Reported by Amanda Spiller ’17
Pulitzer Prize-winning author Elizabeth Strout read from her latest best-selling novel, The Burgess Boys, at a recent Bowdoin event sponsored by the Blythe Bickel Edwards Fund and the English Department.
Known for incorporating the unique flavor of her home state into her fiction, the Maine-born Strout is the author of numerous short stories and two other novels. In her newest work, Strout revisits the fictional Maine town of Shirley Falls, first introduced in a previous book.
When Shirley Falls resident Susan Burgess finds out that that her son has been accused of a hate crime against the Somali population, she informs her brothers Jim and Bob, both New York City attorneys, who return to their small Maine hometown to help handle the crisis. The Burgess reunion on familiar soil rekindles long-buried familial tensions and reminders of the siblings’ traumatic childhood, testing their ability to cooperate amidst a new type of challenge.
It took Strout seven years to write The Burgess Boys, largely due to her extensive research on the country of Somalia, its culture, and its civil war. “I found out all I could about Somali history,” Strout said. “I write about things that become absolutely compelling to me.” As part of Strout’s research she spoke with many Somalis in her college town of Lewiston, Maine. Today Maine is home to more than 6,000 Somali secondary immigrants.
Strout noted that she started writing as a child, captivated by the idea of that stories provided a way to inhabit a different point of view. “I understood at a very young age that I would never know what it would be like to be another person,” she said. “I figured out that books brought me the closest.”