Guest host Julie Chavez engages in a heartfelt conversation with author Anne Berest about her intimate and engrossing new book, THE POSTCARD. Anne shares the emotional story of her Jewish family’s past, which she slowly uncovered after receiving an anonymous postcard from WWII. She describes what it was like to unwind a mystery leading back to the Holocaust with the help of her mother, her friends, detectives, and graphologists! Her insights reveal the profound impact of exploring one’s heritage while dancing delicately between past horrors and a hopeful path forward.


Julie Chavez: Bonjour, Anne. Bienvenue. Thanks for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” to talk about The Postcard. I am so excited that I get to speak with you today.

Anne Berest: Thank you for inviting me.

Julie: It’s wonderful. This book is so special. I loved reading it. It’s beautifully written. It’s quick to read in the sense that I wanted to know what was going to happen. I really was so connected to the characters and to you. I’m so excited to talk to you about it today.

Anne: Thank you. Thank you.

Julie: Let’s start by just talking about the beginning of this. Why don’t you start by telling me about your writing process? We can talk about this book specifically. Maybe as you’re talking, if you can share a little bit what the book is about and what your process was like writing it.

Anne: About my writing process, I write every day, even on vacations. During the year, it’s quite straightforward. In the morning, I take my children to school. I come back home to write. I write all day. I have lunch alone at home. I can’t have lunch with someone else because it breaks my concentration. I write until it’s time to pick up my children from school. My life is not exciting at all. I’m alone most of time.

Julie: That makes sense. As you say that, I think it’s true, if I let the writing get interrupted, then you’re done for the day.

Anne: broken.

Julie: Yes, that makes sense. When you set out to write this book, tell me about — let’s start at the beginning. I’m just looking back. I had sent you a list of questions, which is not normal for me, which I loved. I want to talk about, a little bit, how did you become a writer originally? You have written so many books and articles and lots of different projects and a lot for the screen as well. Tell me how you became a writer.

Anne: That’s a beautiful but a very difficult question because I am not sure if I have become a writer.

Julie: That’s so French of you.

Anne: I ask myself this question every day. Let’s say that when I was a child, it was my dream. Why? It’s a mystery. You have little girls who dream of becoming a singer, a doctor, an astronaut, I don’t know, an actress. Me, I wanted to become a writer. I didn’t know why. I tried to understand this mystery. I discovered when I was writing The Postcard that my great-aunt Noémie, who was murdered by the Nazis when she was nineteen, I discovered that she wanted to be a writer. I didn’t know that. I wrote a lot of books before I discovered this linked with my great-aunt. I thought to myself, perhaps it’s an invisible transmission. Maybe this young girl has survived within me, and the fever of writing has been passed down through the family tree in the sap of this tree beyond death. Maybe that’s why I wanted to be a writer.

Julie: That is beautiful. That brought tears to my eyes. What a beautiful way to think about our lives as part of the lives that have come before us.

Anne: Yes, I truly believe in that.

Julie: The sap of the family tree, I have never heard it put that way. Beautiful. I think that you were meant to be a writer. I’m so glad that you are. The Postcard, too, just to give people a sense, is about an anonymous postcard that you received, or that your mother received, in 2003, correct?

Anne: Exactly.

Julie: It had four names: Ephraïm, Noémie, Jacques, Emma.

Anne: Emma.

Julie: Yes. I moved them around. I just realized. Just like you mentioned, Noémie was your great-aunt. Really, the beginning of the book is you following that. Your mother had started a lot of research about your family. Then building on that research, you began to go through and create the story that became The Postcard. It is so immersive. The scope of your research, I was so impressed by the detail and the different documents that you unearthed, which were both so incredible and so awful to read, and understand the complicity and all the pieces that went through. We read about World War II often, but every time, it is fresh, how awful it was. Reading The Postcard, I really appreciated the research. Let’s talk about that a little bit. Your mother had begun a lot of this research. What was one of the most surprising things you discovered in your research?

Anne: It’s hard to answer. I don’t want to spoil the book.

Julie: Of course. I understand. Yes, yes.

Anne: During the investigation I made with my mother — she’s the heroine of the book — and with a private detective, we had extraordinary adventures. It was so extraordinary that I couldn’t have made it up. That’s why I want you and your listener to know that — I don’t want to spoil, but I want you to know that everything is true. I didn’t invented anything. Even though it’s written in the style of a novel, everything I discovered is the truth. I want the readers to discover it.

Julie: It’s so beautifully done. I can’t tell you how many times — when I read a book, I don’t read the back. I don’t read the description. I just open it. When Zibby had talked about this book, I went, purchased my copy, and started reading. There were so many times that I looked back and thought, is this a novel? This did happen. It reads so amazingly well that way. The suspense of it and the way you put the different books, it’s so good. I agree with you, let’s not spoil anything. It is so good and such a page-turner. I loved it. You have a boring writing process, apparently, which is lovely. I love hearing about boring. Thumbs up for boring. So much of this book was based on this research. Talking about your mother and her being the heroine of this book, the smoking heroine of this book, which I loved — when she cut the cigarettes in half, that was my favorite.

