Leaf of the Tree

Finding the Divine in the Details


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What always outlasts war

As a U.S. military brat in the 1960s, my first friends were German families.

Then I married another brat who’d also spent part of his childhood in Germany and we began returning there as often as we could.

I realized that if I wanted to understand this culture I love so much (as I struggled to relearn its language), I needed to understand more about Germany’s experience during the war.

Never could I have imagined how quickly that intention would take me straight to Hitler’s living room. Within a week, I received a copy of British writer Angela Lambert’s biography of Eva Braun. Then a combination of unexpected circumstances led to my owning the portrait of Braun that unwound the sequence of events in my novel, The Munich Girl.

A major turning point in the story’s development occurred when I discovered, while researching the Trials at Nuremberg, that an action of Eva Braun’s in the last week of her life saved the lives of about 35,000 Allied prisoners of war. Two members of my mother’s family were likely among them.

This led me to new levels in the unfolding book’s story, spurred by the idea that the reality of situations is always deeper and more complex than things may appear on the surface.

I was also struck by how the power of real friendships, no matter the circumstances around them, can have beneficial effects in many lives, effects that can linger on generations later.

The question people asked me from the beginning is one they still ask: “Why Eva Braun? Why THIS woman?” Of course, lots of people feel strongly that she deserves no time or attention at all.

The story’s goal has never been to try to exonerate or “redeem” her, or how she is perceived. She’s an excellent motif for examining how people, especially women, suppress our own lives, and what forces and factors lead us to do that.

She also offers a way to look at the reality that human beings are complex. She clearly had a conscience, and acted on it, and, like most of us, tried to make good choices — choices to serve good — when she could. She also made choices that served neither herself nor others very well.

Do we negate or devalue the contributions that someone makes because they also do things that are misguided, ill-advised, or even personally destructive?

Do we not all share this same complexity in experience? And how might that help us to gain new understandings about compassion and forgiveness? These are themes I wanted to explore.

The novel’s timeline alternates between the period of the war and 50 years after the end of it. That later time frame was an important juncture for humanity, I feel, one that invites us to look again, and more deeply, at what remains unrecognized and unresolved, and perhaps overlooked, in that immense, human-initiated catastrophe that was the second world war.

The year 1995 is also already “historical” in fiction’s terms, because it’s from about that point that technology of the virtual world began asserting itself, rendering a very different human experience in our world today. To the extent that this material advancement isn’t matched by the development of inner-life values, deepening awareness about our world and its history, and willingness to investigate and face truth, I believe we continue to experience — even prolong — pain, chaos, and suffering.

One revelation I encountered in my research was that much of what had been written about Eva Braun was often incomplete, frequently inaccurate — and sometimes, the details of an entirely different person’s life. Yet these things have been widely circulated and accepted as truth.

This made me wonder: how much of the truth do we miss because we approach finding it with ingrained, inherited — often blindly imitative — assumptions? In other words, how much do our biases trip us up before we even get started?

And, how much of our unwillingness to investigate truth for ourselves blinds us to reality?

We live in a time of bigger cycles revealing bigger truths. On the most human level, how might compassionate, united perspective, and a willingness to begin with unity assist our progression through this?

How might we be guided by what always outlasts war — the legacies of love?

Find more about The Munich Girl at: http://smarturl.it/qkttw4