An interview with Phillip McMath, co-author

Q. How did the idea for this novel come about?

A. Nina Krupitsky was my Russian tutor. In the course of that, I began to learn bits and pieces of her amazing and moving life story. One day she took me to lunch and asked me to write a novel about her life. I declined, as I was busy finishing my novel Lost Kingdoms and helping Dad [Sid McMath] (who had become blind) finish his autobiography, Promises Kept. Nina asked me how long these would take, and I said "about two years." She then said, "I’ll wait." It turned out that Emily Lewis had researched her story and, with the understanding that I could use her work, I started writing The Broken Vase two years later.

Q. Why is the story fictionalized rather than told as an autobiography?

A. Good question. Nina said there was an extensive cottage industry of Holocaust memoirs. If nonfiction, hers would simply be another. She wanted something unique, artistic, and special, which at the same time stayed true to the essential facts. Only a roman à clef could do this. So that’s what we did.

Q. What sort of research was involved in writing the book?

A. As I mentioned, Emily Lewis had already done exhaustive research of Nina’s life. She had written this in well-organized book form and graciously agreed that I could use it. Obviously, her work was essential to me. Also, I worked a great deal in close collaboration with Nina. Moreover, I read a great deal from other sources about the war and the Holocaust -- much of that is reflected not only in the story itself but in the footnotes, which are quite detailed.

Q. Are there particular lessons you’d like readers to take from the book?

A. As to lessons, Nina says this best. In the last paragraph of her prologue, she says: "I hope my book, The Broken Vase, will help young people and become an inspiration to them. It will teach them how to build a world of love and not of hatred."

Q. Could you discuss the historical setting and how it contributes to the story?

A. The historical setting is about the greatest cataclysm in human history -- World War II and the Holocaust. I have found that fiction frequently offers intimacy without context and history the opposite, so, in the novel, I have attempted to provide both. In this regard, I have added footnotes to frame the individual narrative as standing in the foreground of a much larger canvas -- the tragedy of Miriam Kellerman, our heroine trapped in a world at war.

Q. Can you identify a particular audience for this book?

A. I think the audience for this book would be literate people possessed of a certain sensibility about history, its direction and meaning in the face of such incredible suffering, sacrifice, and courage.