BookLife Talks with Jane S. Gabin
A sponsored Q&A with the author of 'The Paris Photo'One might think that Gabin’s background in academic research would make writing a work of historical fiction easy, but the debut novelist was determined to keep everything in the story historically accurate and so began a monumental task that led her to libraries in Paris.
Have you always wanted to write?
Yes, and I had been putting it off for ages. Oh, I wrote, but for the most part it was the kind of writing I had to do, about literature. I enjoyed it, especially bringing to life writers from the past. When I was in school, I was always on the newspaper or literary magazine. And then I taught and had to spend my “writing time” grading papers! Now that I have more time, I can deal with the stories that have been floating around in my head or that I started in my notebooks. But this story, about Paris, was basically left for me by my father, though he never told me a word about it. I had to do the detective work and learn what had happened in France.
What kind of research did you do to ensure historical accuracy?
I did extensive research—the book has a bibliography, in case readers want to learn more. Although I knew, of course, the basic historic outline of the military occupation of France during WWII, I needed more specifics. I used the archives of the Mémorial de la Shoah in Paris. I went to Drancy, the site of the camp from which French Jews were deported to Auschwitz. From the diary of Rabbi Judah Nadich, who was the senior chaplain of the U.S. Army in Europe during WWII, I gained a clear sense of how Paris appeared to outsiders in those first weeks of liberation. And then there was the question of what the rue de Turbigo was like in 1944. I had to look at periodicals of the time, old photos, city directories. The American soldier, Ben, gives the boy, Guy, a wristwatch; I had to make sure the watch company existed in 1944. I kept a notepad next to my computer and jotted down questions as they arose and then fact-checked myself. Therefore, I can confirm that the dates, the Nazi statutes, the rules for the Americans—all are absolutely accurate. Historical fiction re-creates the past, but it is based upon truth.
How was the writing process for The Paris Photo different from that of your nonfiction works?It was very different. In the past, I have written literary studies in which I tried to bring historical figures from the past to life. I was compelled to be completely accurate when dealing with historical events, and I could not change the truth of what happened and what was published. However, I was able to raise questions. The skills I developed as an academic researcher were well suited to the work involved in writing The Paris Photo.
Why do you think historical fiction is so compelling to readers?
I am utterly amazed at how many books there are about WWII, and there are new books still being published. I think certain periods take hold of the reading public’s imagination. A certain era means something special to them. Sometimes reading historical fiction is about escapism, wanting to get away from the present; you can lose yourself in the Regency era, or the medieval world.
Will there be more historical fiction from you in the future?
I am not finished with certain places or certain actions. Anyone who is in any way haunted by the past will find another story to tell.