My fifth novel, The Widow Tree, was released in Fall 2013. In many ways this book is a departure from my previous writing. All of my earlier books were set in Newfoundland, yet Widow is set in 1950s former Yugoslavia. While my other books had suspenseful elements, this time I made a genuine attempt at writing a mystery.
The seed for Widow came from Jozsef Deák. For many years, I listened to him tell stories about growing up in Yugoslavia. His father made furniture (and wooden high heels for shoes) and his mother was a seamstress. He remembered the struggles of war, and the complicated relationships among the people. There was hardship, but there was also plenty of laughter and joy. I asked a lot of questions, and I started to jot things down. At that point, I never imagined writing a novel about Yugoslavia.
One day he told a story that really caught my interest. His uncle had been in a government field picking corn. He drove a stick into the soil in order to hang up his lunch bag, and the stick struck something. The uncle started digging, and uncovered a clutch of Roman coins that had likely been buried for two thousand years. Instead of turning the coins over, he slipped them into his pocket and took them home. He kept them hidden for years, and eventually he left the country and moved to Germany. Jozsef explained how his uncle’s decision to keep the coins was extremely dangerous. If his uncle was caught ‘stealing from his country’, the repercussions would have been very serious. I wondered about this for a long time. Wondered about those repercussions.
I will admit the thought of writing a novel about former Yugoslavia was daunting. What if I made mistakes with the history and the culture? What if I could not capture the characters? Part of me felt like it was something I should not do, while another part (the noisier part) decided to try. Once I committed to the book, two characters bloomed inside my head (and heart). One was a widow named Gitta, and the other was her missing son’s best friend, named Dorján. I grew to know them both deeply, as though they were sitting beside me, whispering the words my ear. Their stories were messy and complicated and full of longing and despair and love. A tangle of roots hidden beneath the surface.
I hope you enjoy The Widow Tree.