“I tiptoed past the Ministry of Interior, where red geraniums lined the building’s windows. In the secret prisons below, police tortured people with whips, limb crushers, nail presses, and scalding and freezing baths. Or else they just executed them. But the geraniums were always fresh.”

–From Radio Underground by Alison Littman

Alison Littman lives in San Francisco where she’s a writer by day and standup comedian by night. A former journalist in New Mexico, she covered politics and education while also contributing articles on John F. Kennedy and The Beatles to various specialty magazines. Her feature stories focus on listening to rock ‘n’ roll behind the Iron Curtain and Cold War politics. Radio Underground is her first novel.

Book Description:

After years of suffering under the communist regime in Cold War Hungary, Eszter Turján—fanatical underground journalist—would sacrifice anything, and anyone, to see the government fall. When she manipulates news broadcasts on Radio Free Europe, she ignites a vicious revolution, commits a calamitous murder, and is dragged away screaming to a secret underground prison.

Her daughter Dora, then a teenager, cowers in her bedroom as the secret police arrest her mother. Haunted and hurt, Dora vows to work against everything Eszter believes in. But, it’s not that simple.

After nine years, Dora meets a strapping young fan of Radio Free Europe and is unwittingly drawn back into Eszter’s circle. She finds her mother, driven mad by years of torture, is headed for death.

On the brink of losing Eszter again, Dora must decide if she should risk her life to save the mother who discarded her—or leave it to fate.


Welcome Alison! Can we begin by having you tell us how you got started writing historical fiction? Did the movies influence you? Books?

Alison: I have always read historical fiction – Everything is Illuminated, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, The Invisible Bridge and others – and I think what I loved most was that I could learn about the world and be enthralled in the story of it all at the same time. I majored in History in college because I had professors that lectured as if history were a page-turning novel. When I graduated college, I wanted to try combining the flare of those Berkeley history classes with the literature I loved –and started to turn my senior thesis into a novel. That is how Radio Underground started. It was based off these letters I found written by Hungarian teenagers during the Cold War to a rock ‘n’ roll DJ in Munich. At the time, rock music was banned on the state radio, so people would listen to it in secret and write these music requests and letters to the DJ that ran the station in Germany.

Do you find writing historical fiction comes natural to you or did you struggle sometimes?

Alison: It’s definitely a hard thing to do. Often when I wanted to describe a scene in detail, I’d have to stop, take to the internet or order a book on a specific topic in order to finish the scene. For example, I had to do a lot of research about how radio broadcasts were transmitted in the ’50s and ’60s, and the devices and methods used to jam radio waves. It was really technical and most of that information didn’t get into the book, but I needed to know it in order to be confident in describing the characters interacting with those things.

Do you view writing as a kind of spiritual practice?

Alison: If I am feeling like I’m in the right mood, it is. Writing can help me work through and understand myself and the world.

How hard is it to establish and maintain a career in fiction writing?

Alison: It’s challenging to get started in fiction because it requires a lot of networking to find the right agents, publishers, editors, etc. However, once that foundation is formed, there is quite a bit of momentum that can carry you through the publishing process and onto your next book.

Can you tell us a little about the main characters of your book?

Alison: Eszter Turján is an underground journalist in Budapest during the Cold War who is so determined to take down the Soviet regime, she manipulates news broadcasts on Radio Free Europe, commits a murder and ultimately puts her family in grave danger. She is the type of person that can convince herself anything is just or right if it’s for a cause she believes in. She will take huge risks to accomplish her goals, no matter how unrealistic they are, and this leads to some very serious recklessness.

They say all books of fiction have at least one pivotal point when the reader just can’t put the book down. Can you give us one of those pivotal points in your book?

Alison: Eszter is tasked with taking the leader of the Hungarian revolution to a meeting point where Americans are waiting to hand over arms to help bolster the fight against the Soviets. Violence is raging outside and they have to sneak across the city to a rickety house in the hills. They enter the house and something doesn’t seem quite right…

Will there be a follow up book to Radio Underground or other books in the near future?

Alison: There will most certainly be another book in the future. I’m already working on it–a novel that takes place in modern-day San Francisco. While it’s not historical, it is speculative…so I’ll be imagining certain elements of the world.



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