Leaf of the Tree

Finding the Divine in the Details


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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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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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Happy February, Munich Girl

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KINDLE  0.99 special

for WWII fiction THE MUNICH GIRL

through Feb. 10

 

February is the month when the two friends in my novel, The Munich Girl, each have a birthday.

To celebrate, the novel’s Kindle version is currently offered at its biggest discount ever for a short time across most worldwide Amazon markets.

And, on February 10, I’ll draw a winner for a signed print copy of the book and a silver butterfly bracelet designed by artist Diane Kirkup.

Those who’ve read the book know that a variety of objects help unfold the trail of the story. One of these is the image of a butterfly.

To enter the drawing, send an email to: info[at]phyllisring[dot]com

with “Butterfly” in the subject line.

All three women in The Munich Girl have strong connections with Germany, where two of them meet just before World War II.

Peggy, is a Leap-year baby with “29 February” on her birth certificate. That kind of thing can make you feel like a fictional character right out of the starting gate.

EB pix Germany and more 610Eva Braun, always wanted to live the life of a character in a movie or novel. However, as many women have, and still do, she gives her life away to someone who hasn’t the capacity to value it, or, it would seem, to care for humanity at all.

“Did she really love him? How could she ever love him?” are questions I hear frequently about the woman who became “Mrs. Hitler” for the last day and a half of her life.

Anna, the story’s narrator 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, Peggy, and Hitler’s mistress were friends.

The secret surfaces with a mysterious monogrammed handkerchief and a man named Hannes Ritter, whose Third-Reich family history is entwined with her own. munichgirl_card_front

The pathway of this novel’s story dropped many clues in front of me, two of the biggest, a handkerchief just like the one Anna finds — and the portrait of Eva Braun, which, somehow, found me, too.

Find more about The Munich Girl: A Novel of the Legacies that Outlast War here:

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


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Taking the path of The Munich Girl

MunichGirlWebAd

 

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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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.

Hotel Schwan-2

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/