Between the Lines: Bringing History to Life

| April 4, 2014 | 0 Comments


Laurel Corona has lived most of her life in San Diego and currently resides near Balboa Park.

Laurel Corona has lived most of her life in San Diego and currently resides near Balboa Park.

“Whether it’s the real-life physicist Emilie du Chatelet, the literary heroine Penelope, or women who have sprung entirely from my imagination,” San Diego author Laurel Corona’s stories are true to the facts of their time and place. Her four novels are populated with real and invented characters that give readers a strong sense of other lives and cultures.

Corona’s fourth novel, “The Mapmaker’s Daughter,” was released in March. It is set during the Spanish Inquisition and told from the point of view of a woman raised as a secret crypto-Jew who makes the decision to live openly in her faith. She experiences both the brutalities and joys of Jewish life over the course of her long life.

The highly-regarded Kirkus reviews called the book “A rich, exhaustively researched portrait of Spanish Jews at the birth of the Inquisition.”

Laurel Corona has lived most of her life in San Diego and currently resides near Balboa Park. She attended The Bishop’s School, which she credits as the source of the “interest and love and advocacy of women” that inspires her writing. She received a Ph.D. from the University of California at Davis, and after teaching and administrative stints at SDSU and UCSD, she joined the faculty of San Diego City College in 1990, where she has served as a dean and professor of Humanities and World Religions.

While her subjects might seem far afield, the motivation and themes of her historical fiction are always “women who have been forgotten.” Her first novel, in 2008, was “The Four Seasons,” about women musicians in Vivaldi’s Venice. “Penelope’s Daughter” is a twist on Homer’s “Odyssey,” telling the story of the Trojan War from a woman’s point of view. A fictional life of the daughter of Emilie du Chatelet, a scientist/mathematician in pre-revolutionary France, is the subject of “Finding Emilie.”

In her fifth novel, currently under consideration by her publisher, Corona explores subjects closer to home in a story that takes place in turn-of-the-20th-century New York, blending real and fictional characters.

I asked Corona how she’s been able to write five extensively researched novels in a handful of years while managing a full-time academic career. She admits that she writes fast, because she gets swept up in her stories, eager to see what happens. She approaches each one with an overall plan and an arc of the story, but she doesn’t know all the details—her characters and their lives lead her to surprises and in unexpected directions that she never could have foretold.

In addition to her novels, Corona has written 17 young adult books for school libraries and a work of nonfiction, “Until our Last Breath: A Holocaust Story of Love and Partisan Resistance,” about Lithuanian Jews after the Nazis invaded the Soviet Union and in particular a couple who met and married in the Vilna ghetto and were active in partisan activities.

“The Mapmaker’s Daughter” was introduced in early March at a Warwick’s reading and signing. Corona will be reading next at San Diego Central Library on Sunday, May 5. She will be part of a Mother’s Day program with two other local authors whose newest books are also about mothers and daughters (and who have been recognized in this column): Zoe Ghahremani, reading from “Moon Daughter,” and Jennifer Coburn, from her memoir, “We’ll Always Have Paris.”

Laurel Corona will be retiring from City College at the end of this academic year. Having accomplished so much in her spare time, imagine what she’ll be able to do in retirement! I know that a sixth novel is taking shape in her mind already.

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