Leaf of the Tree

Finding the Divine in the Details


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Finding a life between the lines

 

Following the trail of The Munich Girl

Seventy-four years ago this spring, Eva Braun’s world, and life, were coming to their end as Germany succumbed to defeat and ruin.

From a bunker under Berlin, she wrote her final letters, to her younger sister, Gretl, and longtime friend Herta Ostermayr Schneider.

She writes to Herta of preparing to die, and bewilderment at how things are ending, for Germany:

“Greetings to all my friends.

I’m dying as I have lived. It’s not difficult for me. You know that.”

Footage of Eva Braun with her childhood friend, Herta Ostermayr Schneider.

On this same day, she chose an action whose significance would only be revealed later, during the war crimes trials in Nuremberg. In testimony there during the Ministry Trials of 1948, a high-ranking German officer credited her with ensuring that one of Hitler’s last desperate orders had come to him, rather than to someone who would actually carry them out.

As a result, the lives of about 35,000 Allied prisoners of war were saved.

Among them were likely two relatives of mine, and a whole lot of those who were the loved ones of tens of thousands of people.

When writing fiction that includes elements of history, accuracy must always trump creative possibilities. It’s been suggested to me several times that Eva Braun’s “character” in the story might be conveyed through letters.

However, her very last letter, to her younger sister, Gretl, asked that most of her correspondence be destroyed, and the remaining small amount hidden. It has yet to surface, and those who’ve tried to track it down doubt it ever will.

So, any story true to Eva Braun’s consistently private personality must reference only the handful of pieces of her correspondence that are still in existence.

And seek, as so many stories do, to find the story of a life between the lines.

More about The Munich Girl: A Novel of the Legacies That Outlast War at:

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The Munich Girl through European eyes

I have another chance to be in Europe this spring, and it has made me extra aware of the response of European readers to The Munich Girl

Susanne Weigand, a reader in Germany, writes: “I am German and both my parents have lived through WWII and it was something we often talked about in my family. And in my time at school we were taught a lot about the war and Nazism. Later I read a lot of articles and several books about this dark period of German history.

“But for some reason I always shied away from learning more about Eva Braun, probably because I couldn’t understand why a young woman would willingly devote herself to a man like Hitler. So when I learned that Phyllis Edgerly Ring had written a book about her I became very curious.

“I like the picture that the author has drawn of Eva Braun, her pride and her ambition, her insecurities and loneliness, her devotion and heartbreaking friendship and the story of her life.

“But, and this is more important: This book is offering so much more. The story of three women (and only one of them is Eva) and how their lives crossed and intertwined. The story of a family and their complicated, but heartwarming connections. And even a love story I enjoyed. (And I seldom enjoy love stories, mostly they are too cheesy and sweet.)”

Book blogger and reviewer Anne writes: “Growing up in the Netherlands, where every first week of May is basically dedicated to WWII, and with parents who were both born during the war (my mother even before Germany invaded Holland), I thought I was pretty well-informed on the topic. I studied History for two years in which, again, a lot of WWII was covered. Then I started reading this book and realized I still only know so little.

“I think I already knew who Eva Braun was when I was around 8 years old, but I never actually knew the face and the story behind the wife of Hitler. I always imagined she was a stern looking lady, with dark brown hair (maybe due to her last name as well) and a riding crop in her hand. Someone to match Hitler perfectly. Now look at the cover of this book. That’s actually Eva Braun.

“The Munich Girl tells us the story of three women: Anna (the main character), Peggy (Anna’s mother), and Eva Braun. … The story is told from three different perspectives: Anna’s life in 1995, and Peggy and Eva’s life pre- and post-wartime. There aren’t only fifty plus year old flashbacks, but also flashbacks within 1995 itself: before and after a plane accident (this is no spoiler because the book starts with Anna looking back at the accident) Anna is involved in.

It’s safe to say that Eva suffered from fear of abandonment. As Anna, later on in the story, says about her life with [her husband] Lowell:

It’s as if I have always felt, somehow, that I had to do the right thing, so he wouldn’t stop loving me. Wouldn’t leave.

I think this is what applied to Eva as well (and is actually a pretty big similarity when it comes to the relationships between Anna and Lowell, and Eva and Hitler).

Adi had given her a life she would otherwise never had known. She would not betray this generosity, or relinquish the honor of being one of the few who had this trust.’

I am grateful for the readers in many parts of the world who receive the story of The Munich Girl, give it their precious time, and then make the time to offer their insights and reflections about it. U.S. reader Nancy Vincent Zinke wrote, “I’m not surprised that The Munich Girl is getting worldwide attention and positive reviews. Its themes of fear and love, loss and redemption, pain and understanding, patience, trust, and more give this book a universal message of hope, and finally, acceptance of what was, what is, and what may be. It touches my spirit, and in that way, helps me know a little bit better what it means to be a spiritual being.”

goodreads_icon_100x100-4a7d81b31d932cfc0be621ee15a14e70Find more about the book here:

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


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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 legacies that always outlast war

My novel, The Munich Girl, is about many things, including a secret friendship between two women, one of whom was Hitler’s mistress, and later wife, Eva Braun.

But its themes are really about two realities that matter a great deal to my heart.

The first is the experience of reunion with and “coming home to” our truest self that we all must eventually encounter in our life. We each have our own timetable for this, but my opportunity to accompany many people toward the end of their lives has assured me that this is so. That privilege also allowed me to see that the benefits of achieving this inner reunion always extend far beyond our own small selves.

The novel’s second and particularly fascinating theme, for me, is the mysterious role that others play in the process of how our inner reunion occurs, often in highly unexpected ways.

