Ann Mah is the author of the new novel The Lost Vintage. She has also written the novel Kitchen Chinese and the memoir Mastering the Art of French Eating. Her work has appeared in a variety of publications, including Condé Nast Traveler and Vogue.com. She is based in Paris and Washington, D.C.
Q: You’ve noted that the inspiration for this novel came from your own work at a wine harvest in France. How did you come up with the idea for your character Kate and her family?
A: I've always been fascinated by professional craftsmen and women who strive to become the very best in their field.
When I learned about the rigorous Master of Wine distinction, it immediately seemed like the perfect way to explore the crossroads of ambition and personal life that affects so many people these days. While Kate is always striving, her French family is almost purposefully unambitious, which she finds both charming and maddening.
Q: The book includes sections set in the present, and chapters from another character’s World War II-era diary. Did you write the novel in the order in which it appears, or did you move chapters around as you wrote?
A: I wrote it mostly as it appears – though I tend to write short, so after the first draft I found myself needing to add diary segments to flesh out Hélène's story.
Q: You write, “I think a lot of regret and shame about the war still lingers in France.” Did you hear many stories that were reminiscent of the events you describe in the novel?
A: I do not ever enquire about the war among French acquaintances. I wouldn't say the subject is exactly taboo – but over 70 years later, it's still sensitive.
The truth is, France was occupied and a lot of people collaborated – perhaps not actively, but definitely passively. It was a matter of survival and it has caused many scars.
Q: How much research did you need to do to write the book?
A: Along with reading stacks of books about World War II, I took wine classes with the Wine and Spirits Education Trust (WSET), which administers the Master of Wine program.
I wanted to write about wine accurately, and their courses were excellent preparation. It's a very rigorous and competitive program, with blind tastings and exams. I'm proud to say that I received my qualification with distinction!
Q: What are you working on now?
A: A cookbook! My dad sent me an Instant Pot last year and I fell in love with it. I was surprised to learn that French home cooks have been using pressure cookers for decades.
My cookbook, Instantly French, offers quick and easy French recipes designed for the multifunctional pressure cooker, from boeuf bourguignon to molten chocolate cake. It'll be out in September.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Ann Mah.