Nothing Forgotten - A Passionate Affair in Italy
Jessica Levine is a critically acclaimed novelist. Her first novel, "The Geometry of Love," was a Top 10 Women's Fiction title in Booklist, a publication of the American Library Association. "Nothing Forgotten" was a winner of the Next Generation Indie Book Award and as our Author of the Day, she tells us all about this book.
Please give us a short introduction to what "Nothing Forgotten" is about.
When Anna is contacted by the Italian lover she knew decades before, she recalls their affair and the child she gave up for adoption. As the episode returns to haunt her—threatening the life she's built in California, including her marriage—the story moves back in time to her youth in Rome.
Tell us more about Anna. What makes her tick?
We first see Anna in middle age: married and a mother, she is a thoughtful woman on a spiritual quest anchored in meditation. She is also coping with an adolescent daughter and feeling dissatisfied in her marriage to a self-centered musician. When her Italian ex-lover, Sergio, finds her on the internet, we move into the story of her youth and learn that as a young woman she was adventurous, impulsive, and passionate. I enjoyed playing with the contrast between these two sides of her personality, because I'm fascinated by how people change over a lifetime. In this case, Anna will integrate her younger and older selves when she reconnects with her old flame.
What inspired you to write this book?
This novel is partly autobiographical. In 1978 I went to visit an aunt who had made her life in Rome, and I ended up staying for a year and a half, teaching English in a language school and learning Italian. During that time, I had an affair with an Italian man who was already engaged to be married, and I ended up befriending his fiancée. The man was the "great love of my youth"—but betraying his fiancée was probably the most reprehensible thing I've ever done. The book came out of an attempt to make peace with the misdeeds of my past.
Why did you pick Rome in 1979 as the backdrop for your book?
I could have set the book in another part of Italy, but I wanted to bring back to life the places I'd known and loved when I lived there. Also, Anna is a painter and visual artist, and Rome, with its beautiful earthy colors, its ruins, fountains and gardens, felt like the perfect place for her and her confusing, passionate relationship.
Your descriptions of Italy are very vivid. How did you pull this off?
My experiences in Rome were so unique that my memories remain quite clear. Moreover, I've always kept copious diaries, so when I started work on "Nothing Forgotten," I was able to draw on observations and anecdotes I'd recorded in five thick notebooks. To bring it all into focus, I made a fact-finding trip back to Rome in 2012 in order to walk my old neighborhoods and take additional notes.
Besides writing, what other secret skills do you have?
I have been a practicing hypnotherapist for 16 years. I use counseling and trance work to facilitate deep inner transformation. I've also been trained in shamanic counseling and use the wisdom and techniques of traditional indigenous cultures to assist clients in their spiritual development. In another sideline, I have worked on and off as a translator from French and Italian.
When did you decide to become a writer?
At the age of 5! Then I started journaling when I was 12 as a way of coping with my alcoholic mother. Writing has always been both my joy and a kind of self-therapy.
What is the hardest thing about being a writer?
Having faith that the next project will be worth the huge amount of time it will require.
Is there an underlying message you wish to relay about basic human nature through your characters?
If Anna and Sergio misbehave, it's in part because they are seeking a love that might heal their childhood wounds. Few people make it through youth and early adulthood without experiencing some kind of trauma. The meaning of the rest of one's life is a result of how one chooses to deal with early wounding. One can respond to suffering with either anger and bitterness or wisdom and kindness. If we learn to balance our own needs with those of others and to be compassionate toward ourselves and those around us, we can journey toward happiness.
How long on average does it take you to write a book?
A long time! Each of the two novels I've written so far went through multiple versions involving different temporal structures and points of view. "The Geometry of Love" took me ten years to write, and "Nothing Forgotten" took five. Maybe my next novel will halve that again and take only two and a half. . .
What was your greatest challenge when writing this book?
Making Anna and Sergio likable wasn't always easy. Not only is their affair adulterous, but Sergio's fiancée, Olivia, is generous and kind, so their betrayal of her feels all the more atrocious.
What are you working on right now?
I'm starting a third novel, "Shambles and Light," about a polyamorous woman who lives in San Francisco and goes on a spiritual pilgrimage to the south of France. While my first two books explored the notion of a soul mate, this one will challenge conventional ideas about love and suggest that monogamy is, for many people, an uncomfortable state that doesn't lead to happiness. In a sense, I will be playing devil's advocate to the romantic assumptions underlying both "The Geometry of Love" and "Nothing Forgotten."
Is there any connection between your novels?
Yes, the three female protagonists of "The Geometry of Love," "Nothing Forgotten," and the projected "Shambles and Light" are cousins, so the three works constitute a trilogy of novels that, without being sequential, are linked through family relationships and overlapping histories. For example, Michael, who is the love interest of "The Geometry of Love," reappears in "Nothing Forgotten" as Anna's husband.
Where can our readers discover more of your work or interact with you?
My first novel, "The Geometry of Love," is widely available in both paperback and ebook form. Links to some of my short stories, poetry, and essays about writing can be found on my website. You can also find me on Goodreads and Facebook, or email me directly at [email protected]. Thank you so much for having me on Manybooks!