What would be your two-line summary of The Girl from Krakow?
The Girl From Krakow," is a thriller that explores how a young woman and her lover navigate the dangerous thirties, the firestorm of war in Europe, and how they make sense of their survival. The story spans from Paris in the ’30s and Spain’s Civil War to Moscow, Warsaw, and the heart of Nazi Germany.
What led you to writing about The Girl from Krakow?
I wanted to use the narrative to develop and illustrate themes from another book, The Atheist’s Guide to Reality. But my agent and editor cut most of that leaving a great story.
Why is so important for us to consider still what happened in that era?
In order to grasp the meaning of the human condition. But see my answer to the question below.
How does this narrative relate to The Atheist’s Guide to Reality?
In The Atheist’s Guide I argued that we need to understand human history as a process of blind variation and natural selection operating on motivations, beliefs, values, desires in people’s heads, a process that deprives history of meaning, especially narrative meaning. In The Girl from Krakow I tried to illustrate that thesis without arguing for it. Few people have recognized the thesis in the novel. They get distracted by the dramatic narrative.
Tell us a little about how you researched for your book The Girl from Krakow.
Actually, I did no research. A lifetime of reading around the subject of 20th century history was enough. I also edited my mother’s war memoirs, To Tell At Last (University of Illinois Press, 1992), which gave me the bones of the narrative, but not exactly the plot of The Girl From Krakow.
How do you reconcile your role as an academic to writing a novel set at this fascinating time?
I don't treat my novels, The Girl from Krakow, or Autumn in Oxford as academic accomplishments. I continue to write academic papers and books in my own subject, philosophy of science. Fortunately I have enough time and energy to do both, plus teach and supervise grad students.