Sunday, January 19, 2014

Playing detective while researching #HistoricalFiction #ASMSG #WW2

Author Christoph Fischer returns to "Open Mic Monday" to give us some insights about the research that goes into writing historical fiction. Welcome, Christoph! Please shed some light on your process for us. 

When I researched “The Luck of the Weissensteiners”, I relied heavily on books and online resources. I read about: the holocaust, about Slovakia and its history, about Jewish issues, general and specific history books.  I also read fiction set in the area or the era.

I was astonished to come across quite a few sources that seemed politically coloured. One history book about Slovakia had only a most miniscule chapter about the entire WWII era and it pretty much painted a whiter than white picture of Slovakia, who was after all one of Hitler’s allies. I found out that the author didn’t speak the language and had not researched within the country archives, yet nobody disputed the book since it agreed with the polished version of events that many people in present day Slovakia would prefer to agree upon.

Entire archives were destroyed by the Nazis and Communist regimes tried to white wash the former fascist past to bring the nation’s history in line with its ideological policy. Amongst many other factors there is also human sentiment and forgetfulness to consider when relying on information for your book.

Historian Mary Heimann bravely learned Czech and did enormous research in the Prague archives to write a book on Czechoslovakia as a state, but her findings are highly disputed, possibly because they paint a much less favourable picture of both Slovakia and the Czech Republic.

One example for the dispute: Jews in Slovakia could be saved from deportation to the camps by personal exemption papers. This is often credited to religious forces within the fascist party in Slovakia but others claim it was due to the 500 Reichsmark that had to be paid to the German Reich for each Jew deported. Just how many were saved by the exemption papers varies also widely from source to source.

Who is to say which version is true?
Much of the original data was destroyed; strong political and personal agendas exist even now to portray the country favourably retrospectively and eye witnesses are dying away.

The consequence for me as a writer is to keep checking data, to read all sides of a story and remember that history books are still relative when it comes to some data. It is a continuous dispute and in most cases an exciting challenge for a writer.

In my books I use the controversy or ambivalence in my favour and get my characters to argue and make opposing statements, assumptions and predictions. Who can claim to have a comprehensive view, the complete information and then be certain to draw the right conclusions? This makes writing about history exciting and a living process.

Facinating, Christoph. Thank you for taking the time to share that with us. Now let's look a bit at "The Luck of the Weissensteiners."

 The Luck of the Weissensteiners (Three Nations Trilogy Book 1)

In the sleepy town of Bratislava in 1933 a romantic girl falls for a bookseller from Berlin. Greta Weissensteiner, daughter of a Jewish weaver, slowly settles in with the Winkelmeier clan just as the developments in Germany start to make waves in Europe and re-draws the visible and invisible borders. The political climate in the multifaceted cultural jigsaw puzzle of disintegrating Czechoslovakia becomes more complex and affects relations between the couple and the families. The story follows them through the war with its predictable and also its unexpected turns and events and the equally hard times after.
But this is no ordinary romance; in fact it is not a romance at all, but a powerful, often sad, Holocaust story. What makes The Luck of the Weissensteiners so extraordinary is the chance to consider the many different people who were never in concentration camps, never in the military, yet who nonetheless had their own indelible Holocaust experiences. This is a wide-ranging, historically accurate exploration of the connections between social location, personal integrity and, as the title says, luck.

On Goodreads:

About the author…
Christoph Fischer was born in Germany, near the Austrian border, as the son of a Sudeten-German father and a Bavarian mother. Not a full local in the eyes and ears of his peers he developed an ambiguous sense of belonging and home in Bavaria. He moved to Hamburg in pursuit of his studies and to lead a life of literary indulgence. After a few years he moved on to the UK where he is still resident today. ‘The Luck of The Weissensteiners’ was published in November 2012; 'Sebastian' in May 2013 and The Black Eagle Inn in October 2013. He has written several other novels which are in the later stages of editing and finalisation.


1 comment:

Christoph Fischer said...

Thanks for having me on your wonderful website!