Leaf of the Tree

Finding the Divine in the Details


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Building the good, together

The castle above my childhood hometown of Wertheim

A highlight for me, as my novel, The Munich Girl, came into the world, was my return to the first place in Germany where my family lived when I was a child.

On the cloudy November afternoon that the book published, I faced the Main River in the tiny village of Dorfprozelten and offered my thanks at the grave of Herr and Frau Geis, who shared their house with my family back in the early 1960s.

It was because my military family lived “on the economy” with them that my sense of myself as a citizen of the world began so early.

Eva Braun in the 1940s

The fact that my family established close ties with German people in post-war Europe also inevitably led me to want to understand the experience of Germans themselves during the war.

I would never have imagined that this path would take me through Hitler’s living room as it drew me into the life of his longtime mistress, later wife, Eva Braun.

Reader N. Augusta Vincent

“How will you ever get readers past the fact that it’s her – that she’s such a large part of the story?” is a question I grew used to hearing.

I wouldn’t. I knew that from the start. Readers would embark on that particular journey only if they were willing to.

This story in no way seeks to exonerate or “redeem” her.

Rather, she makes a good motif for looking at the ways in which many people, women in particular, suppress our own lives – or often don’t even claim those lives fully at all. It also explores how those who do not fully face and own all aspects of their own life and self often project onto, even demonize others.

The story of The Munich Girl is about many things, including, of course, Hitler’s mistress, Eva Braun, and many facets of history from the time of the war in Germany.

Artwork: Judy Wright

It is also about the power of friendship, and the importance of our often ignored and overlooked inner life, without which our world careens increasingly out-of-balance, as it did in those wartime days.

At its heart, it’s a story about outlasting that chaos and confusion that unavoidably visit us, in both public and private wars, and how we transcend those challenges. We seem to do that by valuing, and believing in, the stronger possibility in all of the good that we are willing to contribute to building together.

Part of our ability to do that, I’ve come to believe, rests in being able to recognize that human beings aren’t usually all good, or all bad, but a complex mix of where our experience, understanding, and choices have led us.

Eva Braun age 17, the year she met Hitler

As one character in The Munich Girl 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.”

Much like the book’s protagonist, Anna, I repeatedly experience what invites me to look beyond what I think I know, and have understood about life. The process of uncovering the story has helped me remember many kinds of homecomings, spiritual and material, that life brings to us.

When the process of this writing this novel began, I also couldn’t have imagined what those words might come to mean in the atmosphere of our world today. I thank every reader who’s giving the book time, and also offering thoughtful reflection that helps me to continue learning from the pathway of this story, every day.

Find more about The Munich Girl here:

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


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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


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Love, power, and the meaning of family

Publishing a book is a gateway to the unexpected in countless ways, as well as an ever-evolving 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.”

Eva Braun near Berchtesgaden in the late 1930s.

As 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. …

Eva Braun at Hitler’s Berghof with Hanni Morell, Erna Hoffmann, and Heinrich Hoffmann.

“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.”

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.

Eva Braun and her mother, Franziska.

“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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Writing, Germany, and plenty of snacks

The German town where I lived as a child with my military family, and where I was staying when The Munich Girl published.

The Portsmouth Review, right here in my home state of New Hampshire, shared a fun interview about The Munich Girl:

 

Tell me a little bit about who you are and where you live.

I’m a long-time writer, and a military brat for whom the whole world has always felt like home.

One of my earliest homes was Germany, which is unquestionably why it’s such a big part of my life today, and at the heart of my newest book. I’ve lived in New Hampshire for more than 40 years

Are there any favorite local spots you like to visit, ones that inspire your creativity?

Hand-crafted yummies at St. Anthony’s Bakery in Exeter, NH.

Many scenes in my novel, The Munich Girl, were written over outstandingly good coffee and pastries at one of two local favorites:

St. Anthony’s Bakery in Exeter (https://www.facebook.com/St-Anthonys-Bakery-335466463285414) and Kaffee VonSolln in Portsmouth (https://www.kaffeevonsolln.com).

Wow us with shock value. Is there anything about you that would surprise readers?

Eva Braun, age 19.

In the unexpected category, I once walked around Portsmouth for the better part of an afternoon dressed as a nun with local photographer Nick Thomas — and the portrait of Eva Braun around which my novel’s story revolves is one I happen to own.

What interested you to become a writer rather than something else such as neurosurgeon?

I grew up in a family of them (writers, that is) and tried to avoid it in multiple ways for a long time: working in a state park, in nursing, teaching, among other things.

I’m a big believer in nourishment of all kinds. 🙂

Finally, when I began writing and editing for publications in the area, I recognized that I hadn’t accepted the fact that writing is a pretty essential part of who I am.

