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Behind the Book

The Two Loves of Sophie Strom by Sam Taylor

 

I’ve always loved stories that rearrange reality in some simple, allusive way, like Groundhog Day or Life After Life. They remind me of a quote about Italo Calvino: ‘He holds a mirror up to life, then writes about the mirror.’ That is exactly what I wanted to do with this novel.

I first had the idea that forms the heart of the book – a Sliding Doors moment, after which two versions of the same character continue living different lives, each dreaming about the other – back in 2010. So why is it coming out in 2024? Well, that’s a long story . . .

It began as a science-fiction novel, The Mirror Life of Leon Noel. That book was inspired by reading Ender’s Game, Dune and The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich one summer, and in that version of the Sliding Doors concept it wasn’t just the characters’ lives that were different in each reality, but the world itself. The novel featured two races on an alien planet who were in a constant state of enmity and war, and in one timeline, the protagonist’s race were the dominant oppressors, while in the other they were the oppressed victims.

I finished the first draft of The Mirror Life of Leon Noel just before my life was completely overturned. I was forty years old, in a loveless marriage, and – after living in rural France and writing novels for the previous decade – I had just realised that I wasn’t making enough money from my books to survive.

Two things happened then. I became a literary translator, and I fell in love. Over the next decade, I got divorced and remarried, moved to a different continent, became a father again and translated more than sixty books from French to English. The SF novel ended up at the bottom of a drawer, but I never stopped thinking about the idea at its heart.

‘Having decided during that forty-five-minute drive to set the story in Vienna and Paris before and during the Second World War, I started writing what would become The Two Loves of Sophie Strom.’

All the feedback I’d been given was that the book should be set in the real world, to highlight the central conceit rather than drowning it in other fantastical elements. That made perfect sense to me, but I couldn’t work out how to set it in the real world – because if I did, the political reality in each character’s timeline could not be markedly different.

In 2016 I finally had an epiphany while driving my kids and stepkids to school: the worlds didn’t have to be different, only the characters’ circumstances. Having decided during that forty-five-minute drive to set the story in Vienna and Paris before and during the Second World War, I started writing what would become The Two Loves of Sophie Strom. The plot and the characters were all completely new, but the story was formed around the same idea as the one I began six years earlier.

Because I spend most of my working life as a literary translator these days, the book took me another six years to write, rather than the two years that all my other novels took. To my surprise, this turned out to be an advantage, because it gave me longer periods between revisions – and that in turn enabled me to read my own book more objectively. It also meant that I didn’t get sick of it. Even now, I still love this novel, which was certainly not true of any of my other novels at the time they were published!

The Two Loves of Sophie Strom was written in Texas, between 2016 and 2022, a period encompassing the entirety of the Trump presidency. The book is definitely not an allegory of modern American politics, but I do think the atmosphere of increasingly polarised politics here informed my writing and helped me better understand the period I was writing about.

So why did this book take me so long? Well, you could say that life got in the way. But it was the life that got in the way that made it the novel it is. Finding love, the twists and turns of fate, the importance of kindness in a troubled world . . . The Two Loves of Sophie Strom is set in the past and its characters are all fictional, but in some ways it is about my life and the times we live in – as seen in a mirror.

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Sam Taylor
£18.99

A timeless, heart-wrenching story about love in the face of indoctrination and tragedy – perfect for fans of Amor Towles and Anthony Doerr’s All The Light We Cannot See.

About the Author

Sam Taylor is a novelist and literary translator. His previous novels have reached an international audience, and his award-winning translations include works by Laurent Binet, Leïla Slimani and Marcel Proust. Born in England, Sam was a writer and editor at the Observer before moving to France. He now lives in the United States with his family.

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