Happy Duran Duran Appreciation Day!—Irene and Amelia Redecorate Their Room

Happy Duran Duran Appreciation Day! This year I’m presenting Chapter 54,” Irene and Amelia Redecorate Their Room,” from my long-hiatused WIP Justine Grown Up. It’s a modern retelling of sorts of Phronsie Pepper, set from 1979–84. Enjoy!

Though visits home have long since become a necessary, irregular evil, Justine and David can’t totally brush off their family. Besides, it almost seems like a mini-vacation from the stress of grad school, and Justine can hardly refuse when her dearest nieces have asked her to come. She and David are staying with Adicia as usual, but Justine quickly goes next door after arriving and depositing her things in their guest room.

“Dad is hopeless,” Irene says, brushing her raven hair out of her green eyes. “He’s begun treating us almost like he treats you. It never occurred to him that we’re old enough to have celebrity crushes.”

Lenore smiles. “You haven’t been here in awhile, Justine. Maybe Irene and Amelia should give you a tour of their room. They recently redecorated, and now it looks like the room of two teen girls. You might not recognize it.”

“Is that good or bad?” Justine asks.

“Just let them show you. You’ll see what it’s all about soon enough.”

Irene and Amelia lead Justine upstairs to their room, where Justine is greeted by the sight of walls almost completely plastered in posters and magazine pictures of men. Gone are the posters of cute animals and stuffed animals that used to dominate their room.

“I take it these guys are famous?”

“Don’t you have MTV or follow entertainment news?” Irene asks.

“David and I only have a few cable channels, and we’re too busy with grad school to watch much TV or even read the newspaper. It’s been awhile since we last saw a movie, and I don’t go to discos anymore.”

Amelia giggles. “You’ve really fallen behind the times. This is Duran Duran, from Birmingham, England. We just got into them a few months ago, but they’ve been around for a few years. All the girls at school like them too. Even little Simone likes them, though not for the mature reasons we do.”

Justine smiles and nods politely as the girls take turns telling her about each member of the band in minute detail, along with a recitation of song titles, chart positions, magazine articles, and media appearances. This kind of thing seems so unlike her nonconformist nieces, but even the most unconventional teen girl has to have a celebrity crush sometime.

“You were right when you said the right first fantasy crush doesn’t happen at the same time for everyone,” Irene goes on. “But for Amelia, Nessa, and I, it’s about a lot more than looks. Only stupid teenyboppers like a band for such a shallow reason. The music has to be good too, and the people in the band have to be intelligent and artistic.”

“I hope you don’t go around talking like that to the other girls at school,” Justine says. “No one appreciates being told she’s immature or silly for only liking a band for their looks. They probably think you’re the nerdy losers for having the exact opposite attraction.”

Amelia smiles. “It does help that they’re handsome. I don’t like ugly people, no matter how talented or nice they are.”

Justine surveys the room, a small lump in her throat. She and her four closest sisters never had the luxury of having teen crushes on celebrities, let alone papering their tiny shared rooms in posters and magazine pin-ups. They always had more important priorities, like where their next meal was coming from or if a utility might get shut off due to their derelict parents. Even Ernestine’s Beatlemania was tempered by the reality of growing up poor. Now there’s finally a generation who takes for granted being able to be normal teen girls. Even if Irene and Amelia were only attracted by looks, it wouldn’t matter. They’ve earned the right to be normal and carefree.

“Would you like to hear some of their music?” Irene asks. “You might like it. We’d never make fun of you as too old to like them. A lot of older people today like The Beatles, and twenty years ago they were written off as only for young people.”

“Maybe you can play it for me later this weekend. I’d like to relax a bit after the long drive. We could go out for sundaes or something tomorrow, or maybe the movies and dinner too.” Justine looks around at the pictures for the umpteenth time. “I don’t think you told me if you’ve got favorites. Even girls who like a band for serious reasons usually have favorites.”

“It worked out perfectly for us. We all have a different favorite, each matching our personality. Nessa, Amelia, and I based our choices on serious reasons. Only little girls and teenyboppers who like whatever’s popular pick a favorite for only looks. That’s as stupid as only dating for looks. A pretty face doesn’t mean anything if the guy is stupid or mean.”

