It is our stop on The Lives Before Us book blog tour. Written by Juliet Conlin who also wrote The Uncommon Life Of Alfred Warner In Six Days which I absolutely loved. You can read that review here. Today I have a book feature with an interview with Juliet and coming soon my full review of The Lives Before Us will be on the blog.
The Lives Before Us by Juliet Conlin
Back of the Book
“I wasn’t sure I liked the sound of it. Even my vivid imagination could hardly fathom a place as tight, or dense, or narrow as Shanghai.”
It’s April 1939 and, with their lives in Berlin and Vienna under threat, Esther and Kitty – two very different women – are forced to make the same brutal choice. Flee Europe, or face the ghetto, incarceration, death.
Shanghai, they’ve heard, Shanghai is a haven – and so they secure passage to the other side of the world. What they find is a city of extremes – wealth, poverty, decadence and disease – and of deep political instability. Kitty has been lured there with promises of luxury, love, marriage – but when her Russian fiancé reveals his hand she’s left to scratch a vulnerable living in Shanghai’s nightclubs and dark corners. Meanwhile, Esther and her little girl take shelter in a house of widows until the protection of Aaron, Esther’s hot-headed former lover, offers new hope of survival.
Then the Japanese military enters the fray and violence mounts. As Kitty’s dreams of escape are dashed, and Esther’s relationship becomes tainted, the two women are thrown together in the city’s most desperate times. Together they must fight for a future for the lives that will follow theirs.
Juliet Conlin was born in London and grew up in England and Germany. She holds an MA in Creative Writing from Lancaster University and a PhD in Psychology from the University of Durham. She works as a writer and translator and lives with her husband and four children in Berlin. She writes in both English and German. Her novels include ‘The Fractured Man’ (Cargo, 2013), ‘The Uncommon Life of Alfred Warner in Six Days’ (Black & White Publishing, 2017) and, most recently, ‘The Lives Before Us’ (Black & White Publishing, 2019). Subscribe to Juliet’s newsletter, NOTES FROM BERLIN, http://www.julietconlin.com/notes-from-berlin.
Where did the inspiration come from for your new release?
A couple of years ago, I read about a Jewish ghetto in 1940’s Shanghai. I had never heard of this before, and it resulted in many months’ worth of research, including a trip to Shanghai and a crash course in Mandarin. I had also wanted to write about a female friendship for a long time, so this developed into the story of Kitty and Esther.
My research into the Shanghai Jewish ghetto coincided with the refugee crisis in 2015, when over a million refugees came to Germany. For several months, I worked as a volunteer at the largest refugee reception centre in Berlin (my adopted home city) – an experience that gave me an insight into the courage and determination of human beings when faced with unspeakable trauma and adversity. These people’s stories were heart-breaking and inspiring in equal measure, and made me want to do justice to the experiences of refugees, past and present.
How does it feel to know your characters are out and about in reader’s imaginations?
It’s incredibly exciting! Having lived with them for so long, it’s wonderful to know that readers will have the opportunity to get to know them, too. Characters are created not just in the author’s imagination, but also in the reading: every reader brings their own individual set of expectations to a book and its characters, which explains why two different readers can have two completely different views of the same novel. I love hearing from readers, so I’m looking forward to finding out what they think about Kitty, Esther and Yì.
Do you miss writing about them?
In a way, yes, because I’ve spent so much time with them. But there is a point when it feels right to say goodbye. I tend to become quite attached to all my characters, and I was particularly fond of Kitty, whose life has been anything but easy, and who undergoes a large personal transformation when she finally begins to believe in herself. One of the central themes of the novel is that of how to retain hope in the face of adversity, and Kitty’s strength and resilience are remarkable. Another favourite character is the young Chinese boy, Wing, whose story made me cry when I wrote it – I don’t want to give away any spoilers, so you have to read it to find out why!
What was your publishing journey highlight?
Receiving the email from my agent, Jenny Brown, saying she’d love to work with me was definitely a highlight. But it is always a fresh pleasure when I get to hold the physical copy of a new book in my hands – it is exciting every time!
What was the last book that made you laugh out loud?
Tough question, as I don’t often read comedy (though perhaps I should more often!) Kate Atkinson is very witty and her books are always a real treat.
What was the last book that made you cry?
I am not easily moved to tears, but these three books have made me cry:
“Jane Eyre” (Charlotte Brontё), “The Remains of the Day” (Kazuo Ishiguro), and “A Star Called Henry” (Roddy Doyle).
If you were on an island for a year what two books would you bring?
I would bring a blank notepad and a pen, to use the time for writing (I’m assuming I get to be on the island on my own!), and a copy of the Bible. This sounds cliché, but the Bible has the best stories and spans every genre – fantasy, crime, dystopia, mystery and, of course, romance.
Lastly, what is your favourite book quote? This is not from a book, but from a writer, and I find it very inspiring.
“Whatever you’re meant to do, do it now. The conditions are always impossible.” – Doris Lessing
My thanks to Juliet Conlin and Black and White for the opportunity to be on the blog tour.
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