Binnie Kirshenbaum's ninth book, The Scenic Route, a wistful love story played out among the cities and byways of Europe, has a digressive road map all its own

What was the inspiration for Sylvia, who narrates your novel?

There's a picture of my great-grandmother on the wall in my living room, and one day I realized I didn't know her name, and I had no family left who would tell me. I started to think about that, and then Sylvia, and her fear of having no one who would remember her after she was gone, just sort of took over.

Are the exotic, out-of-the-way places that your characters visit real destinations?

Yes, they're all real. I've been to a lot of them. I looked at a map and tried to figure out where Sylvia and Henry might wander.

Is there really an inn that serves white wine and Coca Cola?

Yes, it was a strange little bed and breakfast, a wonderful place, and that was the house drink.

Why did you develop the plot as a series of digressions?

One story always digresses to another story; that's part of the scenic route of storytelling. The essence of the book is that story matters. The stories we know and the stories we tell define who we are.

“There are no happy endings,” Sylvia says, and it's a self-fulfilling prophecy. Is her personality the result of nature or nurture?

I think it's both. Sylvia opts for what is safe. She thinks that some things are ordained. She accepts the idea that this experience would be hers for a fixed period of time, and then it would be over. As I wrote, I found it was serendipitous that Sylvia's stories all concern the era of WWII. Like the stories passed down to Sylvia by her family, it's an era few still remember firsthand. To have the sense of having lived and died and not be remembered on earth, that's a melancholy idea, I think.

Is Binnie your real name?

It's the name on my birth certificate. Growing up, I wasn't happy with it, and once someone suggested that because of it, I wasn't taken as seriously as a writer as I wanted to be, but there it is.