Leaf of the Tree

Finding the Divine in the Details


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Writerly hospitality from author Linda Tiernan Kepner

I am honored to be a guest this week at the blog of author and librarian Linda Tiernan Kepner:

In her writing, Phyllis treats the most amazing people as simple, understandable human beings. But it takes a lot of work to create that illusion

The Munich Girl is a case in point. This is a work of fiction, but it is not entirely fiction. The war-trophy exists. Eva Braun, the ordinary girl from Munich, Germany, was indeed Hitler’s mistress.  She never did join the Nazi Party, had Jewish friends, and was credited at the Nuremberg Trials with saving 35,000 Allied lives.

Yet she stayed out of the limelight for sixteen years before her lover publicly acknowledged their relationship.  He only married her at the time he was throwing in the towel, as if that marriage emphasized his defeat.”

Linda Tiernan Kepner: Phyllis, what are you working on, currently?

I’m alternating between two projects. One is what I’d call spiritual memoir, based on my experience with writing my novel The Munich Girl and some of the nearly inexplicable synchronicities that it brought. The other is historical fiction set in 19th-century New England.

LTP: When you look back … what works are you proudest of?

PER:

I’m truly thankful for every book I’ve been able to publish.

The newest book, just released, is my first for children — Jamila Does Not Want A Bat In Her House. It reinforces for me the importance of never giving up, as it first took shape 19 years ago

The book that has absorbed the most of my time, both during the writing process and since publication, is The Munich Girl. I’d never have imagined writing a novel in which Hitler’s wife was a character. 

Yet as someone whose earliest life experience unfolded in Germany, I had always known I’d eventually want to explore what the experience of WWII had meant for everyday Germans, especially because for so very long, they didn’t talk about it — felt they weren’t “allowed” to.

Find my full interview with Linda at:

http://www.lindatkepner.com/guest-page.html

 

 


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On a first-name basis with an angel

As part of the extremely well-organized blog tour by Teddy Rose Book Reviews Plus, I’ve been sharing excerpts from 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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Goodreads question: “Any historical deductions regarding Eva Braun?”

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It was a pleasant surprise to find a question about The Munich Girl at Goodreads last week:

May I ask, were you able to make any historical deductions regarding Eva Braun?

goodreads_icon_100x100-4a7d81b31d932cfc0be621ee15a14e70My reply:

“Thanks for this question, Johnathan.

“Albert Speer said that historians would be disappointed in what they did, or did not, uncover about Eva Braun. As a writer, I had a different experience as I researched.

“Some of the discoveries were more intangible and paradoxical, such as the fact that so much of what was conveyed about her was based on presumed understanding about him, when in fact, more complete and accurate facts about her could help us better understand him.

“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? s-l1600

“Another paradox, for me, was the recognition that those very qualities of compassion and caring that the Third Reich sought to suppress and demean were what Hitler came home to Eva Braun for.

“The massive hypocrisy in that got me wondering how this continuing imbalance, which misunderstands and devalues those “softer” human aspects even as it needs and depends on them, is still creating the kind of chaotic, power-pursuing conditions that engulf our world in so much violence and suffering.

gottlob_berger“A more concrete discovery was that testimony from an officer named Gottlob Berger at the 1948 Ministry Trials at Nuremberg indicates that an action Eva Braun took in the last week of her life saved tens of thousands of Allied prisoners of war. The record shows that she almost never interfered or intervened in anything Hitler did as leader, with very few small exceptions.

I believe she did this out of the regard she had for life, some understanding of the moral principles behind the Geneva Convention — and, bizarre as it may seem to us today, to protect how Hitler would be perceived after the war. This suggests to me that, much like his secretaries and others in his inner circle, she lived a compartmentalized existence that, even that close to the end, knew far less about the Nazis’ human-rights atrocities than has been supposed.

eva-braun“A personal turning point for me was the discovery that some British members of my family were likely saved by this action of hers.”

Johnathan followed up with a comment that wondered about Hitler’s marriage to Eva Braun in the eleventh hour of their lives, shortly before the pair committed suicide in a Berlin bunker in April of 1945.

My thoughts:

“I think that the marriage was intended to reward and honor her loyalty, and perhaps to honor her family, especially her Catholic mother, who, curiously, Hitler included in his will. I think he understood that much of what he appreciated in her daughter had been shaped by her.

“Thanks again for asking, Johnathan. It’s nice to get chance to use this Goodreads feature.” cropmunichgirl_card_front1

I welcome other readers to share their questions at Goodreads:

https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/2890301.Phyllis_Edgerly_Ring

And more about The Munich Girl is available here: https://www.amazon.com/Munich-Girl-Novel-Legacies-Outlast-ebook/dp/B01AC4FHI8


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Life in the shadows

Eva

 

As I receive feedback from book-discussion groups and readers, I reflect on how much the world’s continuing hunger to “understand” Hitler is aided by understanding more about Eva Braun.

Much of what’s conveyed about her (huge amounts of it inaccurate) has been based on presumed understanding about him. But the reality is that more complete information about her can help us better understand more about why Hitler, despite the evil he represents (or perhaps because of it), has occupied collective consciousness for more than 70 years. 13254414_10209370773770054_731193591111533469_n

Far from attempting to redeem her, however, The Munich Girl follows along patterns of how Braun’s life in Hitler’s shadow, which ended alongside him when she was 33, is emblematic of what many women have done, and still do, in a world still hobbled by inequality. Unable to enact their own potential in a direct way, they resort to doing so from the invisible sidelines and background.

In Eva Braun’s case, that public invisibility lasted the entire 16 years she spent with Hitler. EB pix Germany and more 432

As one reader puts it: “Women, even well-educated women such as [Anna], the novel’s protagonist, are groomed to give up their lives for the ‘larger’ missions of their husbands and lovers. … one of the many ways in which the feminine aspect of humanity is subjugated, Fascism being the most extreme form.”

27e1c9916b3d1248541e4984a92eda3bThe story of The Munich Girl is about many things beyond Eva Braun and the time of the war in Germany. It’s about how women share our lives with each other, the power of our friendships, and the way we protect each other’s vulnerabilities, perhaps as part of how we begin to gain compassion.

So that our world can, too.

Find more about The Munich Girl at:

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