In More Than Words (Putnam), Jill Santopolo’s newest novel, Nina Gregory faces a double loss—the death of her beloved father and the shattering of her illusions when she discovers that he wasn’t at all the man she thought he was. Santopolo talks with Fiction Editor Yona Zeldis McDonough about what she and her protagonist share—and what they don’t.
YZM: Your mother is Jewish and your father was Christian; how did that shape your characters?
JS: In my novel, More Than Words, two of the main characters have parents from different places with differing traditions. Nina’s mother’s family is from Greece and her father’s family is from Wales, and Rafael’s mother’s family is from Ireland and his father’s family is from Cuba. Nina and Rafael connect, at one point in the book, when they talk about what it means to feel that duality of identity. That experience, of dual identity, is something that I felt growing up–and still feel today–and the conversation they have was inspired by one that I had with my husband, whose background is the same as mine but reversed. Even though I’ve written many other books, this is the first time that I wrote about that experience, and even though Nina and Rafael’s dual identities don’t match my own, the essence of what it feels like to have a family that’s not simply one thing or another is the same.