Anne: She’s still smoking. I spent one week with her here on the holidays. She’s smoking, smoking, smoking. It’s never-ending. It’s crazy.

Julie: How old is she now?

Anne: She’s almost —

Julie: — Eighty?

Anne: Yes.

Julie: Almost eighty and still smoking.

Anne: That’s not a good thing to know because it’s very bad to smoke.

Julie: It’s horrible. We’ll put on a disclaimer. You’re right. It does feel like part of who she is. I feel like I know your mom. I do see her with a cigarette. Yes, no one start smoking. Everyone knows. We have said it. Anne and I have let you know. It’s bad for you. Don’t do it. Lung charring, as you say it. How was your relationship with your mother over the course of the book and the research for it? Did it change your relationship with her?

Anne: Yes. The relationship with my mother has changed because we both embarked on this adventure that concerned us, really. During three, four years, we no longer talked about children and vacations or organizing family meals. I’m a little bit exaggerating, but we didn’t care anymore. We just talking, always, about the investigation. We were like two childs, not like a mother and a daughter, but like kids playing a game. It was really amazing. When the book came out in France, I wanted to do all the promotion with her. I asked the journalists, the booksellers, do you agree I come with my mother? It was fantastic because I was always with her. It was so good. When we had to take a train to go in another city, she cooked me little sandwiches like when I was a little girl. It was so good. It was so funny to share all these moments with her because she’s quirky. She’s funny. She always says unexpected things, even with journalists. I don’t know what she will answer. I’m always a little bit afraid. She’s also extremely bright. It was really a joy to capture her in my book. Our relationship didn’t change, really, but it was so good to be with her.

Julie: It sounds like it was a gift.

Anne: I told her, “You know, Mom, it’s hard to be a heroine in a book.” She read the book when I was writing it. Something like every fifty pages, I told her, “Okay, if you want to change something, change a word or something, you can.” It was really a work together. We were a team.

Julie: Yes, collaboration. You feel that reading it, that you’re both excited. That makes sense that you were like children together. Look at what I found. What you were able to uncover — yes, continue.

Anne: We were always, also, arguing. That’s funny. She said to me, “No, you’re wrong. I’m sure that’s a good way.” It was really funny.

Julie: You wrote a few scenes in the book where you were convinced that you knew who had sent the postcard. She said no. You said, why? No. Just no. I know. That sounds very much like a mom.

Anne: She was always right.

Julie: Moms are always right. Now we can be those people for our own children.

Anne: Exactly.

Julie: That is really neat to hear. We’re talking about the fun part of exploration. For you, you were writing about very heavy, sad topics. How did you care for yourself, especially since you write alone? You’re alone for a large chunk of the day. How did you care for yourself when things were too much or felt too heavy?

Anne: I cried every day while writing some chapters of the book because it was too horrible. I really had a box of tissues next to my computer to wipe away the tears onto the keys. I never cried so much as when writing this book. It was very important for me, I also wanted to bring light into the book. For example, all the chapters about history are very hard, but after, you have all the chapters with the investigation. That’s more light. a lot of fun with my mother and with the private detective also. I see that it’s Jewish humor. It’s got something to do with about trying to find laughter within tears. I wanted to give that to the readers and to say to them, okay, we cried a lot because human beings can be horrible, but now give my hand, and we are walking through the light.

Julie: Walking through the light, and bring along with you, Jacques and Noémie and Emma and Ephraïm. I love that. That’s beautiful to think of it that way, drawing it forward, because it is. Tell me about the private detective. I know that I asked you — the motto was, in order to decide, you have to know. Is that actually their tagline?

Anne: Yes.

Julie: I am going to write that down and put it on my cabinet.

Anne: As I told you, in fact, I don’t have imagination. That’s the reality that gives me all the extraordinary . That motto of the private detective was so good.

Julie: I have said it so many times to my kids because I tend to worry. That’s a good reminder. There’s nothing to decide today because I don’t know yet. I have to know, so I’ll just wait. Will you tell me, what is that motto in French? How do you say it in French?

Anne: .

Julie: . Why does everything sound so much better in French? in French. . I love that. You didn’t make that fact up. You also didn’t make up the fact that a person’s handwriting changes every five years?

Anne: Yes.

Julie: That is incredible.

Anne: That’s what graphologists say. You know, I learned a lot of things about graphology from this graphologist named Jesus in the book.

Julie: I loved that.

Anne: One more time, I couldn’t made it up. This guy works in France with the courts to analyze the handwriting of anonymous letters during trials. That’s why I wanted to work with him. He helped me a lot because he’s a specialist of anonymous handwriting. That’s how I learned that every five years, your handwriting changed. I don’t know because perhaps now that we write much less with hand and mostly on computer, maybe things might be different, but that’s what I learned.

