VIRTUAL INTERVIEWS ANAM CARA™ presents writer Murray Pura author of The White Birds of Morning:
VI: You have several novels out and two volumes of short stories as well as a number of works of non-fiction. In addition, two more books of fiction are due to be released by US publishers in January 2012. Where does The White Birds of Morning fit into the program?
PURA: It's the sequel to the novel Zo that was released in 2008. Both of the books are part of a series of novels dealing with the Chornavka family. Zo covers the years from 1911-1932 and White Birds covers the years 1932-1943.
VI: Without giving too much away, how do the two books tie into each other and what is White Birds about?
PURA: Both books are based on the lives of two of my aunts. One was a strong Communist in her earlier years and the other a devout Catholic. It was difficult growing up with them because you could never invite them to the same family gathering at the same time or there would be conflict. And not simply because of their different beliefs. They just plain didn't like one another. So I took this conflict and went back to the beginning of the 20th century and made a story out of it. It's not biography though. I just use the basic framework of their lives to tell the tale - it's a work of fiction after all. But it's built around the relationship between the two sisters.
VI: Zo was about the Vatican wanting to canonize one of these sisters.
PURA: Right. The Catholic sister is a candidate for sainthood. So an emissary from Rome comes to question the sole surviving brother who happens to be ending his years as a Trappist at a monastery in America. He is not happy about the Vatican's plans and is very hostile towards the emissary and his questions about his sister's life. Her name is Zoya, Zo for short.
VI: So how does White Birds pick up on the story?
PURA: We are still looking at the lives of the two sisters. But we spend more time with the brother who is telling the story whose name is Andrew. He falls in love and while all sorts of terrible things are going on around him - Naziism, Stalinism, world war - his love endures and gives him something to hold onto.
VI: What about the sisters?
PURA: In real life, the Communist sister brought her family to the Soviet Union to help Stalin and, in true revolutionary spirit, save the world. And she ran into some pretty shocking things that Stalin and the Soviet Communists were doing that the newspapers of the day, including The New York Times that had reporters there, weren't talking about. So in White Birds we have the Communist sister doing the same thing - bringing her family to the USSR to make sure the Communist Revolution surges forward and running into a brick wall of Soviet atrocities.
VI: You say the book runs through to 1943 so how does the Second World War figure in the story?
PURA: The Communist sister is there when the Germans invade, living in Ukraine. By the time the German Army comes, in 1941, the Ukrainians welcome them with open arms. Stalin has been so cruel to the Ukrainian people that Hitler and his Third Reich look good to them - at first.
VI: Does White Birds center around the dynamic between the two sisters?
PURA: It's always there, and the Catholic sister winds up in the USSR as well. But in White Birds we look at the whole world through the eyes of the brother who is telling the story and we hear his struggles not only with Russian and German atrocities but atrocities done by people who say they are religious or spiritual. Some of them are SS. Some are death camp guards. Some ship innocent people off to Stalin's labor camps in Siberia. And he tries to reconcile their beliefs about Jesus with what they are doing to other people. He discovers that it is not only Christians who are doing these things but Buddhists and Muslims as well and not only religious people but atheists and agnostics. He realizes it is a human race thing. So, on the one hand, the Vatican is still probing into his sister's life and whether there were miracles and, on the other hand, the brother is trying to figure out who really are the saints and who really are the sinners.
VI: Are all the believers hypocrites?
PURA: No, of course not. That is what makes Andrew's struggle so sharp. One of those closest to him, a niece named Zhanna Yeva, truly embodies the spirit of Jesus Christ while all around her others do not. She is a light and an inspiration to him during a very dark time. I guess the reader is invited to choose what they think constitutes a good person or a spiritual person or a true Christian. Who are the saints, so to speak. What sort of people really bring light into the world and what sort of faith in humanity or faith in God really makes a difference?
VI: And all wrapped up in a love story and a romance?
PURA: Love doesn't stop even when there is war and cruelty and darkness. That is one of the great blessings of the human race - an ability to love and forgive and hope and seek for something more true and more real no matter what else is going on.
VI: So is White Birds a book of hope?
PURA: Yes - of honesty about what humanity is capable of on the dark side, but great hope about what humanity is capable of on the love side.
VI: Before we go, I want to mention that you have two new works of fiction being released on January 1st, 2012. One is with Barbour Publishing and the other with Harvest House Publishers. Are these volumes going to be different than The White Birds of Morning?
PURA: Quite different. But still stories of love, courage and faith in the midst of great struggles and challenges.
VI: Well, we look forward to discussing those two titles with you in the fall. All the best with your writing plans for the summer months.
PURA: Thank you very much.
VIRTUAL INTERVIEWS ANAM CARA™ plans to interview author Murray Pura about his two new books in September, 2011. His other works of fiction presently include Mizzly Fitch, Zo, Mister Good Morning and The Poets of Windhover Marsh. Recent non-fiction includes the books Rooted and Streams, both published by Zondervan. He has been a finalist for the Dartmouth Book Award, the John Spencer Hill Literary Award and the Kobzar Literary Award.
The White Birds of Morning is published by Windhover Marsh, an imprint of Clements Publishing of Toronto. It was released in April 2011 and, if not on the shelf, can be ordered through your favorite bookstore or online through Amazon.