Michele Zackheim is the author of four books. Born in Reno, Nevada she grew up in Compton, California. For many years she worked in the visual arts as a fresco muralist, an installation artist, print-maker, and a painter. Her work has been widely exhibited and is included in the permanent collections of The National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, D.C.; The Albuquerque Museum; The Grey Art Gallery of New York University; The New York Public Library; The Hebrew Union College Skirball Museum, and The Carlsbad Museum of Art. She has been the recipient of two NEA awards, and teaches Creative Writing from a Visual Perspective at the School of Visual Arts in New York City. Of her transition from visual artist to author she writes: “Over time, random words began to appear on my canvases…then poems…then elaborate fragments of narratives. I began to think more about writing and less about the visual world. Finally, I simply wrote myself off the canvas and onto the lavender quadrille pages of a bright orange notebook. This first book, Violette’s Embrace, was published by Riverhead Books.” That book is a fictional biography of the French writer Violette Leduc. Her second book, the acclaimed Einstein’s Daughter: The Search for Lieserl (Penguin Putnam, 1999), is a non-fiction account of the mystery of the lost illegitimate daughter of Mileva and Albert Einstein. Broken Colors (Europa Editions, 2007) is the story of an artist, whose life takes her to a place where life and art intersect. Her fourth novel, Last Train to Paris, was published in January 2014.
From Zackheim's Q & A with Valerie Hemingway at The Paris Review:
All of your books share a certain preoccupation with World War II. Why?Visit Michele Zackheim's website.
My family lived in Compton, California, an area that was declared vulnerable to an enemy attack. I was only four years old when World War II ended, but I remember small details—a brass standing lamp with a milk-glass base that was lit at night while my parents listened to the menacing news on the radio. The sound of night trains, which ran on tracks a block away. And of course—and this is hard to admit—my only sibling was born in 1944. Because I was the eldest, and because before her birth I had already experienced grim hardships, an intense sibling rivalry was born. I have to assume that she became part of my unconscious interest in war. These memories, along with the emerging news from concentration camps after the war, and my parents’ outraged and mournful whisperings in Yiddish, created an unconscious anxiety that I’ve been making work about all my adult life.
You wove the story of your cousin’s murder through your novel. Was the expansion and departure from the initial incident a natural progression for you?
I often start out writing nonfiction. But there’s a problem. It’s boring for me not to embellish—actually, it’s no fun. I did try, however, for a short time, with this book.
When I discovered that a distant relative of mine had been murdered in Paris in 1937, I was intrigued. I had discovered this story in a New Yorker essay by Janet Flanner. And then, to my surprise, I discovered that Colette and George Sand’s daughter, Aurora, was part of the story, too.
The only problem was that...[read on]
My Book, The Movie: Last Train to Paris.
Writers Read: Michele Zackheim.
The Page 69 Test: Last Train to Paris.