“I feel kind of bad for you that you never got to have a favorite band or celebrity crushes,” Amelia says. “I guess it’s not the same to do that at your age. It probably doesn’t feel as special as when you’re young.”

Irene indicates a somewhat androgynous-looking member of the quintet. “I chose Nick as my favorite. God forgive me, but I wasn’t entirely sure what he was the first time I saw him. Then I realized that’s a normal look for a New Romantic, and that I was pretty ignorant for assuming a man in makeup with a pretty look has to be a cross-dresser. I like how he’s not afraid to be himself, no matter what people might assume. My parents always taught me how important it is to beat to your own drummer. Different is good.”

Justine takes in Irene’s favorite. “I kind of agree with you, but I’m not sure I’d know what to think if David came home one day wearing eye makeup, styled hair, and feminine shirts.”

“I like that look on the right man. A man who’s not afraid to look pretty in public is really sure of his masculinity. He doesn’t need silly things like leather jackets or a motorcycle to prove his manhood.”

“Yeah, but there’s a lot of ground between wearing mascara and being a Hell’s Angel!”

“I was never interested in jocks. I always liked artistic types, like the guys in art, film, dance, or music clubs. I don’t know how girls in the old days could be attracted to things like crew cuts, letter jackets, and square jaws.”

Amelia points to one of the brunets. “My favorite is Roger, the drummer. Most of the girls at school have other favorites, but I don’t care. I guess I just like that he’s quiet like I am. My favorite guys at school are the quiet, shy ones.”

“You can never go wrong with a quiet one,” Justine agrees. “I think it’s safe to say that the average introvert isn’t using that as a façade for a jerkish personality. What you see is what you get.”

“And it adds mystery. Plus when a quiet person does speak, it’s usually pretty deep and profound. Everyone always underestimates us, but you know what they say about the quiet ones.”

Justine smiles at her. “Yes, I sure do, even though I’ve never been guilty of being too quiet and shy. Is he one of the brothers?”

Irene vigorously shakes her head. “None of them are related, though a lot of people assume that at first. It’s just one of life’s funny coincidences that three out of five share the same last name. I’m glad we’re Troys and don’t have that problem of an overly common name. Well, you’re a Ryan now, but Ryan isn’t overly popular.”

Amelia continues pointing. “Nessa chose Simon as her favorite. She likes his poetic lyrics, and you know how much she loves books and poetry. It’s kind of unusual that she likes him best, since normally she doesn’t like blondes all that much. Did we tell you he’s part Huguenot just like us?”

“No, you didn’t,” Justine says, starting to feel like a fish out of water with her teenage nieces. She’s not even a generation away from them, but suddenly they seem like they have less in common. They have mainstream teen girls interests now, as opposed to how they often used to talk about deep things like indie films, current events, and classic literature.

“Little Simone likes John best,” Irene concludes. “She thinks he’s the best-looking. No deeper reasons. What else can you expect from a ten-year-old? She’ll learn when she’s a little older.”

“You and Nessa are only five years older, and Amelia is only three years older. Not so long ago, you were ten and had a similar childish mindset.”

“Are we really that close in age? It seems like a lot bigger gap at our age.”

“It always does. Things level out once you’re both adults. David only started to see me as more than a friend when I was twenty and he was twenty-five.”

Amelia puts on a begging look. “If they’re ever nearby, could you please drive us to the concert? We’ve never been to a real concert before, and we’d spend our own money and everything. We’d be so thankful to you forever.”

“Yes.” Justine doesn’t even take time to think about it. “You girls deserve all the best things in life after everything our family went through to get out of poverty. But you’d have to let me know well in advance so I can arrange my schedule. It’s asking a lot for a grad student to take off personal time to chauffeur her nieces to a concert.”

“They’re not touring in the area now,” Irene reassures her. “We just wanted to know for in the future, and we wouldn’t make you take us if someone else could do it. Our dad probably wouldn’t hear of it, since he thinks we’re too young and innocent for musician crushes, but our mom might. It’s not like we’d be going there as groupies.  We’re good girls.”

