Leaf of the Tree

Finding the Divine in the Details


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Love, friendship, and the Munich girl Hitler chose

Heartfelt thanks to book blogger and author Lisa Binion for hosting me and The Munich Girl so kindly — plus offering a great interview experience.

When you first learned about Hitler and Eva Braun, did you think of either of them as having friends?
I don’t think that Hitler really had the capacity for friendship. It requires a sort of mutuality of which he just wasn’t capable.

But Eva Braun, characterized by many who knew her as warm, thoughtful, and full of love for life, most surely was. Regardless of how people make assumptions about her based on her link with Hitler, history shows that she was a genuinely caring friend to those who, in addition to being morally respectable people, were very appreciative for her friendship. As with the situation in the novel’s story, some of them did not know of her connection with Hitler until after her death.

What inspired you to write about the friendship of two lonely women in Nazi Germany? Do you know of someone who made a discovery similar to what Anna discovered?
I chose this focus, in part, because friendships were what helped many everyday Germans survive the war. Such friendships were also what helped protect and save those who were most vulnerable to persecution by the Nazis. Also, I was taken by the paradox that two people could know and care about – value – each other yet never know about complexities in each of their lives that could seem to put them on different “sides.”

As for what Anna discovers about Peggy (her mother), my own war bride mother had many surprising secrets in her background, revealed only after she died. Some of them, much like Peggy’s friendship with Eva Braun, were things she might not, in her own history, have felt safe to share.

What is your favorite thing about writing historical fiction?
I love revisiting a time period and immersing myself deeply within it. An added plus is looking at it with the hindsight we have now.

The tricky balance in writing the story, of course, is to be able to stay in the perspective of those times, even when you do have that hindsight. Realizing that many events were something people of that time didn’t know about or couldn’t see coming shows how much trying to judge them from the perspective we have today is unrealistic and even unjust. One very important reason for us to study history—and reflect on what patterns we can find there—is that without that reflective understanding, we will imitatively repeat it.

Obviously Eva Braun and Hitler really existed, but how many of the other characters were taken from history?
The two individuals to whom the book is dedicated, and who are each referenced in the story, were under-recognized heroes in their time. Poet/artist Erich Mühsam and Jesuit priest Father Alfred Delp each resisted what the Nazis were doing. They took enormous risks to help others who were being persecuted, and ultimately paid with their lives—Mühsam in a concentration camp in 1934 and Delp by execution by the Nazis close to the end of the war.

The stories of both men came to me quite serendipitously as the novel was unfolding. I felt it was as though those stores wanted to surface, to be known.

You can find Lisa’s full interview, along with a review of The Munich Girl here:

http://lisaswritopia.com/phyllis-edgerly-ring-interview-the-holocaust-eva-braun-and-friendship/

 


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Between the Beats hosts The Munich Girl

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My deep gratitude to author and book reviewer Elizabeth Horton-Newton, who wrote a wonderfully insightful review for The Munich Girl.

Her kind hospitality as blog-tour host included an interview with me. Among her good questions:

What kind of response have you received for your depiction of Eva Braun?

A broad range that includes those who connect, even empathize with the character of Eva, 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. eb-pix-germany-and-more-672-e1423236371410

I understand you met and interviewed some people who knew the “subject” of your search? How did you find them and how did they feel about discussing their relationships with you?

They “found” me — as with so much in the process of this book, it led me to them, and they were most willing to share their thoughts. One of the most helpful was from a family that had been treated very badly by the Nazis. She had every reason to hate them, and Eva Braun by association. But she had met and interacted with her and described her as a person of true character. She’d been as baffled as so many have about why Eva would care for Hitler. But this source emphasized how thoughtful and kind Eva Braun often was.

What was your ultimate goal in writing this book? Did that goal change over time?

munich-girl-by-phyllis-edgerly-ringInitially, 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 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.

