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Powell's Q&A

Sara Houghteling

Describe your latest project.
Pictures at an Exhibition, my first novel, tells the story of a family of Parisian Jewish art dealers whose art collection is looted during World War II. Much of it is based on real stories of people I met in France and on the historical documents that remain after the war.

  1. Pictures at an Exhibition
    $7.95 Used Hardcover add to wishlist

    Pictures at an Exhibition

    Sara Houghteling
    "Houghteling dazzlingly recreates the horrors of war, and it's the small, smart details...that make one uncommon family's suffering all the more powerful." Publishers Weekly

    "Houghteling's vivid descriptions of paintings and their power add to the allure of this impressive debut novel." Booklist

    "Houghteling received a Fulbright to study paintings that went missing during the war, and the detail shines through in this first novel, which effectively depicts the new reality for Jews in postwar Europe." Library Journal

What's the strangest or most interesting job you've ever had?
When I was 19, I worked as a telemarketer for a bottled-water delivery company. For every five successful calls we dialed, we were allowed to leave half an hour early. I made roughly 600 calls a day and never left more than an hour before closing time. The girl next to me was named Paris, and I noticed that she did very well. I began changing my name for every place that I called: for the firehouse, I was Prometheana; for the florist's, Lilly or Rose; Ophelia for the bookstore. My co-workers had no idea what my real name was. It was the summer of Ted Kaczynski. They grew suspicious.

Introduce one other author you think people should read, and suggest a good book with which to start.
W. G. Sebald's Austerlitz.

Offer a favorite sentence or passage from another writer.
From Shirley Hazzard's The Transit of Venus:

When Ted Tice first left home for university, his mother had said to him, 'Tha dustn't have to say owt about the shop. If tha dustn' want.' They had stared, like children playing to see who will blink first.

What is your favorite indulgence, either wicked or benign?

Share an interesting experience you've had with one of your readers.
I met a lawyer at a cocktail party at which neither of us knew anyone else. I told him about my novel, and he said, "That sounds like the story of a woman I know." I emailed him a picture of Paul Rosenberg, the art dealer on whom my novel is most closely based. It's a photograph of Paul in his gallery, leaning against a white marble mantelpiece. A day later, I received a letter from Paul Rosenberg's granddaughter.

Name the best television series of all time.
I grew up without a television. My sisters and I would try to watch 90210 through our neighbor's window.

Aside from other writers, name some artists from whom you draw inspiration and talk a little about their work.
I've been thinking about still-life painting. One of Edouard Manet's still lifes, Almonds, figures prominently in my novel. The painting was looted from a French collection during the Holocaust and never found again.

Recommend five or more books on a single subject of personal interest or expertise.

Six Books with Museums:

Utz by Bruce Chatwin

Middlemarch by George Eliot

The Lost Museum: The Nazi Conspiracy to Steal the World's Greatest Works of Art by Hector Feliciano

The American by Henry James

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg

The Rape of Europa: The Fate of Europe's Treasures in the Third Reich and the Second World War by Lynn H. Nicholas

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Sara Houghteling is a graduate of Harvard College and received her master's in fine arts from the University of Michigan. She is the recipient of a Fulbright scholarship to Paris, first place in the Avery and Jules Hopwood Awards, and a John Steinbeck Fellowship. She lives in California, where she teaches high school English.


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