Saturday 26 July 2014

Blog Tour Interview & Giveaway - The Lost Catacomb by Shifra Hochberg

The Lost Catacomb
by Shifra Hochberg

Book Summary:
An intoxicating blend of Vatican thriller and heart-rending love story, THE LOST CATACOMB is a stunning debut novel set against the backdrop of the Holocaust in Italy. At its heart is Nicola Page, a beautiful young art historian who flies to Rome to assess a newly discovered catacomb of enigmatic provenance. Its magnificent frescoes hold the clues to a centuries-old murder and the existence of a fabled treasure from the ancient Temple in Jerusalem.

Assisted by a handsome Italian archaeologist, Nicola is quickly drawn into a tangled web of intrigue and peril, masterminded by a powerful priest who is determined to destroy those who would reveal the dark secrets of the past. And as Nicola uncovers layer after layer of this deadly past, she is brought face to face with shocking facts about her own family history—facts that will forever change the course of her life.

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Author Interview

1. What inspired you to write your first book?

The Lost Catacomb was inspired mainly by my wish to tell the story of the Jews of Rome during the Holocaust—a subject not generally dealt with in fiction—and by ideas for the plot that were inspired by my first visit to the Vatican, where I was dazzled by the vast holdings of its Museums.  Given that I enjoy well-written thrillers and have had a life-long fascination with all things Italian it is no surprise that I began to write a Vatican thriller with a Jewish twist. You'll have to read the novel to see how these two elements are combined!

2. Do you have a specific writing style?

My writing style is influenced by the fact that I have a Ph.D. in English literature, and therefore used literary allusions and subtexts throughout the novel to add resonance and heft to the plot. These references to Faulkner, Milton, Shakespeare, and Tennyson, for instance, are used at times for irony or simply to enrich theme and character.  Sometimes the references are subtly nuanced and at other times more overt. In addition, the epigraphs that precede each section of the novel were chosen to create a feeling of suspense and anticipation.

3. How did you come up with the title for your book?

The title The Lost Catacomb was chosen because it encodes the theme of loss that pervades the novel:  lost catacombs, lost lovers, lost identity, a lost pope, lost treasure, lost manuscripts, and the like.  And speaking of literary allusions, towards the end of the novel there is even a subtle reference to the concluding lines of Milton's Paradise Lost, which I incorporated to create a sense of irony and unease, which is reinforced in the final pages of the novel.

4. Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?

I did not have a specific message in mind when I wrote the novel, other than to tell three love stories that take place in different eras and converge against the backdrop of the Holocaust in Italy. From a thematic perspective, I made the heroine's search for the provenance of a lost catacomb parallel her search for her elusive family roots in Italy and thus the novel also becomes a kind of bildungsroman in which the heroine goes on a journey of self-discovery and maturation.

5. How much of the book is realistic?

The Lost Catacomb is the fruit of several years of intensive research. I read over 100 books on the history of Italy and the Catholic Church, as well as scores of novels that were set in Italy. I also traveled to Italy over a dozen times, making on-site visits to all locations in my novel in order to create an authentic sense of time and place. For example, I went on a private tour of the Jewish catacomb network of the Vigna Randanini, on the estate of the Marchesa Letitzia del Gallo, in the company of a retired archaeologist from the Vatican. These catacombs are generally closed to the public.  I also met with families of Italian Holocaust survivors, some of whose stories appear in fictionalized from in my novel.

6. What book are you reading now?

I am currently reading Blood and Beauty by Sarah Dunant.

7. Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest?

My tastes in literature are quite eclectic. I enjoyed reading Helene Wecker's debut novel The Golem and the Jinni, and at the moment am looking forward to the July release of Daniel Silva's latest thriller, The Heist.

8. What are your current projects?

I have just finished researching material for another historical novel, this time set in France.

9. Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?

I learned a lot about the history of Italy, particularly during World War Two, but more importantly I learned how to write a lengthy, sustained narrative.

10. What were the challenges (research, psychological etc) in bringing your story to life?

The challenges were many—how to use historical detail with being too heavy-handed, how to make the characters come to life, how to avoid cliché, and in effect how to create a text that would somehow combine literary and commercial elements and appeal to as wide a group of readers as possible.

About the Author
Shifra Hochberg has a Ph.D. in English Literature from New York University and teaches at Ariel University in Israel. She has published 20 academic essays and is currently writing another novel.

Author Links:


5 Kindle or ePub copies of The Lost Catacomb up for grabs.

Ends August 15th (midnight GMT).

International giveaway.

Contest is void where prohibited. Entrants must be 13 or else have parent or guardian’s permission to enter.

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  1. I love the cover! The dark and mysterious catacomb underneath the city sqaure is very inviting!

  2. thanks for the giveaway. the cover is interesting.

  3. I love it, it's very architectural.

  4. The cover looks so mysterious! I do like books that are about this subject. Thanks for the great giveaway!

  5. I like that the story relates to the character's family history.

  6. I love the cover! The way the catacomb is so huge, compared to the city above ground, and the way it is lit, draws the reader to explore the depths and the story.
    Thank you for the giveaway.

  7. I think the book cover is eye catching and intriguing!

  8. Makes me feel like i’m going to explore a maze when i read the book.

  9. I really like it. It's very mysterious