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Spy Thriller From Vermont Author Offers Political Intrigue In 1989 Eastern Europe

Vermont author Thomas Henry Pope pictured with his latest novel, "Imperfect Burials."
Gail Meyer
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Vermont author Thomas Henry Pope pictured with his latest novel, "Imperfect Burials."

Bennington County, Vermont, is home to novelist Thomas Henry Pope. His latest novel is a spy thriller featuring a journalist on a quest for truth, surrounded by political intrigue.

Pope says he wants readers of “Imperfect Burials” to come away with a new understanding of the interconnectedness of life.

“From what seems like spy thriller, but down to marriage and down to personal, so that there’s an element of confusion or danger on all levels of life and at the same time, the possibility of solving them,” he said.

NEPM’s Carrie Healy asked Pope if, over the three years or so that it took him to write the novel, he ended up where he intended when he began the story.

Thomas Henry Pope, author: A complete evolution, in that it started out as one book, it came out terribly. I trashed it. And took the elements that I wanted to carry forward and started again. And then wrote this novel, putting it all in Europe. Before that, it was not.

Carrie Healy, NEPM: Where was it before?

It was coming and going between Europe and the United States.

I'm curious why you did that.

To make the narrative tighter, and to focus all of the motives of the characters on that region.

Do you have a background in that region? What drew you to setting it in 1989 in Eastern Europe?

The most pivotal life experience I had growing up was that I spent 15 months in Europe. I was 13 and 14. And it was, to me — having had my mind penetrated by American jingoism — to go to another part of the world and see it on its own terms.

I was quite laid open by my whole time there, and particularly behind the Iron Curtain.

I saw thatched roofs in Germany. And I'd never seen any before. That was stunning to me.

So it woke in me how our past lays into the present. I've always, since then, looked very carefully at what people do, and how it springs from the past.

And then I have studied history, and I read history all the time. When I read news accounts from today, I'm always looking for the historical detail behind it.

You wove historical facts into your book, surrounded by a fictional narrative. Does it bother you, in the perspective of historical memory, that a lot of this book crosses those lines very well?

I haven't spent too much time with that. That's the author's prerogative, to take reality, and to imbue it with his or her own view of things and characters. So I love to do that.

And for me, it brings me closer to what is true historically. It allows me and my creative process to go into that time frame in a way that I have access to, so that I can feel more about what happened there or what may have happened there.

Could you read a passage from the book? Do you have it with you?

I do. Let's see.

Dabrowski stood on massive legs, walked outside the circle, and ran a finger across the old slate blackboard. When he came to the youngest fellow in the room, he placed his hands on the man's shoulders. “And if you could find the truth to an old secret, could you be trusted to tell it and not expose the people who brought you to it? Do you have opinions about that?”
Ah, this was a test. “What does the secret have to do with opinion?”
Dabrowski sucked his lips. “Opinion is the juice that makes a man care. Being true to the facts shows that he does.”
In salute, Finn lifted a glass he didn't hold.

How difficult was it for you to write a lot of dialogue in this book?

I love dialogue. That's where characters inhabit. That's actually when when the book starts to come alive.

A novel without dialogue is really a treatise of something or other. The dialogue is how readers are going to know the character, and it's how the writer gets to know the character.

And it makes the character real. It just pops right off the page.

That is the idea. And thank you. I try to make it as true to what these people might say as I possibly can.

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