Image cred­it: Mon­i­ca J. Balson

In advance of the 68th Annu­al Nation­al Jew­ish Book Awards cer­e­mo­ny on March 5th, 2019 (which you can buy tick­ets for here), Jew­ish Book Coun­cil is shar­ing short inter­views with the win­ners in each category.

Ronald H. Balson’s The Girl from Berlin is the win­ner of the 2018 Miller Fam­i­ly Book Club Award in Mem­o­ry of Helen Dunn Wein­stein and June Keit Miller. Balson’s nov­el cen­ters around a sev­en­ty-eight-year old woman, Gabrielle, who is fac­ing evic­tion from her Tus­can vil­la by one of Italy’s largest wine pro­duc­ers. Her nephew hires a Chica­go lawyer and pri­vate inves­ti­ga­tor to help her keep her home. A hand­writ­ten mem­oir from the 1930s enters the pic­ture; it holds the key to resolv­ing the mys­tery of Gabrielle’s emo­tion­al attach­ment to the prop­er­ty, and the right­ful own­er­ship of the vil­la and land. The Book Club pan­el judges write that The Girl from Berlin is a fast-mov­ing, sus­pense­ful and well-researched nov­el that illu­mi­nates the cru­el­ty and hor­ror of Nazi Ger­many and the hero­ism of ordi­nary people.”

Which three Jew­ish writ­ers, dead or alive, would you most like to have din­ner with?

Elie Wiesel, for his wis­dom and poignant mem­o­ries. Leon Uris, to dis­cuss how he researched and cre­at­ed his sto­ries. Jake Tap­per, because of the clever things he would say.

What’s your favorite book that no one else has heard of?

There is no such book. I love old Joan Did­ion books. I read them when my prose gets stiff and I need a new voice.

Which Jew­ish writ­ers work­ing today do you admire most?

Not a fair ques­tion. Who to leave in, who to leave out? There are so many excel­lent Jew­ish writers.

What are you read­ing right now?

Main­ly research on a new book. On the side I’m read­ing Eunice by Eileen McNa­ma­ra, and Big Fel­la by Jane Leavy.

What are your great­est cre­ative influ­ences (oth­er than books)?

(Do my eight chil­dren count? Can I say that?) OK, then it would be music.

What do you hope read­ers will take away from your book?

I hope my read­ers will gain a bet­ter under­stand­ing of how the grad­ual impact of Naz­i­fi­ca­tion affect­ed artis­tic life in Berlin, and ulti­mate­ly Italy as well. I also hope read­ers will appre­ci­ate that the issue of Nazi seizures and con­fis­ca­tions con­tin­ues through the present day.