anneraeffcredit-dennishearneYour work is very tied to history and to the effects of cataclysmic, violent events on individual lives. Can you talk a little bit about the role of history in your fiction and fiction in general?

We are all shaped by the past, by our individual experiences and by the combined experience of all human beings. That is what history is. In Spanish the word for “history” and “story” are the same, which makes sense to me. I think I am especially conscious of “history” as “story” and “story” as “history” because of the history/story of my family and also because my father was a historian, so I grew up learning a lot of what we call “history” while at the same time I was learning my parents’ and grandparents’ “stories,” especially those that intersected so dramatically with the Holocaust, war and revolution, all of which are considered part of “history.” For me they were part of the same narrative. What I try to do in my fiction is what all fiction tries to do—evoke the connection between individual lives and the narrative of humanity.

Raeff_JungleAroundUs.inddThe Doctors’ Daughter

“Don’t forget to feed the chickens,” Pepa’s parents told her when they left for the jungle to take care of the yellow fever victims. As if she could forget such a thing. Wasn’t she the one who took care of them, who collected the eggs, swept up the droppings, slit their throats with the scalpel her father had given her for this very purpose? If she had forgotten to feed the chickens, they would have come pecking at the back door, would have jumped onto the kitchen windowsill and poked their beaks between the louvers. How could she possibly forget to feed the chickens?

The chickens had been Pepa’s idea, after all. Her parents had not approved at first. “What do we know about keeping chickens?” they said. But they seemed to forget that in the beginning they had not known any of it. They had not known how to cook beans, had not known the taste of fried bananas or the Spanish word for rice, had not known how to hang mosquito netting or the sound of monkeys screaming in the night or that you had to bribe the health inspectors as well as hide the water cistern when they came around every so often looking for what they called “standing water.”