Julie: That was what they said.

Anne: I like to write books to learn things and to share it with readers.

Julie: You share so much in this book. I loved that fact. You’re right, we don’t write as much as we did in the past. That is an interesting question. I know that my handwriting — it is funny to look back, though. I was thinking about this for me. Going back to one of my earlier questions, you’ve worked on a variety of writing projects. You write to learn things and to share them. You’ve also done a lot for the screen. What are the main differences for you when you’re writing a screenplay or a novel?

Anne: It’s very different.

Julie: It is very different. Tell me.

Anne: One is freedom, and solely freedom. The other is constraint, solely constraint. I love both. When you write a script for movies or series, but especially a series script, you have to adhere to rules, to the screenwriting rules. For example, you have to have a twist after a certain number of minutes. You have to put a cliffhanger after a certain number of minutes. You have to put a plot development after a certain number of minutes. It’s like a game of chess. Each move corresponds to a rule of the game when you write for series. For example, you also have to know very well, the economic cost of what you are writing. If you are hired as a screenwriter for a series with a budget of one million dollars per episode, which isn’t much, if you deliver a script to your producer with six different sets and crowd scenes with a lot of extras and a flashback in the 1980s with costumes and old cars, your producer will say, I don’t want your script. You have to rewrite everything because it doesn’t correspond to the budget of the series. That’s why I say it’s like playing chess. You have to know everything, all the rules. If you don’t know, you cannot play. On the contrary, in a book, you can do everything. It’s freedom, total freedom. You can go to the moon. You can go everywhere you want. You can have a scene with one million people. It doesn’t cost anything. It’s really freedom. That’s why I like them both. I like freedom. I like constraint. If I had to choose and if someone told me, you have to choose between books or scripts, for me, the choice is very clear. I’m a novelist. I’m a writer of books. That’s not a question for me.

Julie: That is a beautiful and really good way to put it. I never thought that, but it’s true. If I turned in a script with eight helicopters, crashing maybe, I don’t know, then they would be angry. Good point. I’m so glad. Good to know you are a novelist. You are a novelist who enjoys writing scripts occasionally. There you go. What has been interesting for you about the American reception of this book versus the French, or have you gotten there yet? Do you feel like you have an answer to that question?

Anne: Yes. That’s fascinating, when you release a book in a foreign country. Each country has its own reception because each country has its own history, and especially with the question of the Second World War. My journey with this book in the United States is really a true dream. I can’t believe it. For us, French writers, it’s an absolute dream to be translated and to be read by the American readers. I was so happy. I thought, it’s a miracle. I was able to observe how curious and attentive Americans were and are to the Second World War. They are also very curious to understand the lives of the French during the German occupation. I observed that American readers were also very curious about the lives of the Jews in France after the war. I think that Americans love history with a capital H. Also, I think you have a lot of affection for France. It’s very pleasant, of course.

Julie: I am so glad. You’re right, there is an enthusiasm for stories about the Second World War and then also for an understanding of that side of things. Reading about the prisoners returning after the Second World War when they came back to the hotel and all of the things, that was an incredible portion of the book. I will say, like you said, curious about those lives, that was a piece I hadn’t really read before. I learned so much from your book. I want to ask you my last question. You mention in the book, you said, “Nothing mattered as much as that I was descended from a line of Jewish women.” You have a daughter.

Anne: Two daughters.

Julie: That’s right. I’m sorry. Two daughters.

Anne: In the book, I have one daughter.

Julie: Oh, you only had Clara. Now you have —

Anne: — Then I had another daughter with the character of Jacques in the book.

Julie: Oh, my goodness, amazing. I love that. I feel like I just learned something new. That makes my heart so happy. Wonderful. Now you have two daughters. Is this something you’re passing on to your daughters? Is that important to you? How do you do that?

Anne: Yes, of course, it’s important, but I don’t know if it’s the most important thing. It’s very important, but what I’m trying to convey to my daughters every day is first and foremost, to be happy and to be free and to be independent women and to be a human being in harmony with her planet and other human beings. That’s the most important thing.

Julie: It sounds like that has been an evolution for you and sharing with them. I love that. It’s so true. We forget how lovely and necessary it is to be happy. What a gift. Merci. This time was . Merci. Thank you for the book. Thank you for this time. I wish you all the luck. Truly, enchantée. I’m so happy that we have met. I hope that I will be visiting France soon. I love Paris. It’s one of my favorite places to go. I want to explore more of France. I will knock on your door when I come, like a true American. I’ll just show up while you’re writing and interrupt you.

Anne: You’re welcome.

Julie: Thank you so much.

Anne: Bye, Julie. Have a nice day.

Julie: Buh-bye. You too.

THE POSTCARD by Anne Berest

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