Open Book with Frances Bartkowski

Author Q&A

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In Frances Bartkowski's "An Afterlife" (Apprentice House), a young couple navigates World War II's aftermath. Concentration camp survivors Ruby and Ilya meet in a displaced persons camp in Germany and eventually uproot to northern New Jersey, bringing both their affection and post-traumatic stress with them. Their ability to sustain their love while adapting to this new culture and reckoning with life's meaning is at the book's core.

"'An Afterlife is a love story, one that summoned me from a past I could only imagine," Bartkowski writes on her website. "The DP camps had only recently become material for historians or writers. While not all marriages made there were love stories, they were, however, stories of those who meet and then wait ... for where their lives will begin ... again. The DP camps were a limbo, a bardo, where kinship was chosen, for the kin from before were gone, annihilated, unburied."

"An Afterlife" is Bartkowski's debut novel. She is also the author of "Feminist Utopias" (1989), "Travelers, Immigrants, Inmates" (1995) and "Kissing Cousins: A Kinship Bestiary" (2008). Beginning at 4 p.m Saturday, June 22, Bartkowski will read from her latest work at The Bookstore in Lenox. In advance of the event, the author answered some questions by email.

Q: What are some of your favorite novels set during or around World War II?

A: Patrick Modiano, "Dora Bruder"; Anne Michaels, "Fugitive Pieces"; Julie Otsuka, "When the Emperor Was Divine"; W. G. Sebald, "The Emigrants"; Philip Roth, "The Plot Against America"

Q: What is your favorite fictional love story?

A: I'm torn between Sethe and Paul D in "Beloved" by Toni Morrison, and Fonny and Tish in "If Beale Street Could Talk" by James Baldwin.

Q: What are some of the best works of feminist utopian literature published since the 1960s?

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A: It's worth saying that the dystopian is what the utopian is always distilling and reimagining. The feminist movement of the 1960's-70s energized many to imagine how else the world might be organized if women were in charge — some writers' imaginations ran wild and free.

My two favorites of the dozen novels I wrote about in my first book, "Feminist Utopias," are the most experimental in form: Monique Wittig's "Les Gu rill res," and Joanna Russ, "The Female Man."

The dystopian took the lead with the publication of Margaret Atwood, "The Handmaid's Tale," which we all know about now, three decades later, because of the Hulu series. But I would draw readers' attention to Octavia Butler's works, especially her series that begins with the "Parable of the Sower"; they are tales for our times.

Q: What are some of the best books you've read about immigration?

A: Eva Hoffman's "Lost in Translation" — as a teenager in the 1960s, she moves with her Jewish family from Poland to Canada. A favorite always has been Sandra Cisneros' "The House on Mango Street" because it captures so well the experience of outsiderness from a child's, a girl's point of view.

Q: What books are currently on your nightstand?

A: Isabella Hammad, "The Parisian"; Ocean Vuong, "On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous"; Michael Ondaatje, "Warlight"; Julia Phillips, "Disappearing Earth"; and I always want to keep Amor Towles' "A Gentleman in Moscow" on my nightstand so I can dip back into it to be transported.

Benjamin Cassidy can be reached at, at @bybencassidy on Twitter and 413-496-6251.


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