The Writer’s Center welcomes Robert Shuster, winner of the McLaughlin-Esstman-Stearns First Novel Prize, to discuss the background of To Zenzi as well as the challenges of writing a historical novel, with a Q&A to follow. First Novel Prize judge Barbara Esstman will share remarks on Robert’s work.
About the Prize: Each year, The Writer’s Center awards the author of an exceptional first novel published in the previous calendar year. Conceived and funded by former board member Neal P. Gillen, the McLaughlin-Esstman-Stearns First Novel Prize honors three dedicated writers and members of The Writer’s Center faculty—the late Ann McLaughlin, Barbara Esstman, and Lynn Stearns—each of whom have nourished and inspired students and fellow writers.
Free and open to the public, registration required below.
Robert L. Shuster’s short fiction has appeared in North American Review, Witness, the Mississippi Review, and Stone Canoe, among other publications, and in the anthologies Micro Fiction and Yellow Silk II. For a number of years, Shuster wrote arts and culture pieces for The Village Voice. Shuster lives in Westchester County, New York.
About the Novel
To Zenzi is the extraordinary story of Tobias Koertig’s odyssey through the apocalypse of Berlin in 1945. An orphaned thirteen-year-old who loves to draw, Tobias is coerced into joining the German youth army in the last desperate weeks of the war. Mistaken for a hero on the Eastern Front, he receives an Iron Cross from Hitler himself, who discovers the boy’s cartoons and appoints Tobias to sketch pictures of the ruined city.
Shuttling between the insanity of the Führer’s bunker and the chaotic streets, Tobias must contend with a scheming Martin Bormann, a deceitful deserter, the Russian onslaught, and his own compounding despair—all while falling for Zenzi, a girl of Jewish descent (a mischling) who relays secret news of death camps and convinces Tobias to make a treacherous escape to the Americans.
With thrilling risks in plotting and prose, with moments of pathos and absurdity, Shuster richly conjures a mad, tragic world.
From our final judges:
“In this award-winning novel, we see, through fresh language and vivid imagery, more than Tobias, a boy trying to survive war-torn Berlin sustained by his love for a girl named Zenzi. As the tension grows from the first page to the last, we are forced to acknowledge the price paid when peace is out of reach.
“A rich narrative written with strong prose and fast pacing, To Zenzi finds the dark humor in the horrific events of war and pulls the readers irresistibly along.”