As a child in Germany, and when I returned to visit as an adult, I heard little about the years of the Second World War — mostly just “thank God it’s behind us.”

Yet, similar to characters in my novel’s story, some of the kindest, most morally courageous people I knew were those Germans who never wanted the war, or National Socialism, and found creative ways to outlast it and to help others as they did. 11072937_833787143357991_5837640068723456300_n

They found the way to endure, not lose heart, and keep faith and hope in times of enormous destruction and suffering.

And, they made meaningful choices wherever they could, mostly on behalf of others, more than themselves.

I believe that the example in their lives applies more than ever in our world, and that we’ve barely tapped into the spiritual gifts and lessons they offer.

As Elizabeth Sims, novelist and contributing editor at Writer’s Digest noted in her kind comments about the novel:

“Love can manifest itself in enigmatic—and unexpected—ways.”

And, as one character in the novel observes:

“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 more about The Munich Girl: A Novel of The Legacies That Outlast War at:

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


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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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BoomerCafé asks, “Why Eva Braun?”

I’m very grateful to author Eric Mondschein and BoomerCafé for featuring an author interview and post about my novel, The Munich Girl, this week.

Here are a few of their thoughtful questions, plus a link to the rest of the article:

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BC: What motivated you to write such a book?

PR: When I reconnected with Germany as an adult after living there in the early 1960s, I wanted to understand more about its experience during WWII. I returned home and was given a biography of Eva Braun written by British-German writer Angela Lambert.

In order to understand Germany and the war, I needed to read more about Hitler and the Third Reich and Eva Braun seemed a likely point of entry. What I never expected was the deeper topics and themes that would arise when I got that close to Hitler’s living room.

BC: What message are you trying to convey to readers?

PR: At least two.

One is that there is a reality that transcends appearances, and we miss a lot of the truth because we don’t investigate it more completely.

This is also a story about outlasting that chaos and confusion of war and destruction by valuing, and believing in, the ultimate triumph of all of the good that we are willing to contribute to building together. 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.

12342460_10208150312625888_7743673090992892225_nRead the BoomerCafé article here:

https://www.boomercafe.com/2018/06/21/baby-boomer-author-unearths-world-war-ii-intrigue/

More about The Munich Girl: A Novel of the Legacies That Outlast War:

https://www.amazon.com/Munich-Girl-Novel-Legacies-Outlast-ebook/dp/B01AC4FHI8

 


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Women, war, and the secrets we keep

Reader and author Ginny Towler has given The Munich Girl the kind of insightful and engaged review at Goodreads a writer can only dream of.

Also, a Giveaway for print copies of The Munich Girl: A Novel of the Legacies That Outlast War is up at Goodreads through May 25 (link below).

Ginny’s kind words:

goodreads_icon_100x100-4a7d81b31d932cfc0be621ee15a14e70     “Phyllis Ring’s writing conjures up a different era, of a 1940s sensibility, where the less said, the more is explained. …

“… That I should feel any sympathy with a woman who was romantically involved with one of the most heinous human beings ever to be brought into this world is disturbing to me.

“Which is one of the reasons why this book is so important.

    “As someone who had loved film most of her life, I had wondered about Eva Braun’s importance to both German cinema and filmography, as I was aware that her films extolled Hitler’s iconography, as it were.

  “… Although the book is labeled fiction, truthfully, it’s hard to believe it is, as the details jump off the page. Phyllis appears to have traced the comings and goings of this enigmatic woman, who, was encamped in her various places of refuge, waiting for her man, Der Fuhrer, to return to her.

“And it is in this capacity that we understand her: a woman of her time period, who turned the other way while her man went off to war, doing these “manly,” but hopelessly imbecilic and crazy things. He would return to her periodically, every couple of weeks or months, while she waited for him, dutifully. Did she remain willfully blind, ignoring the atrocities that were being committed in the name of the Fatherland? Or was she too close to him to even know what he was doing, because when he returned to her, he was her lover, not her military commander?

    “Was the man who could butcher so many people the same man who could come home to her, and luxuriate in the arms of his beloved, exposing his vulnerabilities to her only? I’m not sure we’ll ever know, but there’s an inkling of what Eva probably felt during the years that she was with him (17 years, I seem to count). Was there any redeeming quality in her that makes her seem more human, and less a monster of historic proportions, in our hatred of all things Third Reich? You’ll have to read to find that out for yourself.

“Above all, this book is about women. About friendship. About the way we protect each others’ vulnerabilities. Of the secrets we keep. And about our loyalty to each other, though we carry out our daily lives supporting our men, as that’s what women did, especially back in the day.

“… The story is also a mystery, of the history behind a portrait that hangs in the home of an American woman of English and German descent. It is a story about longing to reconnect with our beloved deceased, of learning the things that our parents could not tell us for fear of destroying our own lives yet to be realized.

Phyllis has done a very brave thing, sharing a history with us that might be part of her own past, on some level. But the care that she took in making it plausible is also a gift to the reader. She dares look at the soul of the German during WWII, and the aftermath, in a reconciliation of sorts, that still hasn’t been accomplished beyond the Nuremberg Trials, except through the bravery of women like Phyllis who are willing to open the door a crack to give us an opportunity to ask questions, ponder, and reconcile our humanity with our inhumanity.

I’m sure I’ll read this book a second time. There are so many layers to it. I found it an irresistible and important read.”

                                                           ~ VL Towler, author, Severed

Goodreads Book Giveaway:

The Munich Girl by Phyllis Edgerly Ring

The Munich Girl

by Phyllis Edgerly Ring

Giveaway ends May 25  – 15 print copies available.

Enter here: https://www.goodreads.com/giveaway/show/275158-the-munich-girl