Behind The Book With Pam Jenoff

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Behind The Book With Pam Jenoff 

My latest Behind The Book Q&A is with New York Times Bestselling author of historical fiction Pam Jenoff. I did a Q&A with Pam last summer and she briefly spoke about her now recent release Code Name Sapphire, which came out on February 7th of this year which will be discussed in this edition of Behind The Book. 

Q: Pam when we did the regular Q&A last summer you told us a little bit about Code Name Sapphire which is a true story about the attempt to sabotage the train heading to Auschwitz.  How did you come across this little known part of history? 

A: I don’t write real peoples’ stories, instead I look for history to build a world around. I am also looking for what I call the “gasp.” If I find a story so untold that, after a quarter century of working with the war, makes me gasp, I hope I’m onto something about which readers will feel the same way. I found out about a Nazi train headed from Belgium to Auschwitz with a group of young people intent on stopping it. They wanted to break into it and free the people inside. There is a wonderful non-fiction book titled The Twentieth Train by Marion Schreiber that has the real-life data. I was so amazed by this. I wondered why more people had not done this.

Q: What was the research process like for the book? 

A:  I’m what I call a “contemporaneous” researcher. I only need so much to get starts and then I research on a need-to-know- basis as I write. This is more efficient because, to me, research and writing brain are different parts of the day. I use a wide range of sources, periodicals, memoirs, photos, maps, correspondence, books, etc.  Then I try to weave in the history in a way that still lets the story flow.

Q: Were the characters of Micheline, Hannah and Lily loosely taken from actual resistance fighters? Were you able to talk to any of the actual people who attempted to pull this attempt off? 

A:  All of my characters are fictitious.  But the Sapphire Line was inspired by the real life Comet Line and its leader, Andree de Jongh, was a partial inspiration for Micheline.

Q: What lessons do you hope readers will get reading Code Name Sapphire? 

A: I would like readers of all of my books to stand in the shoes of my protagonist and ask what they would have done in such difficult circumstances.  I also hope that by seeing people from different walks of life come together to survive, it will help people to feel less of the division and otherness so present in society today.