Names seem to matter a lot in your books. The narrator of your first novel, The Spanish Bow, was named Feliu, a name that almost means happy (Feliz). The narrator in your forthcoming novel, The Detour, is named Ernst.
Yes, Ernst, which sounds an awful lot like earnest. Which he is—often to a fault. As the narrator himself also reveals, it also means “willing to battle to the death,” which he is not. Ernst is like most of us: he really just wants to live. In 1938, that meant keeping a low profile, trying not to anger his superiors, or be targeted by army bullies, or raise any alarms. But by trying so hard to live, he doesn’t live at all. And he knows—as he witnesses the disappearance of his mentor, and even as he experiences the joyless affection of another self-servingly cautious co-worker, a Munich secretary—that this way of living isn’t living. What he experiences in Italy is something altogether different. Through his road adventure with Cosimo and Enzo, but most of all by meeting their sister Rosina, he experiences spontaneity, friendship, pleasure, and a little terror, too. As well as new views, bluer skies, food and family and hospitality and (am I giving away too much?) some unbridled sensuality. Flesh, instead of marble. It breaks him out of his paralysis. It awakens something real in him—something that will end up sustaining him long after the Italian trip, which is a good thing, given that the clouds of war are on the horizon.
As for his last name, Vogler: Originally, I did not pick it for any intentional meaning (it means simply “fowler” or “bird catcher” in German). But reflecting on it now, it does sound like “vulgar,” a word that now means indecent, but used to have no negative connation. It once meant simply “common.” And Ernst is a common man: not fully heroic. It is perhaps too much to expect perfect heroism of most people who happened to be entering adulthood just as the Nazis came to power. What is amazing is that some people did manage to have integrity and skepticism about the Nazi project. Ernst’s mentor, Gerhard, whom we meet only briefly, is one of those men.
As for Enzo (short for Lorenzo) and Cosimo: these are common Italian names, which happen to correspond to famous members of the Medici political dynasty, a Renaissance family known for their patronage of art.
And your name?
Ah yes. Writing The Detour—a novel about a Roman copy of a Greek statue purchased by a tyrant who is intent both on destroying the Jews and acquiring all of the Europe’s finest art (among many despicable plans), I realized I would never come up with a novel that better matches my own name and my own heritage, both by birth and marriage—as well as my own thematic and philosophical concerns. “Andromeda” is from Greek mythology, “Romano” means from Rome, “Lax” is Jewish—and all those cultures and heritages are bound up with the central issues of the story. It’s a strange convergence, and it helped me to feel that I was telling a story I was meant to tell—whether it was ever published or read. I wrote it to explore my own passions and questions, to follow the road from Rome, and to see where that road led.