The Widow Tree

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.

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