Five Questions for Hannah Colby


Today is the US release date for A Place of Springs, the sweeping epic novel from author Hannah Colby. Published by Unicorn Publishing Group in the UK, the novel is now available for American readers, and is highly recommended as a masterpiece of “love, loss, and the transcendent power of music.” I am so enjoying this novel – the writing is first-rate and you are transported into the lives of Daniel and Irena. I do highly recommend it.

A Place of Springs

Q. Tell us a little about yourself. I was born in Norwich (about 100 miles northeast of London) during World War II. My parents divorced and my brother and I were brought up in London by our mother.  She was an artist, and taught me to paint and draw, a little easel set up beside her own. At 17, I went to Paris, first to a traditional “finishing school,” then to study French Civilization at the Sorbonne.

I’ve written this novel under the pen name Colby – my maternal grandmother’s maiden name. She was an American from Newton Center, Boston, who married a highlander from the Isle of Skye.

I married young, had four children, and continued to paint. My first husband and I set up a day center for young disabled adults, which I ran for seven years. My present husband and I lived in London and southwest France until we moved to Norwich. Six years ago I began to write the novel that has become A Place of Springs.

Q. What inspired you to write A Place of SpringsThe inspiration came from a lifetime of interests and experiences which seemed to demand expression. First, the horror and shame of the siege of Sarajevo between 1992 and 1995 and all the appalling violence of the Balkan Wars. Then, a legacy of my London school, where I studied the piano and viola, my joy of classical music.

The story began to take shape when I was attending a creative writing course. From a collection of photographs, I picked up one of a young girl playing the violin. Without knowing anything about her, I decided she was Irena from Sarajevo, and wrote a short story for my homework. I continued to write about Irena and Daniel for the next six years.

Q. Can you tell us a little about the book? A Place of Springs follows the fortunes and misfortunes of concert pianist Daniel Danuczek, from the time he goes to teach at the Sarajevo Conservatory the year before the siege of that city in 1992. He lodges with Adam and Finola Vidaković and their young daughter, Irena. The tranquil opening chapters end when Daniel must return to London and the peace that Sarajevo has known is shattered.

Having had no news of his friends, Daniel returns to war-torn Bosnia. He learns that Adam and Finola are dead and Irena has disappeared.  Finding her becomes an obsession as he comes and goes between London and Sarajevo. His quest ends abruptly on his hotel balcony when he is shot by a sniper.

Daniel’s injuries force him to re-evaluate his career and change much about his playing if he is to return to the concert platform. His sister and his agent play important parts in his painful and emotional recovery. The main part of the book is written in three voices: the narrator’s, Irena’s, and that of Sam, one of Daniel’s pupils. During this time, Irena’s aunt writes from New York, where she is caring for Irena, now very changed after two years of brutal and abusive captivity.

This is, of course, a love story, but it is played out against a background of several elements. Music is a constant theme, as are ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion, and friendship.

To me, this book is about acceptance, forgiveness, courage, and the artist’s dedication to his art. But above all, its subject is healing.

Q. What genres do you like to read? I mainly read art history, ‘pop’ science and psychology, nineteenth and twentieth century novels, modern poetry, cookery, and travel books.

Q. Do you have a “Top Ten” or “Top Five” book list? This is difficult, but here are some that spring to mind:

  • Middlemarch (George Eliot)
  • Jude the Obscure (Thomas Hardy)
  • Fortunes of War (Olivia Manning)
  • Alexandria Quartet (Laurence Durrell)
  • Short Stories (Katherine Mansfield)
  • My Mother’s House (Colette)
  • The Pursuit of Love (Nancy Mitford)
  • A Room of One’s Own (Virginia Woolf)
  • The Glass Room (Simon Mawer)
  • The Unbearable Lightness of Being (Milan Kundera)
  • Flaubert’s Parrot (Julian Barnes)
  • The Color Purple (Alice Walker)  [note: my favorite!!]
  • The Jews (Roger Peyrefitte)
  • Midnight’s Children (Salman Rushdie)
  • Things Fall Apart (Chinua Achebe)

You can purchase a copy of A Place of Springs here

Paris Between the Wars – “T” is for Tristan Tzara


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Between 1919 and 1939, Paris experienced a cultural and intellectual boom. This blog will feature artists, writers, composers, musicians, and designers. Paris was at its cultural peak.

Tristan Tzara, by Robert Delaunay
Tristan Tzara, by Robert Delaunay

Born Samuel Rosenstock in Romania, Tristan Tzara was an avant-garde playwright, poet, essayist, performance artist, journalist, art director, composer, film director. He is best known for being one of the central figures of the Dada movement, formed during WWI in Zurich in negative reaction to the horrors of war.

He moved to Paris in 1919 and joined the staff of Littérature magazine, bringing a skill in managing events and audiences, which transformed literary gatherings into public performances that generated enormous publicity. As the cohesiveness of the Dada movement in Paris was disintegrating, Tzara published Le coeur à barbe (The Bearded Heart).

From 1930 to 1935, Tzara contributed to the definition of surrealist activities and ideology. He was also an active communist sympathizer and was a member of the Resistance during the German occupation of Paris.

To Make a Dadaist Poem, by Tristan Tzara

Take a newspaper.

Take some scissors.

Choose from this paper an article the length you want to make your poem.

Cut out the article.

Next carefully cut out each of the words that make up this article and put them all in a bag.

Shake gently.

Next take out each cutting one after the other.

Copy conscientiously in the order in which they left the bag.

The poem will resemble you.

And there you are – an infinitely original author of charming sensibility, even though unappreciated by the vulgar herd.

 

Paris Between the Wars – “K” is for Rina Ketty


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Between 1919 and 1939, Paris experienced a cultural and intellectual boom. This blog will feature artists, writers, composers, musicians, and designers. Paris was at its cultural peak.

Rina Ketty
Rina Ketty

Rina Ketty, who was born Cesarina Picchetto in Italy, is best known for recording the song J’attendrai” (“I will wait”). In the 1930s, she went to Paris to live with aunts and was enchanted by the artist communities in Montmartre. Rina fell in love with the cabarets and began singing there in 1934. In 1936, she recorded her first songs on the Pathé record label, but really didn’t achieve any success until 1938, just before the outbreak of World War II.

“J’attendrai” was a translation of an Italian song that had been popular for an Italian singer the previous year. It became emblematic for the war, much like “Lili Marlene” or “We’ll Meet Again.”

With the Nazi occupation, Rina kept a low profile and performed only in Switzerland until after the war. Her success was greatly diminished, however, and she and her husband moved to Cannes to open a restaurant. Rina Ketty died in 1996 in Cannes.