Wednesday, March 6, 2024

Q&A with Katherine Reay



Katherine Reay is the author of the new novel The Berlin Letters. Her other books include the novel A Shadow in Moscow. She lives in the Chicago area.


Q: What inspired you to write The Berlin Letters, and how did you create your characters Luisa and Haris?


A: While writing my previous novel, A Shadow in Moscow, I discovered more fascinating stories and hidden secrets, courageous acts and remarkable sacrifices, than I could use in that novel.


I also was intrigued by the Berlin Wall, both as an iconic symbol of that time and as a barrier that kept families apart for 28 years.


Take all that and my discovery of the extraordinary women codebreakers of the CIA’s Venona Project and I was off and running.


As for Luisa and Haris — they naturally came from that time and all the pressures, family secrets, and sacrifices that were swimming around daily life back then. That said, I loved giving Luisa that spark of stepping beyond codebreaking and into the role of an active CIA agent.


Both those characters came to life very quickly during the writing process and that made them fun to work with. 


Q: How did you research the novel, and what did you learn that especially surprised you?


A: I did a ton of book research, but I was also able to visit Berlin during writing. I spent six amazing days walking that city, much as Haris does, and I got a feel for its structure, layout, and how people lived while the Wall stood. It really added incredible texture to the story.


I think that surprised me the most — how my perception of their lives changed by walking those roads, even over 30 years after the Wall’s destruction.  


Q: In our previous interview, you described The Berlin Letters as “a love story, a spy story, and a story of hope that takes place across both sides of the Berlin Wall from the very day it goes up to the evening it comes down.” Can you say more about how you balanced the love story, the spy story, and the history as you wrote the novel?


A: I think at the most basic level all stories are love stories. They may not be romantic stories or even stories that turn out well for the characters, but they are about the human experience and, first and foremost, that involves love.


Of course, I added a bit of romance to this one because, well, it was fun to do.


The “spy story” was my original thread in beginning The Berlin Letters and it creates the pace and tension within the novel. I loved writing that part as it was a race in many ways, both for Luisa and me as the writer — a certain energy was created that made writing this novel pure joy.


As for history — I love it and “fact” is almost always more interesting and even shocking than fiction. That said, history and research must always support the story, never overwhelm it. I hope I achieved that balance within the final novel. 


Q: The writer Beatriz Williams said of the book, “Both deeply moving and edge-of-your-seat suspenseful, The Berlin Letters is an eloquent reminder of the brutal totalitarianism of Soviet Communism and the unsung heroes who fought to tear down the Iron Curtain and free Eastern Europe.” What do you think of that description?


A: I think it’s fairly accurate and I’m so grateful Beatriz took the time to both read the book and write such an eloquent endorsement. There are unsung heroes on both sides of the Wall who worked to bring it down and to bring people together.


And, despite the fact that the novel takes place exclusively in Berlin as its Europe center, one can never deny or dismiss the long-reaching arm of Moscow and the KGB during the Cold War era. 


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I just signed a contract for a book I titled The Forgery. Now that title may change as I’ve actually never titled any of my books beyond Dear Mr. Knightley, but I really like it so I hope it sticks.


This new story will publish sometime in early 2025 and it’s an art forgery caper that takes place in 1973 London — and I’m having a wonderful time writing it. 


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: Thank you so much for inviting me here today and I hope your readers will want to keep in touch via social media. I also hope everyone feels compelled to check out The Berlin Letters.


And — wait, there’s more — I am touring for the book this spring and hope you’ll check out my events listing on my website’s Events page. Perhaps we can meet in person. Thanks again! 


--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Katherine Reay.

No comments:

Post a Comment