Writing book-length fiction was another stage, however. I first finished a novel when I was in my early 30s but then put off engaging in this kind of work until our kids had grown, because the nature of it is far too absorbing. I inhabit it too deeply.

If you could spend a day with any author, living or dead – who would it be and why?

Erich Mühsam, called an anarchist in his time because thinking couldn’t recognize what a world citizen he was. He died in a concentration camp in 1934, is included in my new novel, The Munich Girl, and frankly, I also think he somehow instigated it. Perhaps one day, I’ll find out.

Find the interview here: https://portsmouthreview.com/interview-local-author-phyllis-edgerly-ring

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

and: https://books2read.com/u/3LGRZN


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It’s always right now

Photo courtesy of Tamela Rich.

When the web site It’s Write Now ran a feature for my novel last week, I reconnected with the very enjoyable interview the site offered me last year.

In its timely way, my revisiting of those questions is helping me reflect on my current writing project, a sort of spiritual memoir, as I look back on the process of writing The Munich Girl.

It’s another powerful reminder that right now has what’s just right for right now. 🙂

 

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?

Eva Braun, left, with her younger cousin, foreground, and friend, right.

The dynamic that each of the three women in the book experiences, 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 are lessons you learned during this glimpse into wartime Germany that have endured in your mind?

One paradox that I think could tell us a lot about our present imbalances of inequality in our world is that the very sorts of caring, nurturing qualities that the Nazis sought to demean and suppress were exactly what Hitler came home to Eva Braun for.

With sister writer and International Women’s Writing Guild member Kelly DuMar at the IWWG’s summer conference.

One question for me is, when, and how, will we find the collective will to value and honor these qualities in both genders, and all situations? It is the devaluing of them that has allowed, and continues to allow, violence and atrocities like the Holocaust to happen.

I admire your desire to explore and present things like this paradox in terms that people can understand and learn from, but I am curious to find how working in this sensitive situation has impacted your writing. Do you feel energized or exhausted working to ensure that you present this period well?

Sometimes the struggle is in making peace with the inescapable fact that every writing work has its own timetable. It’s directly related to the one connected with my own development, and it’s wise not to try to force or speed that up. What never fails to delight me is that I’m always happy when I let myself be absorbed in a project that attracts me, and it’s something I can pursue anywhere I am in the world.

Find the rest of the interview at: https://itswritenow.com/84433/author-interview-with-phyllis-edgerly-ring-of-the-munich-girl/

Find The Munich Girl at: ‘The Munich Girl ( ASIN: B01AC4FHI8 )‘.

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Synchronicity knows the desires of our heart

An experience with a review of my novel, The Munich Girl, reminded me, once again, of the beautiful synchronicity with which Life works — perhaps in spite of our “best planning” — and the delicious surprises that result. It was another sweet affirmation that the desires of our hearts aren’t lost, though the way in which they come into reality is often far beyond what we imagine.

When the novel’s print version came out, I hoped that the book might receive coverage at the Story Circle Book Reviews network, a very thoughtful place where readers connect.

I was grateful when they agreed to receive a copy for potential review, since the world of books has become, now, a seemingly infinite universe of them. 11800190_10155878221225385_4242285263363148219_n

I was advised that the book might or might not be requested. And, indeed, the available copy sat there, unrequested, over many long months.

Then reader (and fine writer) Margaret Dubay Mikus delivered the lovely surprise: she had read the book, shows real understanding of both the story and its themes, had been kind enough to write a wonderful review — and Story Circle Network had accepted and published it!

Margaret writes:

“The [Munich Girl] also looks at the role of women in different cultures and periods in a way that is quite relevant right now.65675077782_000161_2

“Do women choose to play the lead in their own lives or do they sacrifice themselves for others?

“Ring also leads us to ask what we know of our parents’ lives. How might their experiences or traumas be passed down to us? How open are we to the changes that can come from deep healing? EB pix Germany and more 672

“You will want to cheer for Anna as she is drawn into the discovery of her past, re-creating her present, releasing her to soar into a future of possibilities. Engrossing and engaging with surprises and plot twists. I wanted to keep reading to find out what happens next.”

Find Margaret’s full review at: http://www.storycirclebookreviews.org/reviews/munichgirl.shtml


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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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On a first-name basis with an angel

Through the generosity of several kind book bloggers, readers have been finding — and responding to — excerpts from my novel, The Munich Girl.

The following is from a chapter in which two lonely 16-year-olds are about to become friends when they meet on a train traveling from the Austrian border to Munich in February of 1928:

 

Excerpt from The Munich Girl:

 

As I reached for Eva’s hand, the door to the main corridor slid open and the conductor seemed to fill it with his blue uniform.

“Where did you come from?” he asked my companion accusingly.

