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Bestselling Author Mitch Albom on the Importance of Separating Truth from Deception, and Seeking Forgiveness

Tuesday, October 31, 2023

“It’s so important for us to feel that others have forgiven our sins and that we have forgiven ourselves, too”

Mitch Albom is the beloved bestselling author of books such as Tuesdays with Morrie, The Five People You Meet in Heaven, and The Stranger in the Lifeboat. In each of these books, he has taught the world invaluable lessons with clear-eyed, empathetic prose. Albom’s latest novel, The Little Liar, is a powerful story that moves from a coastal Greek city during the Holocaust, to America, where the intertwined lives of three survivors are forever changed by the perils of deception and the grace of redemption.

In our recent interview, Albom reflects on his writing process, exploring topics like the Holocaust in a modern context, and what he hopes readers take away from his books.

Zibby Mag: Can you tell us about your writing process? Has it changed with each book, or does it differ when writing fiction and non-fiction?

Mitch Albom: It is pretty much the same for every book and the same whether for fiction or nonfiction. When people ask how long it takes to write one of my books, I always say about a year and the lifetime. The year is sitting in front of the computer. The lifetime is thinking up the ideas and the experiences that inform it. As far as the actual process, I usually get up early in the morning. I’m up before 7, and go right downstairs and start writing. No music, no news, no television, no outside influences of any kind. I usually go uninterrupted for about 3 hours and then stop. And then repeat the next day and the next and the next with no breaks. But almost never more than three hours a day.

The Little Liar explores topics like the Holocaust, survival, and trust. Why did you choose to write about this, and did you find it challenging to explore?

I wrote The Little Liar for a number of reasons. One, I had always wanted to set a book with the backdrop of World War II and the Holocaust, but did not want to write a story similar to many other books that I have read about that time. So it took me a long stretch to find an original idea. That idea came to me off of a video that I had seen at a museum in which a woman was speaking about how, when the Jews were taken to the train platforms to board the trains for the concentration camps, the Nazis often forced other Jews to lie and tell them that it was safe and they were going someplace good. That idea stayed with me—how evil and perverse it is to force people to lie to their own families and friends.

I wanted to write something about truth and deception and the price we pay when we don’t value the difference. Since I came up with the idea for a little boy being the one who gets tricked into lying, and then I decided to set it in Greece, which is a different location than most Holocaust books are set, I knew I had the underpinnings and decided to get started. As far as it being challenging to explore, yes, on many levels. First, you have to do an extraordinary amount of research, even for a novel, because when it comes to the horrors of World War II in Europe, you can’t rely on your imagination to make things up. The truth is far more vivid and more moving. But you need to research that truth. Secondly, it’s challenging to write about a subject that’s been written about from so many different angles already. Setting it in Greece, focusing on the years after the war as well as before the war, I hope sets this book apart from some of the others.

Nico, the protagonist, has to overcome a life-changing discovery. What do you think he would advise readers about self-forgiveness?

I think Nico would advise others that before they can do any real forgiving in their lives, they must forgive themselves. Nico really doesn’t get to do that until the very end. Consequently he’s tortured. I remember Morrie, on one of our many visits, telling me a very important lesson. “Forgive everybody everything, and then forgive yourself.” A lot of people do the former, but not the latter.

Do you believe that any of your other characters, such as Eddie from The Five People You Meet in Heaven, would have been able to endure what Nico experienced? Would the outcome have been different if Eddie was in Nico’s place?

Well, that’s an interesting question. I’ve never thought about comparing characters from different books to one another. The real Eddie, upon whom the fictional Eddie was based, was himself a World War II veteran and was very brave. My guess is he would have fought and probably died had he been in Nico’s place. But who’s to say? Every character in every novel goes through a unique set of circumstances that are set up just for that novel. Maybe one day I could bring Nico and Eddie together and come up with a better answer!

Your memoir, Tuesdays With Morrie, taught readers so many lessons about life and love. What lessons do you hope people take away from The Little Liar?

I always hope my books leave readers with food for thought, or lessons, if you prefer. I think the biggest one of this book is that if we don’t cherish the truth, we are bound to suffer the consequences of deception. We live in a very precarious time, where people are choosing their own truths and not even bothering to learn the facts. I also hope the book teaches how far we will go to be forgiven. The lesson from the White Tower in the book is that a man will do anything to be forgiven. But that’s really true of all of us. It’s so important for us to feel that others have forgiven our sins and that we have forgiven ourselves. And of course there’s the bond between brothers and how deep that runs. Being a brother myself, that’s an important lesson to come from this book, too.

Posted October 31, 2023