Find Elizabeth’s full post here:

https://elizabethnnewton.com/2017/02/17/the-munich-girl-by-phyllis-edgerly-ring/


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The Munich Girl and characters we love to hate

munich-girl-by-phyllis-edgerly-ringKINDLE  0.99 special

for WWII fiction THE MUNICH GIRL

through Feb. 14

 

My gratitude to book blogger Teddy Rose for hosting a blog tour for The Munich Girl this winter. Teddy kicked it off by hosting an interview with me: 022c79ab723c880edd32f4a984948e39

Which character do you love to hate?

Hitler’s not actually a character in the novel, though he’s a part of the story, of course, and is the most-likely-to-be-hated. A rather detestable character is the protagonist’s (Anna’s) husband, Lowell. I was told at one point that perhaps I needed to give him more “human” aspects. For me, however, he represents that kind of blindly insistent narcissism that actually is more inclined to reject such redeeming qualities in itself. Yup, Lowell is reprehensible, one reader’s word for his maddening arrogance.

98ab5fc48b4f7f713239d407b9d57235Please tell us something about the book that is not in the summary.

Beyond being a story in which Hitler’s mistress (later wife) is a character, this story revolves around the inner bargains women make with themselves in order to help others achieve happiness or satisfaction — often by denying themselves those very things. Another theme is the secrets we keep, and what we hope to gain by doing so, and the degree of control we believe we have in life, and what sort of price we’re willing to pay for it. A paradox that the story underscores is that often, while others (in this case, men) appear to have overt control, people – the women in this story — often make use of what looks like compliance in order to employ more secretive kinds of control, behind the scenes.

What is your favorite scene in the book? Why?

12195914_927331170686822_8333808250872880779_nI must admit that it’s hard for me to choose one. In this story based on a woman’s secret friendship with Hitler’s mistress, I suppose it’s the scene in which the character, Peggy, finds out that the mystery woman who died alongside Hitler was her friend, Eva Braun. And she never knew that Hitler was the man Eva loved. (In part because Braun had to keep this role in his life an invisible secret.) This scene of Peggy’s discoveries about Eva after her death called for a potent yet unusual mixture of heartbreak and outrage. The scene is set in a church, and I was pulled irresistibly into a big, empty one in Germany the day before I wrote it. I’ve sometimes felt that the scene was sown for me, right there in that cold, echoing space, because it was like a memory as I drafted it down early the next morning.

cropmunichgirl_card_front1Find my full interview with Teddy, and links to more stops on the Blog Tour for The Munich Girl here:

http://theteddyrosebookreviewsplusmore.com/2017/02/munich-girl-by-phyllis-edgerly-ring-interview-giveaway.html

 


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Taking the path of The Munich Girl

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Thank you so much host Kevin Avard and producer Dick Gagnon of Nashua TV’s Gate City Chronicles for inviting me to be a guest on the show.

Talking about the life of Eva Braun and my related novel, The Munich Girl, wound up covering a whole lot of ground! eva-braun

 

ebmonogram1Those who’d like to give a listen can find the Gate City Chronicles interview here:

https://www.goodreads.com/videos/112893-the-munich-girl—gateway-chronicles

 

 

 


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How do we make room – for Life?

MDB105028-zuganzeige_4zu1_704x176Five years ago this week, as I followed the chapters of my novel — and the trail of Eva Braun’s life — to their conclusion, I faced a long day of train travel. It would take me from the southern edge of Germany’s border with Austria nearly to the top of Germany.

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Photo: David Campbell

The night before – the entire day before – I’d been riddled with anxiety. I had four train connections to make, and my mind was unhelpfully cataloging every single thing that could possibly go wrong.

This kind of turmoil eventually arises every time I travel alone for extended periods of time, and always for the same reason. After the dreamy honeymoon of my first few days, just the fact that I’m on my own in a place that’s out of my element triggers an inner myth that’s as unkind as it is false: I need to find some way to be in control, in order to be safe.

