Leaf of the Tree

Finding the Divine in the Details


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A story of many kinds of homecomings

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. 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’d 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.

“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.

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. 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.

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.

At its heart, it’s a story about outlasting that chaos and confusion that unavoidably visit us, in both public and private wars. 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.  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.”

Eight years ago when the process of this book 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.

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

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Facts, fiction, and female characters

Autumn in Murnau, Vassily Kandinsky, 1908.

Author Dianne Ascroft, who writes historical fiction, offered me a wonderful interview.

Her questions are some of the most enjoyable I’ve received and as I explore the path of The Munich Girl in my current memoir writing, they’re especially helpful:

Describe how you use a mixture of historic figures and invented characters in the novel.

PER: Invented characters act as catalysts for what a writer discovers about the story, so that’s a huge part of the pleasure of coming to know them.

Characters who were real people require research accuracy, of course. A paradox I encountered is how very much information published about Eva Braun is inaccurate, including many photos in which someone else, including her own sister, is identified as her.

While she’s not the protagonist, I was looking for more of the emotional story that her life showed. The novel’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, tried to make good choices.

She also made ones 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? These are themes I wanted to explore.

How closely did you stick to the historical facts? If you used them loosely, how did you decide whether to deviate from them?

PER: As closely as possible when it came to information from the WWII era and the years that preceded it in Germany. As my husband says, if the characters ride a train on a certain line at a certain time of day, there had to really be one.

There’s a lot of factual information in The Munich Girl and I’ve heard from readers that it can be hard to know where the factual leaves off and the fiction begins. It’s easy to know where: in the emotional lives of the characters, including those people that history remembers. That’s where my own attempt to read between the lines of daily life watched for the signs of interior life I could recognize and convey as the story revealed itself.

In an historical novel you must vividly re-create a place and people in a bygone era. How did you bring the place and people you are writing about to life?

PER: This was one of the most delightful parts, for me, as I spent extended spans of time in various locales in Germany that are a part of the story.

Also, in the time I spent poring over Eva Braun’s photographs and films, I got to know both the interiors and exteriors of the settings as they appeared during the 1930s and ‘40s.

A fun element of research was what has become, for me, a growing collection of vintage postcards that show scenes from that era in many of the settings of the story.

There often seems to be more scope in historical novels for male characters rather than female characters.

Do you prefer to write one sex or the other. And, if so, why?

PER: I love stories where there’s a balance that hints at what a world with equality might look and feel like. This novel has a lot more scope for female characters. At its heart is a friendship between two women, one of whom was a megalomaniac’s mistress, and the effect their emotional intimacy had in each of their lives, and in the lives of those who came along in a next generation.

But it’s really about two facets of human experience that matter a great deal to me, ones I imagine are still characterized as more “feminine” than “masculine,” though I believe they apply in all of our lives. The first is the inner reunion of “coming home to” our truest self that we all must eventually encounter. The second, and even more intriguing facet, for me, is the mysterious role that others play in that process, often in highly unexpected ways.

One particular paradox I discovered might open the door to a deeper conversation about gender equality, one that examines it from the perspective of human virtues. It’s that the qualities of compassion and care that Hitler and the Third Reich sought to demean, reject, and suppress are precisely what he came home to Eva Braun for. This unexamined and very common imbalance, which distorts and abuses the value of the very things we need to heal as a world, continues to play out on a massive, violent scale in human life.

Find the full interview here:  https://dianneascroft.com/2016/08/05/meeting-the-munich-girl/


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Thoughts from A Bookish Affair

eva-braun

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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What are the legacies that outlast war?

23e8d548b431a8370101c479685e1ee6My 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. MunichGirlWebAd

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 the 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. 11695795_500214500133570_7923245893122866371_n

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/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1447865405&sr=8-1&keywords=The+Munich+Girl


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Just an ordinary Munich girl

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What led me to write a book about Hitler’s mistress (and eventual wife), Eva Braun?

It reminds me of what so many asked after the war, after her death, when the role she had played finally came to light:

“Why her, just an ordinary Munich girl?”

I had a chance to ponder these questions again during this summer’s conference of the International Women’s Writing Guild at Muhlenberg College in Pennsylvania.  The IWWG is a wonderful network that fosters the personal and professional empowerment of women through writing. MunichGirlWebAd

An extra treat there this year (and there were many) was hearing CBS Sunday Morning contributor Nancy Giles as keynote speaker. Her blend of insight and humor lingers and encourages me, still. It was right in line with IWWG’s focus on the development of our  “inner ability to perceive the subtle interconnections between people, events, and emotions”. If you’re a woman and a writer, check out: http://www.iwwg.org.