I smelled schnapps on his breath. And saw tears gleam in Eva’s blue eyes.

“From Simbach, where she waited for this tardy train. It’s not as though she was invisible.”

His head snapped back.

“With no one there to help, she barely made it on board,” I accused.

“But I saw no one at Simbach!”

“It’s hard to see, when you’re not on the platform yourself.” Then I asked Eva, “Do you have your ticket?”

Nodding quickly, her expression like a chastened child’s, she started digging in her leather shoulder bag.

The conductor was weaving in the doorway, tapping his boot impatiently. Just like most of these useless bloody uniforms, throwing their authority around. God help you if you actually need their help. They’ll be too busy having a nip and a smoke out of sight, as this joker obviously had. Probably been drinking since we’d left Linz—he’d even neglected to announce some of the stops.

When Eva found her ticket and handed it over, he snatched it without a word, fumbling for the hole punch dangling from a chain on his waistcoat. Then he thrust it back without looking at her, muttering to me, “Your parents should have taught you better manners.”

“My parents taught me people should do their jobs, especially when jobs are scarce. And that men who want to be taken for gentlemen should behave like one.”

I took great satisfaction in saying this, though I did so in English.

Across from me, recognition sparkled in Eva’s eyes.

As he stared at me, I asked in German, “How long will it be to Munich?”

“A little over an hour,” he mumbled. When he lurched back, the door his bulky frame had propped open slid closed with a thump.

Eva burst into a shower of radiant giggles. “Now I know you are an angel.”

“As I was starting to say before we were so rudely interrupted, I’m happy to meet you, Fräulein Braun. I’m Peggy Adler.”

“Nein, nein—Eva,” she insisted. “If you don’t mind.” She used German’s familiar “du” pronoun. “I think I should be on a first-name basis with an angel, don’t you?”

“Yes, let’s dispense with formality,” I agreed, relieved. I reached into my rucksack for my Lucky Strikes. “How about a smoke? Help us relax after that ordeal?”

Eva’s eyes were like stars as she reached for one tentatively, then settled back in her seat after I lit it. Her lids fluttered shut as she took an extended drag, then exhaled with luxurious pleasure. “How wonderful. It’s been a long time since I’ve had a cigarette. And I’ve wanted one so often.”

As I inhaled deeply on my own, she said, “You speak English, and your name is English, too, yes?”

I nodded. “My real name’s Margarete, but I never use it. My father is English, and I lived there until—I came away to school in Austria.”

I’d been very close to saying, “Until my parents separated.”

“I love what you told the conductor!”

“Oh, in English, you mean? You understood?”

“Absolutely!” she replied in heavily accented English, then lapsed back into her Bavarian German. “I thought I’d choke, trying not to laugh!”

“Are you studying English at school?”

“Oh, not so very much. From films, mostly.”

Now that she’d touched on one of my favorite subjects, the time and kilometers flew past as we talked about actors and music, jazz, dancing—and clothes. When I pulled out a movie magazine for us to look at, her chubby face came alive as she offered succinct assessments of the actresses’ clothes.

“I had to hide my magazines at school. Under the mattress,” she said. “My family thinks I’m going back next fall, but it’s not the life for me. I haven’t told them yet. The Sisters or my family.”

“Sounds like we’ve made the same decision. I’m not going back, either.” The thought of the scene that likely followed my unexpected departure last night launched a plummeting sensation in my stomach.

“Don’t you want to be out there in life—really live?” Eva said. “These are modern times, nicht? Not our grandmother’s days. There’s more to life than finding some lord and master and being under his thumb. I swear I’ll never live in such a prison!”

“You know,” I decided to confide as I leaned forward to light us fresh cigarettes. “My mother’s more independent now.”

I stopped, suddenly. What was I doing? I never talked about the divorce.

Eva was looking at me kindly. “Oh, my parents had a time, too. When I was small.”

“My parents divorced,” I relinquished, finally. “After the war.”

Might as well get it over with. I’d probably never see her again anyway.

She reached across the gap between our seats for my hand.

“My brother was killed, just before his nineteenth birthday. Right near the end of the war.” My voice was suddenly growing tight.

“I am so very sorry.” Eva moved to the seat beside mine and was offering a soft handkerchief.

“I tried.” I could barely get words out now. “To tell them. I knew, you see.”

I had seen it before it happened, that final end that was so horrible not only for Peter, but so many others lying there around him in that muddy, hellish mess. That place I didn’t want to see. Didn’t want to look. But it had kept coming back.

When I had tried to tell them—beg them—not to let him go, Father had called it morbid. Wicked. Been enraged that I would even suggest the danger that loomed.

Then, afterward, he’d looked at me as though I’d made that terrible thing happen to Peter, simply because I’d seen it ahead of time. And tried to warn them.

 


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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.”

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