Since, deep down at the heart of truth, I recognize that I’m never going to be able to do that, this leads inevitably to a separated sense of aloneness that feels eternity-sized. I also know it’s an experience that’s universal, not one of us escapes it. Surely, this is what any addictive tendency seeks to squelch and suppress – anything but have to face it.Tollebooks

Reading a wonderful manuscript from a writer friend reminded me of the power question I’ll have ready next time this happens: “Is control something I ultimately even WANT?”

The night before that trip, I finally stumbled on some steadying words from Eckhart Tolle:

Your life situation may be full of problems — most life situations are — but find out if you have any problem at this moment. Not tomorrow or in ten minutes, but now. Do you have a problem now?

“When you are full of problems, there is no room for anything new to enter, no room for a solution. So whenever you can, make some room, create some space, so that you find the life underneath your life situation.”Lenggriesexterior-view

In that cozy Bavarian hotel room, I hadn’t a problem worth noting, other than my monkey mind. It was the eve of a holiday in Germany called St. Niklaus Tag, Dec. 6, and every aspect of the setting in which I found myself was idyllic, supportive, friendly and inviting. Yet I was depriving myself of the experience with every anxious moment.

So, relaxing into Tolle’s invitation, I remembered the spirit of this holiday, one of the first I experienced in my childhood, filled with warm, lovely memories.

Suddenly the thought popped up, as brightly and boldly as a child’s would: “I wonder whether, if I put my boots outside the door, they’ll be filled for St. Niklaus Tag?” It seemed silly, and it made me happy, and for the rest of the night, I enjoyed my hours and had a restful sleep.Weihnsort4013900850022-gdcom

The next morning, when I opened the door of my hotel room to wheel my luggage out and head for that first train, there in the middle of the floor outside was a red gift bag festooned with stars. Inside were a variety of seasonal treats, including a tall chocolate “Christmas Man”, an orange, apple, tiny ginger star cookies with icing, and 2 each in the shell of walnuts, almonds, and hazelnuts.

Exactly the contents that might fill a child’s shoes on St. Niklaus Tag.

I was so stunned, I wondered whether I’d only dreamed waking up and bundling myself out that door.

Surely they did this for all the guests? (There was a conference-worth of them staying.) But the bag outside my door was the only one I saw waiting in that hallway.

zimtsterneWhen I asked the woman at the desk about it as she checked me out, Bavarian-friendly but completely non-committal, she told me, “Oh, aren’t there always all kinds of nice surprises that can happen in a day? Have a good trip.”

As I munched my treats from south-to-north, I had so much fun watching the scenery, visiting with fellow travelers, and enjoying the journey, I forgot to worry about anything at all.

“ …make some room, create some space, so that you find the life underneath your life situation.” So that you can LIVE it.

Find more about The Munich Girl here:

The Munich Girl by Phyllis Edgerly Ring

http://www.amazon.com/Munich-Girl-Novel-Legacies-Outlast/dp/0996546987/


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Thoughts from A Bookish Affair

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My thanks to blogger Meg Wessell for making time for my novel, The Munich Girl, recently and sharing her thoughts about it.

The Story – summary from Goodreads.com:

‘Anna Dahlberg grew up eating dinner under her father’s war-trophy portrait of Eva Braun. Fifty years after the war, she discovers what he never did—that her mother and Hitler’s mistress were friends. The secret surfaces with a mysterious monogrammed handkerchief, and a man, Hannes Ritter, whose Third Reich family history is entwined with Anna’s. IMG_20151119_170505050

“Plunged into the world of the “ordinary” Munich girl who was her mother’s confidante—and a tyrant’s lover—Anna finds her every belief about right and wrong challenged. With Hannes’s help, she retraces the path of two women who met as teenagers, shared a friendship that spanned the years that Eva Braun was Hitler’s mistress, yet never knew that the men they loved had opposing ambitions. … ‘  98705320ea6e23717b933df6244c09dd

My Two Cents: Eva Braun is infamous. Even as a history lover, I did not know much about her at all besides the fact that she was Hitler’s mistress.

“This book sheds light on the fact that at one point, she was just another German schoolgirl as Peggy, Anna’s mother is in this book.

