Schumann’s new novel, This Terrible Beauty, a love story set after World War II on an island in the Baltic Sea, was inspired by her East German heritage. Its protagonist, Bettina Hellstrom, is forced to make heartbreaking decisions concerning love, a child and personal freedom. Schumann,
54, is also author of the novel The Forgotten Hours. She divides her time between Boston and Key West, where she is the director of the Key West Literary Seminar and Workshops.
What books are you reading? Currently, I’m working on a first draft of another novel, so when I’m in this stage of writing, I read books around the topic I am interested in as I find my way. I’m reading Madame Bovary (by Gustave Flaubert). The book is woven into my novel. I am loving it even more this time than I did the first time. I’m also reading The Ice Storm by Rick Moody.
The books concern such different times.
Yes, they certainly do. Madame Bovary is looking at a woman who is struggling to find her way and purpose in an era when the cultural norm is shifting. She is trapped. My new book is set in 1969. There is a shift in the culture at that period, too, and in women’s behavior. Also, my main character becomes obsessed with Madame Bovary, so that’s why I have that one. Then, I am reading Ice Storm to see how the writer wrote about an era in recent history. It was more for craft. Rick Moody did some things that were powerful to me. The first is the incredible specificity of his writing. When he describes the environment and situations, he is incredibly specific, and yet he manages to fold in details that add to the story. Secondly, his psychological insight is amazing. There is an ironic tone to the book, yet there’s still a certain tenderness about the characters, the flawed characters, that I really appreciate.
I also have one more book, The Forger’s Apprentice by Mark Forgy. It’s about an art forger in Ibiza, an island in Spain. It was an important island in the 1960s. It was a hotbed of different classes and cultures. It was somewhat of a Petri dish of what was going on in the world at that time.