Leaf of the Tree

Finding the Divine in the Details


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How our choices become our stories

It’s an extra special gift when I can be in Europe at all, and when a trip coincides with the history and story of my novel, The Munich Girl, it’s an added blessing.

An interview I had with the writers’ blog It’s Write Now helped me reflect and delve back into the atmosphere of the book and its story, as the scenes in which it unfolds are appearing around me once again in real life.

What originally inspired you to craft a story about a portrait that turns into a journey to uncover World War II secrets?

My original intent was (and remained) to explore more about the lives of everyday Germans during World War II. When life led me to information about Eva Braun, it opened up whole new questions, particularly because she came from a background of everyday Germans – not what many would expect to be Hitler’s choice at all. When the question: “What if you had known Eva Braun, but hadn’t known the role she played in his life?” arose, the story’s momentum became unstoppable for me. A number of people actually did have this experience with her, didn’t find out the truth of her situation until after her death, because she was required to remain an invisible secret in Hitler’s life. That way, he could sustain the adulation he received through the myth that “his bride was Germany”.

The whole fact of Eva Braun as a character naturally brings a range of response. That includes those who connect, even empathize with her, those who connect with the story but struggle with connecting with her, and those who absolutely don’t want to connect with her, who object to her being there at all. I’ve been astonished when readers who I might not expect to easily relate to her – those whose families experienced huge losses during the Holocaust, for example – actually have a lot of empathy for what she reveals as a character. One editor asked early in the book’s process, “How are you going to get people past the fact it’s her?” I knew I wasn’t. Readers are either willing to go that distance or they’re not. It’s never been my intent to redeem her in any way, but rather for her to act as a motif for the self-suppression and repression that are still rampant in many lives. For me, she also represents that we are a mixture of strengths and character deficiencies, and we make a meaningful life through the choices we make in relation to those.

The experiences of Germany through this period is really told through the characters that the readers meet during the book. How you breathe life into these characters?

The dynamic that each of the three women in the book experience, of never feeling that she can be fully herself – of having to choose between things, based on others’ views of her, is conditioning that overshadowed my own life for a long time. Today, I know that I experience my own power of choice more deeply as a result of the process of letting myself explore a potentially controversial or volatile subject like Hitler’s mistress in as neutral a way as possible, to see what sort of larger picture might emerge as this story unfolded for me.

You really are tackling a controversial or volatile subject in ‘The Munich Girl’. What did you want to give readers who were brave enough to explore this subject with you?

Initially, it was to give a glimpse into the experience of Germans during the war, and show how varied it was. Though they lived in a very dangerous place they could not necessarily escape, many Germans took risks to help and protect others, but many of these stories got lost once they were seen as part of the “losing enemy” country. Within the first year of writing, I also began to accept that the goal, to the best of my ability, was to convey themes that the story was suggesting. These include that any good we seek to do will always have an enduring effect, sometimes for successive generations. Another is that it is our willingness to build what is good, together, that is the legacy of love that always outlasts war, destruction, and violence.

What line do you feel best sums up ‘The Munich Girl’?

“Sometimes, we must outlast even what seems worse than we have imagined because we believe in the things that are good. So that there can be good things again.”

Find the whole interview at:

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The weight of the secrets we carry

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Wassily Kandinsky, “Houses in Munich,” 1908

 

As I was setting up a book promotion recently, I noticed that the site already had a link to Barb Taub’s insightful review of The Munich Girl.

Once again, I thank her for the real service that this review continues to offer to my novel:

“With her book, The Munich Girl, author Phyllis Edgerly Ring points out that an entire nation can’t be understood or explained with one label.

‘She does this by examining the life of one almost-invisible woman: Eva Braun, the “Munich Girl’ who was Hitler’s mistress from the time the seventeen-year-old girl met the man over twenty years her senior until their wedding followed a day later by her suicide at his side when she was 33. image13_zps7eb8aca8

“Although The Munich Girl has the feel of a memoir, it is a historical fiction that tells the story of three women. We first meet Anna, an American woman married to history professor Lowell. Anna has grown up in a house full of secrets, one of which is her father Rod’s war-spoils portrait that has hung in their dining room all her life.

The second is her mother, Peggy, who has died just before the story begins. And of course, the third is Eva, and her doomed relationship with Adolf Hitler. As Anna is clearing out Peggy’s house, she comes across a manuscript that tells both Peggy’s story and that of her unlikely friend, Eva.

image-58034-galleryv9-bfrq-277x300“Anna’s story is told in alternating points of view. First we have her own experience as a child born in Germany at the end of the war, but raised in the United States. Having grown up feeling like an outsider and desperate to belong, she subverts her entire life into supporting her husband Lowell’s career and goals. When he orders her to work at an inherited family magazine that he thinks will help his career, she is at first reluctant but then captivated by her assignments, including Eva Braun’s story. But most of all she’s drawn to the magazine’s German-American editor, Hannes. But when Anna finds that her mother knew Eva Braun, and when she starts to suspect that Peggy’s secrets go beyond the portrait signed with Adolf Hitler’s initials, Anna’s interest becomes an obsession.