“The juxtaposition between who she was and who she became was absolutely fascinating. It is easy to see how the author was drawn to telling this story.”

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Find Meg’s review post at her blog, A Bookish Affair:

http://abookishaffair.blogspot.com/2016/10/review-munich-girl-by-phyllis-edgerly.html


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All that an “ordinary” Munich girl reveals

munichgirl_card_frontWhen I reconnected with Germany as an adult after living there in the early 1960s, I wanted to understand more about that nation’s experience during WWII.

Almost immediately afterward, I was given a biography about Hitler’s mistress – later wife — Eva Braun, written by British-German writer Angela Lambert.

I knew I needed to read more about Hitler and the Third Reich in order to understand more about Germany and the war. Eva Braun seemed a likely place to start.

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Hotel Schwann, Wertheim, my family’s first home in Germany, and a favorite stop of mine still.

I just never expected how close that would bring me to Hitler’s living room.

While she’s a main character, Braun is not the novel’s protagonist. (That’s Anna, born just as the war came to an end in Germany.)

But Braun’s 33-year life provides a metaphorical motif for exploring the effects of self-suppression in many lives, especially those of women.

For research, I immersed in reading about her life, and the time period (120+ books), and that “inner circle” that Braun moved within as part of Hitler’s life. I spent hours watching the films she had made, and looking at many of her photographs.

EB pix Germany and more 382Eventually, I made two trips to the National Archives here in the U.S., where photo albums of hers that were confiscated by the Allies after the war have been stored ever since. Looking at those probably provided my closest sense of connection with her life, and with her as a “character.” As with most of my research, I was looking to read between the lines of what was known to be factual. I was looking for more of the emotional story that her life showed, that the pieces of her experience pointed to.

Among the discoveries my research turned up is the little-known (or infrequently shared) information from testimony given at the Nuremberg Trials that shows how an action she took in the last week of her life saved tens of thousands of Allied prisoners of war. She likely did this to protect Hitler’s reputation – he was going to have them all killed. Among those who were saved were British members of my own family. That discovery stunned me when I unearthed it, and was definitely a turning point for me, as a novelist. EB pix Germany and more 191

While she is famous because of someone infamous, Eva Braun came from what would be perceived both then and now as an extremely “ordinary” life. Lambert’s biography revealed how much of what was believed about Braun was inaccurate, right down to frequent misidentification of her in photos.

Lots of assumptions and judgments about her have masked key information that her life could provide about Hitler. Paradoxically, although much of what has been conveyed about her was based on presumed understanding about him, it’s a more complete picture of her that can provide the most accurate view of Hitler. EB pix Germany and more 484

She loved him, I have no doubt. Yet, in many ways, she gave up both her sense of self and of self-determination to “prove” that love, show her loyalty. (Loyalty was very important to Hitler, who trusted so poorly, if at all. But he trusted her.) I think the distorted self-denial she showed is still cultivated in collective culture today in ways designed to keep inequality in place. Many, especially women, give up the freedom of their own wholeness for the sake of proving love, and loyalty. I think the false value this behavior is given is a big part of what allows oppression and repression to continue, along with the imbalance of power that always accompanies them.

I suppose it’s natural that people might assume this novel aims to exonerate or redeem Eva Braun, but that’s never been its goal. She came to represent, for me, the many things that we can form conclusions about without ever delving deep enough to uncover the whole story, in order to genuinely find truth.

If the story aims to convey any sort of message, it’s that no human being is all good or all bad, and human circumstances are always more complex than they appear. If we’re not willing to accept and understand this, we’re unlikely to learn from history. EB pix Germany and more 433

This is also a story about outlasting the chaos and confusion of war and other kinds of violence and destruction by valuing — and protecting – all of the good that we are willing to build together in our world. Many Germans did this, though until recently, their stories have remained unknown.

The novel is also about the eventual homecoming we must all make to our truest self, and the role that others often mysteriously play in that process.

Find more about The Munich Girl at:

https://www.amazon.com/Munich-Girl-Novel-Legacies-Outlast/dp/0996546987/