Chicago writer’s new novel a tale of self-discovery

Lisa Barr

By Ellen Braunstein, Special to Chicago Jewish News

Lisa Barr’s main character in her new novel is Sophie Bloom, a Jewish woman from suburban Chicago, who is a mother, fiercely loyal to those she loves, and an artist. Sophie could be  Barr, she says, except what happens to her in “The Unbreakables” is not her story.

“It’s a story I built, but I think there’s a lot of similarities that I drew on from my own life and a composite of women I know,” said Barr, a wife and mother of three college-age daughters.

Just released by HarperCollins Publishers, “The Unbreakables” is about a woman whose life falls apart when she is betrayed by her husband and her best friends. She flees to the south of France to heal her broken heart. There she rediscovers her sensuality and reclaims her ambitions as an artist. She teams up with a famous dying French sculptor to create a masterpiece —Biblical Eve.

“The Unbreakables” is about a woman whose life was stolen out from under her,” said Barr, who was raised in Northbrook and lives in Deerfield. “When everything you love breaks down—family and friendship—when you are forced to start all over. I also explored the concept of letting go of the past while confronting it, and eventually, creating a new life amid the rubble.”

Publishers Weekly calls “The Unbreakables” an “exquisitely wrought novel that will appeal to readers who believe in the redemption of new beginnings, and the necessity of facing the past while making a deliberate effort to move forward.” 

“Unbreakables” comes on the heels of Barr’s award-winning novel “Fugitive Colors,” a suspenseful tale of stolen art, love, lust, deception and revenge on the eve of World War II and the Holocaust. Julian Klein, a young Jewish American artist, leaves behind his religious upbringing for the artistic freedom of Paris in the 1930s, only to find himself trapped inside a world in which a paintbrush is far more lethal than a gun.

“The Unbreakables” and “Fugitive Colors” are both about the “triumph of the human spirit—how does someone survive heartbreak and adversity and come out standing strong,” Barr said.

The themes resonate with her own life, Barr said. “Sophie tends to put everyone before herself—especially her husband’s and her daughter’s needs trump her own. I can connect to this well. (I’m working on it). Sophie is afraid of her own creative powers until she decides to set herself free, experiencing both a sensual and artistic awakening. I can connect to many of the emotions Sophie feels as she sculpts. It’s exactly how I feel when I’m writing: Time stops. Writing is breathing.”

Barr, a Solomon Schechter Day School graduate, was an editor at The Jerusalem Post for five years where she covered Middle East politics, lifestyle and terrorism. Among the highlights of her career, she covered the famous handshake between the late Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, the late PLO leader Yasser Arafat and President Bill Clinton at the White House. She interviewed Leah Rabin right after the assassination for a five-page spread in Vogue. She developed a long friendship until Rabin passed away.

Barr also served as managing editor of Moment Magazine in Washington, D.C. and Today’s Chicago Woman. She launched a women’s section for the Chicago Sun Times.

“I always say that as a journalist I’ve covered everything from terrorism to sex and relationships.” She worked as a journalist by day and wrote fiction at night.

She researched her book “The Unbreakables” for more than three years, taking her family to the south of France in the process. The book took a year to write. “It just flowed out of me,” Barr said. “I’m really excited about it,” adding that it has the feel of “Eat, Pray Love” and “Under the Tuscan Sun.”

Her advice to emerging writers is to remember that “this is a tough business and there is a lot of rejection. Writers are probably the most sensitive people in the world. Keep sending out your writing and don’t just give up when the rejections come your way.”

Also, she recommends finding a community of writers
“to help nurture your work. Whether you are a seasoned writer or just starting out, get to know people. Writing can be a really solo, lonely experience.

“Write what you love,” she says, “because that passion translates.”

The author and her book “The Unbreakables” will be featured at The Max & Benny’s Literary Series 6 p.m. June 24 at 461 Waukegan Rd., Northbrook. For an online listing of several other book events in the region, visit www.lisabarr.com.

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