Jeff Glor talks to siblings Aili McConnon and Andres McConnon about "Road to Valor: A True Story of WWII Italy, the Nazis, and the Cyclist Who Inspired a Nation"
Jeff Glor: What inspired you to write the book?
Andres McConnon: Nearly ten years ago, I was cheering from the Tour de France sidelines, when I first heard of Gino Bartali, the most famous Italian athlete of his era. I was immediately fascinated by how Bartali, who won the Tour in 1938 and again in 1948, managed to remain at the top of his sport when World War II interrupted his career.
Aili McConnon: Meanwhile, I was in New York creating an anthology of literature in response to genocide and war. When Andres mentioned Bartali, I was intrigued and soon discovered a short mention in an Italian newspaper about secret rescue work Bartali had done to help Jews during the Italian Holocaust. When we realized Bartali's story combined the dramatic appeal of a sports underdog with the surprising saga of a secret Holocaust hero, we began developing this germ of an idea into a book.
JG: What surprised you the most during the writing process?
Andres and Aili: Bartali constantly surprised us because he was such a complex and paradoxical man. He was the ultimate endurance athlete, racing for much longer than most of his rivals, and yet he was a chain smoker who wasn't afraid to drink a generous amount of Chianti with friends late at night, just hours before an important race in the morning. We also found it remarkable that while Bartali was as famous in Europe as Joe DiMaggio was in the United States, so few of his fans knew about his war-time work.
JG: What would you be doing if you weren't a writer?
Andres: I think the same curiosity that I have in writing narrative histories would be fulfilled by taking patient histories as a doctor.
Aili: I would work for a human rights organization supporting literature and freedom of expression such as Pen International or Journalists for Human Rights.
JG: What else are you reading right now?
Andres: I'm currently reading Candice Millard's "Destiny of the Republic."
Aili: I'm reading Susan Cain's "Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking" and Daniel Kahneman's "Thinking, Fast and Slow."
JG: What's next for you?
Andres and Aili: After years of tightly-scheduled research and writing deadlines, we're hoping to have more time in the immediate future to travel (to separate parts of the world!). That said, the search for another compelling character who lived in an exciting historical moment continues unabated. It's a quest that never ends.
For more on Road to Valor visit the Random House website.