Listen to an excerpt from Kate Walbert's The Sunken Cathedral




Read an excerpt from Lily Tuck's The Double Life of Liliane:


In the living room, the blue velvet sofa, the green glass coffee table, the two matching stuffed chairs and her father’s ornate mahogany desk are all new. Except for a large Venetian glass ashtray on top of the coffee table—her father smokes a pack of cigarettes a day, Chesterfields he buys on the black market—there are no books or magazines or other objects to give the room a lived-in look. The only personal object in the room is the statue of a lion that sits on her father’s desk. It is the Golden Laurel Award he received at the Venice Film Festival in 1950 for a film called Donne senza Nome (Women without Names) starring Simone Simon and Françoise Rosay and set after World War II, in a displaced persons’ camp, where the lives and freedom of three women and a newborn child are at stake. The actresses playing the women detainees speak in many different languages—Italian, English, French, Serbo-Croatian and German—depending on their nationalities and the film’s location. Scenes were shot in Puglia, in the town of Alberobello, famous for its distinctive houses with cone-shaped stone roofs. A few years later, Rudy will put a framed photo of Liliane next to the statue of the lion. The photo—a photo she does not like (it looks posed and her hair at the time is too short)—was taken by a well-known photographer, who was both a friend of her father and of Marilyn Monroe. 

In Conversation: Kate Walbert and Lily Tuck

Tuesday September 29, 2015
07:00 pm

Tags: Event
Photo Credit: Deborah Donenfeld (Walbert)

Kate Walbert (The Sunken Cathedral) and Lily Tuck (The Double Life of Liliane) joined us for an evening exploring their latest books. Against the backdrop of some of the greatest cities in the world, the characters in these two novels navigate the complex impact of history on our lives. The twentieth century unfolds in The Double Life of Liliane as a young girl grows into adulthood by examining her own family, while the characters in The Sunken Cathedral contend with a post-911, post-Sandy Manhattan.

About The Sunken Cathedral

The perfect novel for our deeply uneasy times, The Sunken Cathedral is the story of a neighborhood and the lives and desires that intersect there as its characters confront the changing city landscape. The novel opens with two septuagenarians, Marie and Simone, who arrived in New York City from Europe as young war brides. Together, they raised their children, outlived their husbands and now find themselves with excellent real estate on an island battered by storms and an uncertain future. Marie and Simone take painting classes at The School of Inspired Arts, where they are charmed by their eccentric instructor. Marie’s next door neighbor, a newer addition to her now-ritzy neighborhood, is a famous actor who wishes he was taken more seriously by critics. Her tenant is a young mother whose anxieties threaten to overtake her life. The children in the neighborhood’s private school prepare for the next disaster with weekly emergency drills called What Ifs, led by the principal, who struggles to reconnect with her estranged daughter.


Hurricane Sandy may have come and gone but the storm has left more than physical wreckage in its wake. The battered Zone A remains caught in the hurricane’s velocity, its residents knocked from their bearings but holding on for dear life: determined and resilient but jittery. The Sunken Cathedral is a social novel that renders the old, post-war New York against the new in stories of several characters brought together through the happenstance of a Manhattan neighborhood. Told in a dual narrative of chapters and footnotes, this is Walbert’s most ambitious—and moving—work yet. 


About The Double Life of Liliane

Already praised by Diane Johnson as “A triumph of artistry and storytelling,” The Double Life of Liliane is about one young woman’s fascinating journey, from age twelve to eighteen, toward self-discovery as she travels between her divorced parents on two continents against the unreeling of the 20th century.    


The child of a German movie producer father who lives in Italy and a beautiful, artistically talented mother who resides in Paris and New York, Liliane’s life is divided between two very different worlds.  She is a shy and observant only child with a vivid imagination and as she pieces together the histories of family members as diverse as Moses Mendelssohn, Mary Queen of Scots, and an early Mexican adventurer, her own story unfolds in an astonishing and riveting metanarrative.  A literary and historical artifact and an exploration of self, humanity, and family, Tuck’s new novel resides by the work of W.G. Sebald, Elena Ferrante, and Karl Ove Knausgaard.


Peppered with personal documents and photos, The Double Life of Liliane is a virtuoso performance by one of America’s most established and respected authors.

Kate Walbert’s novel Our Kind was a finalist for the National Book Award. Her bestselling A Short History of Women was reviewed on the cover of The New York Times Book Review, which also named the novel one of the top ten books published in 2009. Critics have called Walbert’s novels “wickedly smart” (The New York Times Book Review), “complex, exquisitely rendered” (San Francisco Chronicle) and “ambitious and impressive” (Washington Post). Her stories have appeared in The New Yorker, The Best American Short Stories, and the O. Henry Prize Stories.


Lily Tuck is the author of five novels, including Siam, a PEN/Faulkner Award finalist;The News from Paraguay, winner of the 2004 National Book Award; and I Married You for HappinessBook of the Year for the Chicago TribuneBoston GlobePublishers Weeklyand the National Post; two collections of stories; and a biography. Her work has been translated in over a dozen languages and has appeared in The Best American Essays and The O. Henry Prize Stories


This event was funded in part by Poets & Writers with public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature.