In Richard Zimler’s The Seventh Gate, a Christian teenager, Sophie Riedesel, fights for justice in 1930s Berlin.
What does your book add to Holocaust-themed fiction?
There are still a number of aspects of the Shoah that few people are aware of, such as the Nazi sterilization and murder of disabled people. Hitler and his supporters were able to convince the German courts to order the sterilization of those they considered dangerous to “racial health,” including deaf and blind people. This is an enormously important crime against humanity, and yet even people who’ve read dozens of books about the persecution of Jews and Gypsies don’t know anything about it.
How did you incorporate that into The Seventh Gate?
The hundreds of thousands of people who were sterilized and murdered deserved to have their story told. I also realized that I wanted to write about the heroic people who fought mistreatment of the disabled—wonderful parents who tried to save their developmentaly disabled children, for instance. My narrator, Sophie, thinks Berlin is the most advanced and sophisticated city in the world. When she sees her country taken over by ignorant thugs, she uses all her guile and craftiness to fight them.
How does your sexual orientation affect your fiction?
I think that being gay—like being Jewish—gives me the perspective of an outsider. I greatly value that position because I think it’s a good one for a novelist; those on the outside looking in often notice significant details that others aren’t aware of. For instance, my Portuguese readers have often told me that it’s amazing that an American brought the Lisbon massacre of 1506 to public consciousness, as I did in The Last Kabbalist of Lisbon. Being gay and Jewish makes me more sensitive, I think, to prejudice and discrimination, and to the stories of people who’ve been persecuted.
What did Faulkner teach you about writing mysteries?
After I read Light in August, I went back to the beginning and studied the book’s structure because I wanted to know how he kept me so captivated. Faulkner used a structure of overlapping mysteries. In the first chapter, he introduces a small mystery about a main character, but before resolving it, he creates a second small mystery. This second mystery carries the reader along, and is resolved only after Faulkner introduces a third one. Faulkner continues this process right to the end of the book. It’s a very effective technique, and I adopted it for my first novel.