Author Talk: Tom Barbash
We sat down with Mill Valley’s Tom Barbash to discuss his new novel The Dakota Winters.
MM: What made you choose 1980 as the time setting for this story?
TB: I started with an interest in writing about a family living in the Dakota building in the year that John Lennon was assassinated. They would be his neighbors, friends. And then, the more I lived in that year (through writing), the more I began to see it as one of those turning point years when everything happens. We had the Iran hostage crisis, a hugely consequential election, the Russian incursion in Afghanistan, the end of disco, the rise of punk and new wave and a rise of “stranger” killings in the city I grew up in — there was a feeling that things were off-kilter.
MM: As a native, would you say your view of New York evolved over time?
TB: I think what changed New York the most for me were the events of 9/11. I went from seeing my hometown as tough and gritty, then gentrified and prohibitively rich, to being vulnerable — and, in those early days after the tragedy, as warm and generous as a classic small town. I’ve always found it fascinating, a treasure trove of stories, though I do have an extended chapter in this book that takes place in California, something more than a few readers had requested of me.
MM: What did you learn while writing this book?
TB: I learned a great deal about so many things, beginning, I suppose, with the nature of celebrity and fame. That there are those who have it and then wish they could escape it, and that the rest of us spend way too much time wishing for fame, when it’s the work, the path, we should be appreciating. I learned a great deal too about fathers and sons, and how the roles can shift over time, and how that can complicate that relationship.
MM: Is there an overarching theme or commentary on families that you hope readers will take away from The Dakota Winters?
TB: Part of the pleasure of hearing from those who’ve read the book is how each reader seems drawn to a different aspect of the story. I hope along with whatever truths they glean, the book is for them the adventure it was for me to write, that they’ll take pleasure in living in these characters’ shoes and going to the places they go.
Local Page Turners
The Dakota Winters by Tom Barbash (Mill Valley), Ecco, $26.99. Through fiction, Tom Barbash transports readers to the Dakota apartment complex in New York City. Set in the year leading up to celebrity resident John Lennon’s assassination, the story follows the Winters family, expertly blending moments of history with an engaging saga that navigates questions of war, fame and faith. The Dakota Winters is an evocative reflection of a tumultuous moment in American history and the everyday people at the center of it. Appearing at Book Passage Corte Madera December 3, 7 p.m.
Change Your Genes, Change Your Life by Dr. Kenneth Pelletier (Carmel), Origin Press, $16.95. A clinical professor of medicine and psychiatry at UCSF’s School of Medicine, Pelletier is an expert on the study of epigenetics, a fascinating field exploring the idea that the way we live may directly impact our genes. In Change Your Genes, Change Your Life, Pelletier gives a layperson’s overview of this concept and offers tips for changing genetic expression and potentially optimizing health. Appearing at Book Passage Corte Madera December 8, 1 p.m.
Almost Nothing by Eric Karpeles (West Marin), New York Review Books, $19.95. In this biography, Eric Karpeles examines the fascinating life of Józef Czapski, a Polish painter and writer. From his days as a student in St. Petersburg during the Russian Revolution to his time as a painter in 1920s Paris, Czapski’s story continually intersected with major moments of the 20th century. Karpeles also offers insight into Czapski’s time in enemy captivity during World War II, a harrowing ordeal that forever altered the trajectory of his art. Appearing at Book Passage Corte Madera December 8, 4 p.m.
Tales of the Radio Traveler by Russell Johnson (Sonoma), Travelmedia Communications, $14.95. This endearing travelogue from Russell Johnson begins with his rapt listening as a child in the Midwest. Tales of the Radio Traveler is an epic journey, jumping from a Minnesota swamp to the jungles of Nepal. Whether Johnson is documenting a flea circus in Munich or the hunt for extraterrestrials in Northern California, his humor and genuine enthusiasm for each subject anchor this delightful ode to the countless stories that crackle across our airwaves. Appearing at Book Passage Corte Madera December 12, 7 p.m.
Reviews by Book Passage Marketing Manager Zack Ruskin.