Bohjalian back in Burlington

Last Thursday a bestselling author and Vermonter returned to his home state.

On Jan. 21, Chris Bohjalian gave a reading and answered questions about his new novel, “The Guest Room,” at the Fletcher Free Library.  Despite his international success, Bohjalian said he’s never forgotten where he started.  “It wasn’t all that long ago that my books sold briskly, but only to people with my last name,” Bohjalian said. “I don’t lose sight of that.”   He said his newest novel, like many of his books, tackles a weighty subject: human trafficking.

The seeds for the story were planted during a family trip to Armenia in 2013, when Bohjalian saw a young escort paying off a bellman in a hotel lobby, he said. He began to wonder about her story.  Although Bohjalian is often praised for writing well-researched novels, he said he sees himself as a storyteller first.  “So much of what I write about are ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances, just trying to do their best,” he said.

He said he’s excited about The Guest Room, which he believes diverges somewhat from his previous work.  “When my wife read it she described it as ‘Breaking Bad’ meets ‘Bonfire of the Vanities,’” he said.   

However, Bohjalian said it still shares many common themes with his past novels.  “All of my books, whether they are historical fiction or contemporary fiction, share two threads,” he said.  “The first is dread. You keep turning the pages because you don’t know if you will find hope or heartbreak at the end.”

“The second thread is a lot of my books are about my worst fears,” Bohjalian said. “I’m a father and many of my protagonists are very messed up young women.”

Although he enjoys cross-country book tours and the chance to connect with his readers, Bohjalian said he is always happy to return to Vermont.  “Living in Vermont has been a great professional blessing,” he said.