Andrea’s Bobotis’s debut novel The Last List of Miss Judith Kratt is a family history in the form of an inventory of objects and the stories that accompany them.
“What I mean, I continued, is that our memories orient us just like the furniture in this sunroom.” – The Last List of Miss Judith Kratt, Chapter One
In The Last List of Miss Judith Kratt, Andrea Bobotis highlights the importance of personal history, place and objects—and how these things are often fundamental in shaping our identities. Perception plays an important role in history, and through the varied perspectives of all the vastly different characters in this novel, Bobotis exposes the difficulty of interpreting personal history, how perspective can be limited and how the same event can create differing experiences.
Judith Kratt has not left her house, the old family home in Bound, since her brother’s death 60 years ago. She relies on Olva, who grew up with her in the Kratt family home, to help her with housekeeping and has not spoken to her youngest sister Rosemarie since she left town six decades ago. When Rosemarie comes back to the Kratt family home, tensions arise and secrets thought to be buried decades ago start resurfacing, the most notable one Rosemarie’s belief that Judith killed their brother Quincy.
Alternating between chapters in the present and the year Quincy was killed, The Last List of Miss Judith Kratt uses time and place to showcase how people change. Judith’s inventory of objects in the house follows each chapter, as she steadily adds to it, emphasizing how these objects in her inventory played a crucial role in her youth. To Judith, objects have stories, and both are equally important. To Rosemarie, stories are more important.
The Last List of Miss Judith Kratt is a beautifully written tale of sisterhood, family and place, and the objects that make us who we are. The power of memory and construction of narrative are equally important driving forces in this novel, as characters are forced to reckon with their understandings of the past and of other people. A family history in the form of an inventory, The Last List of Miss Judith Kratt is a must-read for anyone who enjoys historical fiction, with an emphasis on the creation of history.
Vika Mujumdar: Do you relate more to associating objects with stories like Judith, or stories being just stories like Rosemarie?
Andrea Bobotis: I’m deeply interested in the stories of objects. If you think about it, every object carries with it an accumulation of histories: the labor that went into its making, its uses and the various memories it’s accrued over the years. When you’re holding an object, even if it seems quite ordinary, it contains layer upon layer. I especially love found objects. I have a Little Free Library, and it’s such a thrill when I discover someone’s old letter or a to-do list stuck in the pages of a book. People will use all sorts of things for bookmarks! I highly recommend Found Magazine, which is devoted to cards, letters, lists and little notes that people randomly find.
VM: Was there anything, in particular, that was the inspiration to write a family history in the form of an inventory?
AB: I grew up in a Southern home crowded with heirlooms and curiosities—lots of porcelain dolls missing arms, mason jars filled with skeleton keys and tiny vials of old tinctures with labels like “Toothache Drops.” Our main family heirlooms, however, could be found in my great-aunt Jean’s home in Sharon, South Carolina. My great-aunt Jean inspired my character Judith Kratt. She lived in a large, mysterious home with drafty corridors and darkly floral odors. I started writing vignettes about the heirlooms in her house, including an intricate roll-top desk, a Tiffany-style lamp and a glass tray inlaid with real butterfly wings. I pieced the vignettes together, and my novel took shape from there.
VM: Are there any stories in your family that were passed down like in the Kratt family?
AB: My novel is based on a murder that happened in my family two generations before me. My great uncle shot his brother and, in my family, we frequently talked about the murder around the dinner table. The brothers had quarreled over family inheritance—land, money and the family-owned businesses, which included a cotton gin and a rural department store. It took me a long time to realize that regular folk didn’t necessarily air their family skeletons at the dinner table.
VM: Is there an heirloom in your family that you’d love to get your hands on?
AB: My favorite family heirlooms are all paper-based: a poem clipped from a magazine found in my grandfather’s wallet when he died, a manila folder in which my mom has kept copies of all her favorite poems and old letters written by family members. My mom recently gave me a stack of old family letters, and they’ve sparked ideas for new stories.
VM: Judith definitely enjoys cataloging things. Is list-making something that’s a hobby (or a necessity) of yours as well?
AB: I’m a fanatical list maker. I love listing, cataloging and organizing. I would make a great archivist. I would be perfectly happy sorting and logging ancient bones in a natural history museum.
VM: Can you share with us the last list you made?
AB: That would be a packing list for my upcoming book tour. It’s not complete, but so far it goes like this: glasses, green water bottle, itinerary print-out, copy of my book with notes, card from Jean. That last item is particularly significant. It’s a card from my great-aunt Jean, the one who inspired Judith Kratt. During my book talks, I read from the card. I guess that means I’m taking an heirloom with me on book tour. And just like Judith Kratt, I’m accounting for it in a list, curating this experience in my life through the objects around me.
The Last List of Miss Judith Kratt is included on our 2019 Summer Reading List.