In a wonderful memoir workshop led by author Maureen Murdock, I had a chance to ponder some of those “subtle interconnections” as I reflected again on that Eva Braun question. In one workshop activity, I wrote: “What a paradox that she often spoke very directly to — even scolded — her tyrant of a lover, yet also ceded her entire life to him. crop Adolf-Hitler-und-Eva-Braun

“Who knows which of her unnamed roles was really the more significant, in her time? The buffer she sometimes provided for others around him? The diffuser of tension she so often was, or the soother of circumstances that others undoubtedly came to rely on during the self-will-run-riot mania of a self-appointed despot?

“She seems such an emblem of what so many women do, have done, throughout the ages. Not able to enact their own potential in a direct and visible way, they must resort to doing so from the invisible sidelines and background.”

In Eva Braun’s case, that invisibility lasted the entire 16 years she spent with Hitler.

f942aa87bc9784474cbe5fa1c5b1915aIronically, because she was considered so insignificant, she was allowed to film the visual evidence that proved — though he publicly protested to the contrary — that the Führer did, indeed, have a private life.

One he never would have had without her.

A question that still lingers for me is, did she?

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/0996546987/

 


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On the trail of The Munich Girl

IMG_3242Delightful contributions and correspondence from readers have, once again, helped me make new discoveries about The Munich Girl. Reader response remains one of the biggest gifts of all in sharing a book’s story with the world.

Big thanks to Heather Heather Krishnaswamy for: reading the book, writing with kind words to let me know — then taking it with her to Europe, and ALL the way to the top of a mountain and the Kehlstein Haus, high above Berchtesgaden, Germany, so that she could send this photo.

I’m personally rather fascinated with then-and-now photos — the historic ones I pored over during my research, and the ones that readers send me as their own travels follow parts of the book’s trail.

Egaes Nest Hitler House - 020In her photo, Heather is standing quite close to where these two photos of Eva Braun and her dog were taken around 1939 or 1940. The scene is one that’s included in the book’s story.

Reader Kathy Bailey left a comment recently that feels too thoughtful to let become buried in the obscurity of internet archives.

It’s a response  to the question that never stops coming: “Why Eva Braun?” (Or, in the instance of one recent reviewer, “Why this woman?”)

EB pix Germany and more 498“Why Eva?” Kathy begins. “Because she is also a representation of Germany, a beautiful country of many good people who were swept along by something they didn’t understand and later regretted.

[Observation entirely my own own: Are we willing to — will we — learn from history ourselves, when and as we find ourselves in similar circumstance?]

“Why Eva?” Kathy continues.

“Because through her, Phyllis explored the many complexities of love. Which is not one-size-fits-all.

12939510_10209722543888161_1278498025_n“Why Eva? Because through her we come to understand Anna, who finds the courage to break from an oppressive relationship.”

Like her country, Eva Braun may not have recognized that the relationship was oppressive.

Or not until it was much too late.

Find more about The Munich Girl, (Kindle version remains discounted this month) here:

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

 — And please, keep sending your photos and thoughts.

 


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Creativity’s invitation to discovery, and wholeness

IMG_2709Very grateful this week for the opportunity to share a guest post at reviewer Rachel Poli’s blog:

“The experience of writing The Munich Girl showed me that, rather than being something I ‘do,’ writing is a process that acts upon me, strengthening my sense of connection with my own wholeness. My responsibility is to listen and watch, rather than impose ideas or plans of my own on what comes forth as a story.

“Creative process invites me to find a balance between my intuitive mind, which encounters the unlimited and unknown, and rational mind, whose structuring perception helps a story be both cohesive and accessible.

424 “People often hurl themselves at creative process ‘head first’ with the rational mind, trying to force or control things. My experience is that in creative process, intuitive mind is waiting for me to meet it, so that it can help me know and understand in new and wider ways.

“Gertrude Stein expressed this beautifully: ‘You will write if you will write without thinking of the result in terms of a result, but think of the writing in terms of discovery.’ She gets straight to the heart of what allows writing process to be a revelatory power, and a bestower, rather than a distraction or plaything.”

Read the rest at: https://rachelpoli.com/2016/05/17/creativitys-invitation-to-discovery-and-wholeness/

Find more about The Munich Girl at:

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

goodreads_icon_100x100-4a7d81b31d932cfc0be621ee15a14e70And for those so inclined, a Goodreads Giveaway for the book is offered beginning at midnight Wednesday, May 18, through May 27.

Find entry info. at: https://www.goodreads.com/giveaway/show/187198-the-munich-girl-a-novel-of-the-legacies-that-outlast-war?utm_medium=email&utm_source=giveaway_approved