Inspiration for The Detour

The Detour is populated by fictional characters whose lives are shaped by a factual event: the acquisition of the ancient Discus Thrower statue by Adolf Hitler in 1938, against the objection of many Italians—a first step in what would become a seven-year looting campaign of Europe’s greatest artistic treasures. I have used some historical details from that ultimately-thwarted Nazi cultural project, while inventing others (including some minor variations in chronology) to suit this novel’s needs.

Hitler’s most ambitious plans to collect art for a new museum in Linz, Austria started taking their clearest shape about one year following the fictionalized storyline in this book. The Discus Thrower was repatriated from Germany to Italy in 1948, ten years after its original purchase; it can now be seen in the National Museum of Rome. For a broader historical context, including the work of America’s “Monuments Men,” who helped track down and protect stolen art during and following World War II, I recommend Rescuing Da Vinci by Robert M. Edsel. Another entertaining book that inspired my (and Ernst Vogler’s) ideas about classical art and body image was Love, Sex and Tragedy: How the Ancient World Shapes Our Lives, by Simon Goldhill.

Much of my information about sculpture and historical context comes from trips to Munich and Rome, including visits to the National Museum of Rome and to Munich’s Glyptothek, where the Discus Thrower was on display for one year. (A brief history can be found in an excellent museum guide, Glyptothek, Munich: Masterpieces of Greek and Roman Sculpture, by Raimund Wünsche, translated from the German by Rodney Batstone.) Aside from research, inspiration for this story may have originated with my own hybrid identity: My first name is Greek, my heritage is Italian and German, and I married into a Jewish family. All of those threads shape my interest in 1938 Europe and the strange confluence at that time of influential and sometimes dangerous ideas about classical art, genetics, and politics.

The author’s family sketching the Discus Thrower, in Rome, 2009.

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