The Afterlife of Stars, the new novel by School of Creative and Performing Arts dean Joe Kertes, opens with a haunting scene: a young boy -- age 9.8, to be precise -- is pulled from school by his grandmother, their way home blocked by Russian soldiers and a tank. In the square, crowds stare up at eight Hungarian soldiers, hung from lampposts.
"A couple of the Hungarians had stuck out their tongues as they dangled — one seemed to be smiling, four wriggled and bucked, and the one nearest us, straight above my grandmother and me, looked down at us with evergreen eyes, but there was no anger in the eyes, or even light."
Though the book is fiction, Joe tells Metro's Richard Crouse in a video interview that he witnessed this very scene as his family fled the revolution in Hungary in 1956.
"I've had at least a hundred dreams about that image. And it was very vivid. Extremely vivid. We ran across the border by night by foot exactly as it was in the book. To Austria. And there really were bombs going off and I remember my older brother saying, 'What is going on? No one's dropping bombs.' And finally my grandmother said, 'We're crossing a minefield.' I didn't even know what that was. There were people blowing up as we were running. Hundreds of people running across the border."
Stealing the plot
As Joe tells Richard, he didn't expect the book to go where it did.
"I originally started out writing a book about a family escaping from Hungary to go to the new world. But somehow or other, the two boys in this novel commandeered the plot away from me... I kind of followed them along and ran after them with a pen and paper and wrote down what they said... Sometimes they woke me up in the middle of the night and said, 'We're having this conversation now.'"
The first chapter of Joe's book will be printed in installments in the print edition of Metro, leading up to a live chat on Thursday, September 4 at 1:00 p.m., EST. To participate on the day or to submit a question in advance, clickhere. If you can't get your hands on a copy of the newspaper, you can still download the excerpts from Metro's website here.