By Margaret Gill
The Art of Traveling Strangers, Zoe Disigny’s debut novel, recounts a life-changing journey through Europe, but the heart of the story is right here in Long Beach.
Disigny first came up with the idea for the book while at lunch with a girlfriend. “We were at the Boat House right in Belmont Shore,” she explains. “I told her one of my stories, and she said ‘You should write that!’” Disigny is full of tales from her time as a tour guide in Europe and has always seen herself as a writer, but that was the first time she had ever truly considered writing a novel. “I just didn’t have this kind of a story that was ready to be told until now.”
The Art of Traveling Strangers tells the story of Claire, who, like Disigny, is from Long Beach, but departs to travel through Europe as an art guide. The novel is set during the 1980s, the same time period in which Disigny herself lived in Long Beach. “It was easy for me to have the story take place in that setting. I’m familiar with it. I love it. I spent really important years there.”
In the novel, Claire is recovering from heartbreaking losses when she embarks on a journey of rediscovery and reinvention. Inspired by her relationship with Viv, the eccentric tourist on the receiving end of her tours, she comes to find personal empowerment and the true value of female friendship. Her story encapsulates conflicting desires for escapism and reality, both of which she seeks to find in the artistic masterpieces of Italy and France.
Disigny feels the need to warn people that her novel is “sort of different. I am attempting to tell not only what I hope is an entertaining story, but, in the process of telling that story, actually teach this mini crash course in Western Art history.” However, her experience as an art history professor has no doubt taught her how to draw an audience’s attention. “It was always the story that captured the students,” she explains. “They wouldn’t remember anything about the art, but they would remember that Van Gogh cut off his ear. It was the human interest side of art history that really captured everyone’s attention, so I wanted to teach art history through a story that would entertain.”
For those interested in celebrating the book’s launch or simply learning more about the novel, there will be a virtual public launch on the 22nd at 5:00 PM via Eventbrite. The author is also offering a monthly newsletter called “For Lovers of Art and Travelers at Heart.” Anyone interested can sign up on her website zoedisigny.com or by emailing her at email@example.com.