After five years spent researching and writing her last novel, The Dovekeepers, Alice Hoffman swore she would never write another work of historical fiction. This revelation came as a surprise to many of us seated in the pews of one of the oldest churches in the United States; Trinity United Methodist Church, whose original congregation dates back to the 18th century, was the largest venue at this year’s Savannah Book Festival.
Hoffman continued from the pulpit, explaining that she changed her mind about historical fiction when someone told her she should investigate the Triangle Factory fire. The fire “was the worst workplace disaster in New York City until the fall of the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001,” yet know one had heard about it. Hoffman’s research led her to write an opinion piece about the fire that was published in the Los Angeles Times in 2011, and ultimately became her most recent fictional offering, The Museum of Extraordinary Things.
Instead of thinking about The Museum of Extraordinary Things as historical fiction, Hoffman said she considered her book a love story. A love story between Coralie, a young girl who knows very little about the world except what she has gleaned from books, and Eddie, a Russian immigrant who becomes embroiled in the mystery surrounding the factory fire while attempting to shed his family’s expectations and plans for his life. Hoffman said that The Museum of Extraordinary Things was also a love story between her and the city of New York. After 9/11, Hoffman encountered her first bout of writer’s block and feared she might never write again. She found her way back to writing by re-reading Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, but she truly fell in love again with New York City through her research of the history, people and places in The Museum of Extraordinary Things.