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  • jrblackburnsmith


People frequently ask 'How do you come up with your stories?' I've written before about how I start with an image and draft a book from that single vision, and that's true. Perhaps a better question might be 'Why do you write your books?' and Forgiveness is a perfect novel to use to answer that question. Forgiveness was published in 2013, but it took fifteen years and two other novels to manifest. Like almost everything I've written, I started out knowing I wasn't a strong enough writer to tackle this narrative, --I'm still not sure that even today I'm equal to the material-- but I think it does something special.

Forgiveness, set in the years following WWII in a fictional Balkans civil war, is my response to 9/11. You might ask how could something set more than fifty years before 9/11 be a response to the horrific tragedy that struck us? Quite honestly, I didn't have the emotional resilience to set my work directly around that moment, and it wasn't necessary for what I wanted to explore. One of the recurring themes in my work is forgiveness. What does it mean to forgive, how do people do it, who benefits? I wonder why some people exhibit a degree of grace that seems so alien to our human, emotional state, that it might feel insincere, and yet others, caught deeply in the web of their emotional pain are so stridently angry and unforgiving that it makes people want to turn away from them.

I created the vilest and most unrepentant character I could imagine: Walter Krang, a notoriously violent guard at a concentration camp. I then had one of the prisoners forgive him and help him escape as the camp was liberated. That act of forgiveness isn't what the novel is about. It didn't matter to Krang that someone he had brutalized forgave him; in fact, after he escaped, Krang had only one goal: to find the prisoner who forgiven him and make her withdraw her offer of redemption. Even Walter Krang knows he is a man unworthy of forgiveness.

The act of forgiveness in the title is existential. The novel wants nothing less than an act of forgiveness from the reader. It's not important to that the prisoner forgive Walter Krang; that is a simple plot device. Forgiveness asks you, the reader, to forgive Walter Krang. It asks you, knowing the truth of every action Krang has taken, to find a way to see him as a man worthy of Grace.

I'd love to hear from folks who read Forgiveness to understand where you ended up. Did you forgive or not? Why? It is such a fascinating study to understand how such acts are birthed within our beings.

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