Q&A: Cara C. Putman (Shadowed by Grace)
The subtitle for this novel is A Story of Monuments Men. Some people have probably never heard of the Monuments Men--can you tell us who they were?
The Monuments Men were an elite group of men from the United States, Britain and Canada who were tasked with saving Western Civilization. They were art museum curators, architects, sculptors and the future founder of the NYC Ballet. Most weren’t soldiers, but had to go through basic training before being shipped to Europe to go toe to toe with officers on what needed to be protected, shoring up damaged cathedrals and other landmarks, and also locating artwork that had disappeared or been damaged in the war.
Because it was the first war to have widespread aerial bombing, the art community in Europe and the United States quickly recognized the need for a plan to save the thousands of years of culture and art located across Europe.
Where did you get the initial idea for this story?
I saw Robert Edsel’s nonfiction book about the Monuments Men and was immediately captivated. I’ve long loved World War II history, and this was an aspect of it I’d never been exposed to. Everyone I mentioned it to was equally fascinated so I started working through characters and plot for a story that would focus on these unique and committed men.
You've written contemporary romances and historical ones--which one do you prefer?
While I enjoy both, I have a passion for the World War II novels. I love finding those unique, unknown stories and making them approachable to readers who would never pick up a non-fiction book. My hope is that we wouldn’t lose the stories of the Greatest Generation, and I want to be a part of capturing them.
What kind of research went into crafting this novel?
An amazing amount. Not only did I have to research the battles which are a backdrop, I had to research the Monuments Men, women war correspondents and photojournalists. Then there was researching the war from the Italian perspective and researching Italy itself. Scenes were set in Naples, Rome, the Vatican and Florence plus a gorgeous castle in Tuscany. Each element required its own research. Because I’m retelling real events with my characters, I strive to get the details as accurate as possible and that requires research.
You set this book in gorgeous Italy. Have you ever been to Italy and if so, what is your favorite part of the country?
I haven't had the good fortune to travel to Italy yet. We spent the summer of 2012 in Germany while I taught a graduate class in Hannover, and I longed to get down there but it didn’t work out. I keep telling my husband that it would be the perfect 20th anniversary trip in a couple years. I’ve always wanted to see Italy, now it’s a deep longing. And I want to spend the night at Montegufoni where Rachel and Scott are headquartered for part of the book.