When a Novel Tells the Truth

“We live lives based on selected fictions.”
Lawrence Durrell, Balthazar

With our first title, You, Fascinating You, continuing to draw raves, and our second and third moving briskly through the pipeline, time and again this blog—Selected Fictions, we call it—has been placed on hold. We would like to think our books speak for us. If books are to find readers, however, they must be spoken about and that’s what we intend to do here.

As a micro-publisher dedicated to smart readers, Pale Fire Press looks for unforgettable stories and writing that is a cut above. In our list leader, You, Fascinating You, author Germaine Shames marries the two. Based on a true story and meticulously researched, You, Fascinating You has been named “Editor’s Choice” by the Historical Novel Society.

The book has an epic backstory:

In 1944 at the height of the worst carnage the world has known, a mother in Budapest, Hungary put her only son, then seven years old, out on the street with a pillow, a last morsel of bread, and the boy’s baptismal certificate. The mother was Jewish, the son Catholic.

Fifty years later the son, Cesare Frustaci—by that time an American citizen with a family of his own—contributed a video-taped oral history to Yale University and then sent the tape to author Germaine Shames. It told the story of his mother, ballerina Margit Wolf, who, banished from the stage by Mussolini, inspired a timeless love song only to fade from history without a trace.

Many readers have asked why Shames chose to tell this story as a novel.

“Following years of research,” the author explains, “questions about my protagonist’s personal life remained unanswered. Had I written a nonfiction account of the story or a biography of its protagonist, the reader would have been left to mull the same enigmas that kept me awake nights. As a storyteller it became increasingly clear that I needed to bring the reader behind closed doors into those private corners where drama finds its fullest expression.”

We believe Shames made the right choice. To quote a recent review, the novel makes history “achingly personal.”

But doesn’t the novel also lie?

“Regarding the story’s authenticity,” says Shames, “anything of historical import in You, Fascinating You is true, and anything fictionalized serves a higher truth and purpose.”

Readers deserve nothing less—and they know when an author hasn’t reached high enough. Publishers live for those rare moments when a book rises up from the slush pile and transports us. You, Fascinating You is one such marvel.

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