‘Schindler’s List’ sure to come up in Thomas Keneally’s reading | TheUnion.com

‘Schindler’s List’ sure to come up in Thomas Keneally’s reading

If a casual conversation with “Schindler’s List” author Thomas Keneally is any indication, Keneally’s reading Sunday in Grass Valley will be rather lively.

The proof is in a quick interview he gave from the Rainbow Lodge Wednesday before leaving to play in the snow. The witty Australian novelist replied to questions about his age: “I’m 68 but I can still dance on tables” and to why he left the priesthood in 1960 to become a full-time writer: “I’d like to tell you I had an affair with a laundry maid, but that didn’t happen.”

The real reason he took up writing as a career, Keneally explained, was, “When I started outside life, I was still very young, 23, I started to write ‘The Place at Whitton,’ which was then published in England, America and Australia. That gave me the confidence to continue writing. The psychological thriller was so bad that, in my opinion, it won’t be published today.”

Notwithstanding that self-assessment, Keneally is today one of Australia’s most distinguished writers. Awarded the Order of Australia in 1983 for his services to Australian literature, Keneally was also named an American Academy of Arts and Sciences fellow in the early 1990s.

Keneally, whose “Schindler’s List” won the Booker Prize in 1982, was shortlisted for the Booker Prize three other years: for “The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith” in 1972, “Gossip from the Forest” in 1975, and “Confederates” in 1979. “Schindler’s List” was made into the award-winning movie by Steven Spielberg in 1993.

Among the numerous books by Keneally are “Woman of the Inner Sea, “A River Town,” “The Great Shame and the Triumph of the Irish in English-Speaking World,” “American Scoundrel” and “The Office of Innocence.”

“I’ve always been fascinated with the place where cultures meet, there’s always conflicts, always issues of real estate, land issues as well as culture,” Keneally said. “That’s the most interesting stories of humanity, when people are conditioned to hate themselves and they don’t. For example, when an Irish girl in Belfast falls in love with a loyalist paramilitary and vice versa, that generates all sorts of drama in both families.”

With more than 60 works published during an almost 40-year span, Keneally doesn’t prefer one book over the others.

“I don’t really have a favorite, no,” he acknowledged. “There was great excitement associated with the moral impact of ‘Schindler’s List,’ and I found that exciting. I had no idea of the impact the book would have. I wrote it for the normal reasons people write things; I was extremely excited about the story, it seemed every aspect of the Holocaust was brought to a measurable and imaginable level. That’s the way I like to work with events like the Holocaust or the Irish Famine; bring it down to the level of just a few of the victims. People can imagine a few victims but to talk about six million (victims), it’s very hard for the human imagination to get a finger-hold on it.”

On Sunday, Keneally will read passages from a few of his novels, followed by a question-answer period.

“I’ll apologize for my accent, then open it to questions. I know that everyone will wish to talk about ‘Schindler’s List’ since it raises so many issues,” he said.

Keneally and his wife are houseguests of Penn Valley resident Genta Hawkins Holmes.

“We met Genta when she was the U.S. ambassador to Australia during the Clinton years,” said Keneally, who visited her a couple of years ago. “She’s a good sport. She’s been a good friend to us, especially since we love this mountain area so.”

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