Radcliffe fellow Julie Orringer, author of The Invisible Bridge (Knopf, 2010) and a forthcoming novel on Varian Fry, delivered the Julia S. Phelps lecture in December at Harvard. Her topic was "Lies that tell the truth". In the talk she attempts to explain why she felt compelled to write a novel on Fry rather than a nonfiction book, but also takes a broader perspective by including her previous book - a historical novel based on the true story of a relative - her short story collection and other authors' books such as Jeffrey Eugenides's Middlesex (set in Eugenides's hometown) and Philip Roth's The Plot Against America (imagining what would have happened if Lindbergh had won the 1940 presidential election). The most compelling parts of her talk are those where she focuses on her own historical fiction, but the video is an enjoyable watch throughout.
In a later post I'll write about why I chose to write Isolde 1939 as a novel rather than a biography of the person who inspired my main character, and hopefully offer a complementary perspective to Orringer's. I'm looking forward to reading her book when it is out. I have read Villa Bel Air, about Varian Fry's activities during the war as he attempted to save Jewish refugees from the Nazis in Marseilles, and I am currently reading the biography of Albert O. Hirschman by Jeremy Adelman, Hirschman who (as it turns out) played an important role in Fry's operations under the nickname Beamish before he became a remarkable economist. There is no doubt Fry's time in Southern France, and the cast of characters involved in the rescue operation, can make a fantastic novel. Here is to hoping the book comes out soon!