Interview with Irene Wittig

Author of All That Lingers

I was born in liberated Rome to a half-Jewish Viennese mother who had found a modicum of safety in Italy after the Nazi annexation of Austria. My early childhood was spent changing countries and languages until we arrived in New York. There, from age seven, I lived in a Manhattan neighborhood of Holocaust survivors and fellow Europeans displaced by war. I absorbed their memories of betrayals and sacrifice, of courage and difficult decisions, of strangers’ kindnesses and sheer luck. I came to understand that their gratitude for having found safety in America was tinged with longing for the lives they’d once loved and had been forced to give up. I learned that the past is never quite past. These lingering shadows of all that had been lost are what inspired me to write ALL THAT LINGERS — yet, in writing the novel I found myself reflecting on what my family’s life might have been like had they not been able to leave Vienna.

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How would you describe All That Lingers to a new reader?
  • It is a story of loss and resilience that captures Viennese history from its civil war in 1943 through World War II and Allied occupation to independence.
What was the inspiration behindAll That Lingers ?
  • My own family's experiences as well as those of people I grew up with.
Which authors do you admire? How have they influenced your writing style?
  • I love Anne Tyler for her humanity, Kate Atkinson for her wit and insightful description of the London blitz. At my age there have been many authors I have loved over the years. When I was young I loved Dickens, Erich Maria Remarque, and Nevil Shute and read all their books.
Can you tell us a little about the locations in your book?
  • Vienna is the main and most important setting, but there are also scenes of 1936 Berlin and 1941's and 50's New York.
What advice would you give to aspiring authors?
  • Read great writing. Read about writing. There are many skills to learn that don't necessarily come naturally.
What's your writing process?
  • Characters are my main focus and actions come as a result of who they are and what they might do
Which character in All That Lingers has had the greatest impact on readers?
  • I hope Emma. Friedrich is less admirable but interesting.
If All That Lingers were to be adapted for TV or film, who would you see in the lead role? Who did you have in your mind’s eye when you wrote him/her?
  • I had in mind a series. As the characters age, one actor per character probably would not work. I'd want a good casting director.
How have readers responded to All That Lingers
  • I have been very gratified to see that readers see the story being especially relevant in today's political atmosphere. I think many were unfamiliar with Vienna being the setting of a World War II drama.
Where next? What are you working on now?
  • A very different novel, not historical, more a character study. I am also working on some short stories.
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The rise of Nazism catapults Emma’s once idyllic life in Vienna into chaos. As she grapples with the harsh new reality of her country’s betrayal, she desperately clings to her humanity by hiding her Jewish friends. In the aftermath, she finds solace in helping those in even greater need than herself.
The war sends Sophie, an innocent young girl, down unexpected paths. When she returns to Vienna from her American refuge, she will seek her lost history.
Friedrich, Sophie’s uncle, teeters on the edge of what is right and his personal survival. His actions and inaction leave long-lasting repercussions that will threaten to throw all their lives into turmoil again.

Follow the interweaving stories of people through the most tumultuous period of their lives and its wake, as they endure loss, devastation, betrayal and heartache, while still clinging to hope for a better tomorrow.