Open book with Roberta Silman

GREAT BARRINGTON — Roberta Silman's latest novel, "Secrets and Shadows" (Campden Hill Books; $24), explores World War II's enduring impact on humanity. In the book, the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 inspires a New York lawyer, Paul, to return to the city where he experienced unspeakable traumas as a child.

His secrets from that time ruined his marriage, but that doesn't stop him from inviting his former wife, Eve, along for the journey. Memories and a path to forgiveness emerge — eventually.

"The novel's pacing is almost excruciatingly slow, but that's what this study demands, as it allows the author to dig deeply into Paul's pain and his relationship with Eve," a Kirkus starred review of the book said.

Though Silman has published four novels, her most acclaim has come in the short fiction realm. In 1974, Silman's story titled, "A Bad Baby," about a couple suffering through the period before their infant's death, won the National Magazine Award for fiction.

"I want to emphasize that I am a short story writer as well as a novelist, and I started as a short story writer because it was easier to write short stories when I was bringing up small children," Silman said. "You could kind of see the end of the work."

The author and her husband are part-time Berkshire County residents; they have owned a home in Great Barrington since 1972, but also reside in South Boston.

"There's enough quiet, and yet, there's enough stimulation," Silman said of composing in the Berkshires.

These days, Silman writes book reviews for The Arts Fuse, an online Boston arts magazine. She answered The Eagle's questions by phone before the release of "Secrets and Shadows" on Monday. Her responses have been edited for length.

What is your favorite work of Holocaust


I would've said before rereading it that "Sophie's Choice" (William Styron) was right up there. ("I was a little disappointed," she said of a recent read.) ... I'll tell you what I was extremely impressed with recently. It's a very small book, and I think he did a fabulous job. He's someone I've met and is in the Berkshires: Jim Shepard's "The Book of Aron" really impressed me. It's about a child. It's a small book but has [a] huge amount of resonance. It's about a small boy in the Warsaw ghetto.

What is your favorite work of historical


I'm a big [Leo] Tolstoy fan, so we might say "War and Peace." I really do love the classics. I think that that's where the history of the world is really written. So, I would have to say that that was probably my favorite.

What is your favorite short story?

I think a lot of short story writers love "The Dead" (James Joyce), and my favorite comment used to be to a couple of editors I had when I was young. They would send back a rejection, and I'd say to them, 'You know, I could've sent you 'The Dead,' and you would've rejected it.' But I do love Joyce. I have a favorite short story that not many people know about that is a fabulous short story by James Baldwin. And it's called, "This Morning, This Evening, So Soon." I love this story. I found it in a small magazine when I was young, and I just realized, and I was thrilled, that the Library of America has published it in one of the volumes of his fiction. So, it's out there, and people can read it. It's a wonderful short story. I also happen to love William Trevor. I think he's a great short story writer. [He] probably deserved the Nobel Prize more than Alice Munro did, but she got it because she was a woman. There's a favorite story in his work that is just superb. And that's called, "The News from Ireland."

(Note: When later asked to further explain her comparison of Trevor and Munro, Silman said she believes that the Nobel Prize award decision-making process can be "political," noting that different countries need to be recognized. While she feels that Munro is a "wonderful writer," she said that Trevor's "The News from Ireland" and other works examine more topics. "I think Trevor had a much broader range," she said.)

What's the best short story that you've read recently?

I was 40 when I got my MFA (Sarah Lawrence College), so I was an old lady going back to Sarah Lawrence, and my teacher was Grace Paley. ... She was a wonderful short story writer. She's a wonderful teacher. ... I recently reread Grace Paley's story, "Goodbye and Good Luck," and I loved it.

What is your favorite children's book?

I love a book called "Tell Me a Mitzi" by Lore Segal. ... I love [Maurice] Sendak. I think Sendak was a great writer. ... I have grandchildren, and we all read ["The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy" by Jeanne Birdsall], which are like a wonderful take on "Little Women" [by Louisa May Alcott], a modern take.

What is your favorite book set in


When I think of Massachusetts, I think of "The Scarlet Letter" (Nathaniel Hawthorne). ... And, of course, the other person in Massachusetts that is important to me is Emily Dickinson. For a fiction writer, I do read a lot of poetry. A lot of fiction writers don't read poetry, but I do.

What books are

currently on your nightstand?

I'll give you a [few] favorites. I love the work of [the late] Kent Haruf. ... I currently was rereading "Plainsong." That's an older book. I also wanted to mention ... an English writer who also died young, unfortunately, named Helen Dunmore, whose work, I think, is fabulous. She has not gotten the kind of attention in this country that she should. And I loved her book[s], "Exposure" and "The Betrayal." And the third book is very new. ... It's a story about (the author, a Bard College professor) teaching "The Odyssey" (Homer), and his dad comes to his class. He's a classicist, and his father decided he wants to come to his class that he teaches at Bard. It's a story, really, about fathers and sons, just like "The Odyssey" is. It's a wonderful new book. (The book is called "An Odyssey: A Father, a Son, and an Epic" by Daniel Mendelsohn.)

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


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