In order to create the characters in my novels, I collect stories. It’s like being a collage artist, or maybe more like a bird building a nest with twigs, grasses, old feathers, bits of twine, and other scraps. I find these stories in history books, memoirs, letters and documentary films. For all three of my novels so far, I have had the good fortune of talking with people who lived through the events that I am dramatizing in my fiction.
When I was in Paris doing research for ALL THE LIGHT THERE WAS, an Armenian friend named Hagop was my “fixer,” for which I am forever indebted. He located for me an Armenian woman who was seven years old when the German troops had marched down the Rue de Belleville. She told me how her family had briefly hidden one of her schoolmates whose family had been taken during the infamous Vel d’Hiv roundup of Jews in July 1942. Hagop and I went to visit an Armenian nonagenarian who had been an amateur actor in the Parisian Armenian community theater and a member of the Hunchak (Communist) resistance. He repeated several times the story of an Allied bomb that had gone astray in his Paris neighborhood, upending a rabbit hutch and killing his wife. He repeated, almost in wonder, “My wife was dead, but all the rabbits were still alive.” Hagop also arranged a meeting with Arsène Tchakarian, one of the last surviving members of the Manouchian Groupe, the Communist resistance network of immigrant workers immortalized in “L’Affiche Rouge.” Tchakarian has devoted his life to documenting the work and the lives of his friend Missak Manouchian and other members of the Resistance who were executed by the Nazis at Mont Valérien.
These stories and many others were in my head as I sat down to write in the voice of Maral Pegorian, the protagonist and narrator of ALL THE LIGHT THERE WAS.
October 2, 2012