Ronald H. Balson is a celebrated author and a local resident. His novel The Girl from Berlin won the National Jewish Book Award and was a selection for Illinois Reads. He is also the author of Eli’s Promise, Karolina's Twins, The Trust, Saving Sophie, and the international bestseller Once We Were Brothers. His newest, Defending Britta Stein, was published in September.
Q: Attorney, author, professor...what was your first job?
A: My first job after college was teaching elementary school in Chicago. I taught special education to teenage boys in a Chicago public school for seven years and I loved it. During that time, I went to law school at DePaul University at night. After graduating, I began practicing law, but I didn’t stop teaching. I taught business law at the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business in their evening program for twenty-five years.
Q: What's your favorite Chicagoland destination?
A: Perhaps Chicago’s greatest asset is to be located alongside the world’s nicest freshwater lake. We have had an open-bow boat since the kids were little, and we have always enjoyed the water and the beaches.
Q: Which authors do you most enjoy reading?
A: My interests lean toward history and historical fiction. For that reason, I enjoy reading Leon Uris, Herman Wouk, James Michener, Jon Meacham, and Doris Kearns Goodwin. For her style and use of the language, I am a big fan of Joan Didion. Because I am writing a story about Roosevelt and World War II, I am currently reading No Ordinary Time by Doris Kearns Goodwin.
Q: What inspired you to start writing?
A: It seems as though I have always been a writer. I was an editor of my high school and college newspapers. I have been writing briefs, memoranda, and appeals as an attorney for forty-nine years. In the back of my mind, I think I have always had an urge to write creatively. The “inspiration” or “motivation” to write my first novel came when I was involved in a telecommunications lawsuit that took me to Poland. It’s pretty hard to spend time in Poland and not be moved by its history. After my time there, I wrote Once We Were Brothers about a Polish family during the war.
Q: What do you hope your readers take away from Defending Britta Stein?
A: The story of the Danish people and their courage during the Nazi occupation is unique in World War II history. As a country, they rose up together to resist the German takeover of their society. When the order was issued by the German command to deport all the Danish Jews to a concentration camp, the Danish people, acting as a whole, hid all their Jewish brethren from the Gestapo, and shuttled them by fishing boats to safety in Sweden. In Defending Britta Stein, I have attempted to convey the essence of that Danish spirit; that although Denmark was subjugated militarily, the Danish spirit was never conquered.
Q: Is there someone who particularly inspires you?
A: I am continually inspired by my wife and children, who do great things every day.
This interview appeared in the fall 2021 edition of Library Quarterly