“It goes on and on like this,” he said, shining his light to illuminate halls and caverns that lay ahead, all lined with bones, neatly organized. “It is extraordinary, isn’t it?”
“Yes, it is,” she said, turning around slowly, trying to take it all in despite the dim light. “The beauty, the geometry, of the bones—I’ve never seen anything like it. How far have you explored?”
“I come here several nights a week.”
“But why? Is it for school? To study bones?”
Paul suppressed a laugh. “No. Something else, which is what I brought you here to tell you. When I first arrived in Paris and began my practicum, I met some patients in the hospital, young refugees of all sorts from Germany and Eastern Europe. We talked about their lives; I liked them. One day they invited me to one of their meetings, here in the Catacombs.”
“Meetings? About what?”
“I don’t think you’ll like what I have to say.” She felt her chest tighten and her body brace. “We arrange for the smuggling of refugees out of Nazi territories and provide shelter and medical atten- tion to illegals, and we plan what we’ll do when the Nazis make it to France. That sort of thing.” He was trying to make it sound trivial, but how could he?
“Paul, I’m astounded. I had no idea. . . . You never told me.” She bit her tongue. Of course he hadn’t told her; he had known she would object.
But now she felt angry. “Why are you associating yourself with that? What you’re doing could be terribly dangerous. Don’t you know it’s safer to stay away from such activities, such people? Why do you endanger yourself, our future? Why get involved?” She heard her- self speaking like a wild shrew across the cavern and couldn’t stop.
–Excerpt from Portrait of a Woman in White
Late Night Library: Summarize your book in 10 words or fewer.
Susan Winkler: Nazi’s loot a Matisse portrait; love, art, lives in turmoil.
LNL: If this book were the lovechild of two others, who are its parents?
SW: The Hare with the Amber Eyes, by Edmund de Waal; Atonement, by Ian McEwan.
LNL: What ingredients go into the recipe of your writing style?
SW: History and dreams, reassembled and reconnected like the movement of an old clock, until they create a complete, closed, and beautiful universe…that ticks.
LNL: Name one book you wish you could read again for the first time.
SW: The Hobbit. Which is to say, I wish I could be an early reader again, open to every experience.
LNL: Answer a question you wish people would ask you about writing.
SW: “But where do your ideas, characters and stories come from? ” And then I wish I could answer that. I would tell them that those things are all worked out in my subconscious, which is constantly struggling to reorganize my universe so that it makes sense, and is ultimately satisfying.
Susan Winkler was born in Portland, Oregon and educated at Bennington College and Stanford University, L’Academie in Paris and at the University of Geneva. She was trained as a journalist and has previously authored four editions of The Paris Shopping Companion. Susan currently lives in Portland, Oregon and has a lifelong interest in art.