa is an award-winning journalist, editor, author, and the recipient of several awards from the National Association of Hispanic Publications and the Society of Professional Journalism. He is the author of the international bestseller The German Girl, which is now being published in thirteen languages. He lives in New York City with his partner and their three children.