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Andrea Bobotis Interview, plus links to author biography, book summaries, excerpts and reviews

Andrea Bobotis
Photo: Amanda Tipton

Andrea Bobotis

An interview with Andrea Bobotis

Andrea Bobotis discusses her debut novel, The Last List of Miss Judith Kratt.

Where did the idea for The Last List of Miss Judith Kratt come from?

The book was inspired by a real murder that occurred in my family two generations before me. (You'd think this news would produce a fresh shock for me each time I mention it, but in my family, we discuss the details of the incident so frequently and at such length that they have been rendered ordinary.) Early drafts of the manuscript were my attempt to tell the actual story of my great-uncle fatally shooting his own brother, but eventually, I freed myself from retelling that specific event. Characters shifted; plotlines changed. Yet the heart of the story—a Southern family haunted by a brother's murder and the chilling allegation that a sibling may be to blame—remained the same.

The story of the Kratt family is told from the perspective of a first-person narrator, the Southern spinster Judith Kratt. How did you make that decision?

The voice of Judith is based on my unmarried great-aunt. She was the sister of the two brothers mentioned above—one shot the other—and I chose to adopt her point of view because I was interested in following the path of a character's mind as she absorbs and recounts a family tragedy. That, and I've always been drawn to compellingly flawed narrators, especially in the first person. Judith is our guide through the novel, but we see her limitations, and that gap between her telling of events and what we otherwise sense to be true, mainly through other characters' reactions, provides a rich interpretive space, not only for witnessing Judith's growth, but also for examining how memory and perception color a person's outlook.

Why did you choose for Judith to narrate the story through an inventory of objects?

I grew up in a Southern house crowded with family heirlooms. I'm fairly certain the stories about those heirlooms took up twice the space of the actual items. I wanted to tell a story through objects in part because I'm fascinated by how possessions can evoke starkly different memories—and thus meanings—for different people. For families, inheritance can be a thorny subject, to say the least. For Southerners, our willingness to engage with the fraught history of objects in our region—for example, the problem of Confederate monuments—is critical.

Do you have a favorite character? If so, who and why?

It's true that I'm obsessed with Judith's voice. I'm interested in the moments in which she surprises herself and, even more, in her mistakes and misjudgments. But my heart is with Olva. She checks Judith's vision of the world when it narrows, and over the years, she has had to provide a tremendous amount of emotional labor for Judith. I often wonder about Olva's life after the final pages of the novel. As the book ends, she finds herself closer in birthright to the Kratts, but also, to some extent, free of them. What will she do with that new awareness? I'm enthralled by that question.

Who are your favorite authors and why?

The novels of George Eliot— Middlemarch, in particular— taught me the value of applying a sympathetic imagination to my characters. Anything written by Virginia Woolf is a master class in the magic of language. As for contemporary writers, Marilynne Robinson and Elizabeth Strout are literary giants to me. Both authors can coax staggering truths about the human condition from a scrupulously observed insight about a character or the delicate arrangement of images within a sentence. Honestly, the syntax alone of some of their sentences can have me in fits for weeks. I pore over the works of Kazuo Ishiguro, especially how he develops the voices of his first-person narrators. And the poets! William Butler Yeats, Walt Whitman, Seamus Heaney, Eavan Boland, Rita Dove, Mary Oliver, Naomi Shihab Nye, and Kimberly O'Connor. My ritual is that I read a poem before I begin writing each day.

What is your most treasured family heirloom?

I have a poem clipped from a newspaper that was found in my grandfather's wallet when he died. Even more remarkable, the poem's subject is death.

Unless otherwise stated, this interview was conducted at the time the book was first published, and is reproduced with permission of the publisher. This interview may not be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the copyright holder.

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