Skip to main content

Doomed Lovers: Bohjalian's 20 Troubled Romances

My new novel, THE LIGHT IN THE RUINS, began as a re-imagining of “Romeo and Juliet.” I was watching my daughter as one of the Shark girlfriends in a Vermont production of WEST SIDE STORY --- Arthur Laurents, Jerome Robbins, Stephen Sondheim, and Leonard Bernstein’s American musical version of Shakespeare’s classic love story --- and I realized three things:

1) I am seriously drawn to love stories that are transcendent and crazy;

2) I’m not alone. Many of us are drawn to love stories that are (shall we say) ill-advised; and

3) There is something unbelievably hypnotic about romance when the lovers are doomed --- or, at least, when it looks as if their love can’t possibly survive the third act.

So, when asked me to curate a bookshelf, I decided this corner of the library is for the Doomed Lovers --- or, at least, for those lovers who will need a whole lot of luck for their romance to survive. In most of these tales, the lovers have little in common. They’re from different backgrounds. Sometimes they’re not even the same species. In one of these books, the romance is between a golem and a jinni. In another, he’s human and she’s an angel. And in a third, he’s a male porn star who’s had most of his skin burned away and she’s...crazy. Or not.

In some cases, not even we as readers are rooting for them. (Raise your hand if you really want Humbert Humbert and Lolita to walk off into the sunset together. Yeah, not a lot of takers.)

Are all of these classics? Far from it.

Some had me laughing out loud, some merely smiling a little wistfully.  Some are poignant and powerful and deeply moving.

For one reason or another, I enjoyed them all.  And, in some cases, I can see how they influenced THE LIGHT IN THE RUINS --- a love story and literary thriller set in Florence and Tuscany in the waning days of World War II and the 1950s.

So, this summer, I raise my glass to the doomed lovers everywhere who sometimes --- against all odds --- actually make it.

Curated by Chris Bohjalian