“This is an amazing story full of layers and meaning. The settings are beautifully detailed and seem both timeless and perfectly anchored in their little bubbles of time. But within those stories, author Phyllis Edgerly Ring has created three fully-realized women who are very different, but who manage to have so many themes in common. 12342460_10208150312625888_7743673090992892225_n

“One theme is the deals women make with themselves to allow others to achieve happiness or satisfaction, often by denying themselves those very things.

“Another theme is the secrets we keep from others and from ourselves. The one question that history demands of Germany—how could you follow a monster like Hitler?—is brought down to the personal level. Why would Eva remain with Hitler?”goodreads_icon_100x100-4a7d81b31d932cfc0be621ee15a14e70

 

Find the rest of Barb’s review at Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show?id=1499833670


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“Things were almost always more complex than they appeared.”

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Publishing a book is a gateway to the unexpected in countless ways, as well as a nonstop curve of learning and discovery.

One delightful part of the experience is encountering the connection that readers make with a book, its world, and its story.

In her review at Goodreads, reader Mary Spires called The Munich Girl “a story of love, power and the meaning of family.” goodreads_icon_100x100-4a7d81b31d932cfc0be621ee15a14e70

She wrote:

“Readers see 1930s and ’40s Germany through the eyes of young women growing into adulthood. In the midst of increasing chaos, they fall in love, develop allegiances and make sacrifices. While family secrets unfold to the next generation, we see how their support for one another has allowed each to play out her role in a period of transition. These themes cross barriers of time, nationality and political persuasion.”

MunichGirlWebAdAs a lover of historical fiction, I have read from a variety of different perspectives of World War II,” writes reviewer Melissa Lee. “However this was the first time I had read about German citizens who lived ‘freely’ in the presence of the Third Reich. I use the word ‘freely’ loosely, as regular German citizens were far from free during Hitler’s reign. …

“I was pleased that this book wasn’t centered around, or bogged down with the politics of World War II. Instead it was more of a tale about friendship, sacrifices and legacies.” tumblr_mt4oxuoa4b1s7jim8o1_1280

Reading The Munich Girl was like taking a journey to another place and another time,” writes Cynthia Minor. “It is difficult to know where the ‘real’ ends and the ‘possible’ begins.The story weaves itself across continents and decades, and is a beautiful image of the way our lives are not only connected to those we know and share life with, but with those in our past, whom we may or may not even be aware of.

scnee s-l500“As the author states:

‘One could look at another’s life and judge or envy what it seemed to show. But things were almost always more complex than they appeared.’

This was and is still true, of everyone we meet.”

 

Find the Goodreads page for The Munich Girl here:

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/27914910-the-munich-girl#other_reviews


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Another view: Through readers’ eyes

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Publishing a book is a gateway to the unexpected in countless ways, as well as a nonstop curve of learning and discovery.

One of the most delightful parts of the experience is the way it reconnects you with people you know, and opens the door to a whole world of making new friends.

Reader Mary Spires and I met years ago at a writer’s conference but I haven’t seen her since she traveled half a world away and back. In her review at Goodreads, she called The Munich Girl “a story of love, power and the meaning of family” and wrote: “Readers see 1930s and ’40s Germany through the eyes of young women growing into adulthood. In the midst of increasing chaos, they fall in love, develop allegiances and make sacrifices. While family secrets unfold to the next generation, we see how their support for one another has allowed each to play out her role in a period of transition. These themes cross barriers of time, nationality and political persuasion.” munichgirl_card_front

Reader Linda Marie Marsh approached me very politely after I’d held a giveaway for the book and she hadn’t managed to be one of the winners. I’m so grateful that she proved the maxim: “If you don’t ask, the answer’s always no,” and, in her courteous courage, opened the door to a friendship that the book and I are so grateful to have.

goodreads_icon_100x100-4a7d81b31d932cfc0be621ee15a14e70“I KNOW it’s quite early in the year,” she wrote at Goodreads on February 1, “but I will say this anyway. The Munich Girl will be one of the best books I read this year … The author has taken and blended a mix of stories and created a whopper of historical fiction — well-kept secrets, unknown family ties, true friendship, and an ease of flowing back and forth in time — from the 1930s and ’40s to the present day. I have always wondered why Eva Braun Hitler was assumed to be a blonde ditz and historically shoved aside. Phyllis Ring uses words to make a page-flattened person become whole, become real, and gives us a 3-dimensional woman who had brains, beauty and just happened to fall for the charms of a sociopath. Yes, I loved that aspect, but there was so much more to the ‘what if’ novel. I devoured it.”

EvaHertaNA242EB27_39DReader Cynthia Minor is another book friend of the heart with whom I’ve been connected through the virtual world, and through a wonderful writer named Donna Baptiste. In her thoughts about the book, Cynthia wrote at Goodreads: “It is difficult to know where the ‘real’ ends and the ‘possible’ begins. Reading The Munich Girl was like taking a journey to another place and another time. … The story weaves itself across continents and decades, and is a beautiful image of the way our lives are not only connected to those we know and share life with, but with those in our past, whom we may or may not even be aware of. 424

“As the author states: ‘One could look at another’s life and judge or envy what it seemed to show. But things were almost always more complex than they appeared.’ This was and is still true, of everyone we meet.”

What a privilege it is for this writer, that the pathway of a book and its story leads to meeting so many thoughtful souls.

Find the Goodreads page for The Munich Girl here:

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/27914910-the-munich-girl#other_reviews