Irene and Amelia lead their aunt to their desks and show her the scrapbooks they’ve begun compiling. Each girl has nearly an identical scrapbook, though there are a few minor differences in layout, order, and focus. Justine thinks back to the bulging scrapbook of The Four Seasons Betsy probably still has in storage somewhere. This pursuit must be taking quite a bit of time away from more constructive things like homework and studying, but her nieces will only be young once.

“Would it be stupid if we reorganized the walls every so often?” Irene asks. “We plan on getting a lot of new posters and pinning up new magazine pictures, and it might be nice to change which goes where. It could get boring if they stay in exactly the same place for the next few years.”

“Years?” Justine teases. “Why don’t you wait more than a few months and see if you still like them so much? Or you might still like them but no longer want to have them all over your walls.”

Irene considers this. “Yeah, we probably will organize our walls a bit differently when we’re a little older. We’d never want anyone to think we’re not maturing past teen crushes. But when you first really like a band, you want everyone to know it. And we need time to develop our fandom.”

“Are you sure you’re only fifteen? You don’t sound like any other teen girl I’ve ever known outside of our family.”

“Amelia and I aren’t teenyboppers. We were never part of the crowd falling for whatever teen idols we were told to scream for. If we’re lucky enough to go to a concert and you’re taking us, we promise we won’t scream like maniacs. Sure we’d be excited, but we wouldn’t act like animals. We’d want to hear the show. It’s about the music for us, more than looks.”

“You don’t need to keep telling me that. I believed you the first time. But remember, you might like other bands too, later on. Most people don’t have the same favorite band forever.”

“We know. We don’t expect to. But right now, we just want to have some fun. This is probably the closest we’ll ever get to being like the other girls our age.”

Justine has one final look around the newly-redecorated room before heading back next door to Adicia’s house. As she settles into the guest room, with David in the shower, a funny feeling takes hold of her. She doesn’t know what to make of it, or what it means, but she can’t help thinking that Irene and Amelia’s sudden move into young womanhood may have just helped to pave the way for her to finally prove once and for all to their family that she’s an independent, capable adult woman and not an overgrown Phronsie Pepper. But only time will tell how this might unfold. All that matters is that the three of them demonstrate they’re not the cute little kids everyone remembers them as.

With her nieces’ status as real young women at stake, suddenly her long-simmering cold war with their family just got a whole lot more serious and significant.

Hermann Hesse Month, Part II (The Hessian influence on my writing)

Because 9 August 2022 will be the 60th Jahrzeit (death anniversary) of my next-fave writer, Hermann Hesse, I’m devoting this month to a celebration of his life and works. Let’s continue with a discussion about his influence on my own writing.

The main example which immediately springs to mind is Little Ragdoll. As I’ve mentioned many times, middle Troy sister Emeline is my Doppelgänger (albeit with some differences, like where we went to school and the fact that I’ve never smoked pot). One of those keen similarities between us is our love of Hermann Hesse.

Our first Hesse novel was Demian, though Emeline first read it in sixth grade instead of starting it the summer before ninth grade. It’s recommended to her by her German-Jewish surrogate mother Sarah, who later suggests several other Hesse novels she thinks Emeline will love.

When the mean girls at school are taunting Emeline and her sisters in the schoolyard on Halloween 1959, Emeline responds:

“Why are any of yous so mean to us? Are yous just offended we’re different from you, and that difference makes yous uncomfortable? I was reading a book our nanny recommended, and it says when you hate someone, you hate something in that person that’s part of yourself, since what isn’t part of ourselves doesn’t disturb us.”

Ernestine, the next sister after Emeline, soon asks if she can read that book after Emeline finishes, and Emeline says it’s an adult book, probably not at Ernestine’s reading level. Sarah told her the author won the Nobel Prize in 1946.

After Demian, Emeline reads Gertrude, Beneath the Wheel, and Peter Camenzind. In June 1962, at age fourteen, she rereads Demian and checks out several of his other books (not named). When her black-hearted mother sees the books and begins ranting about them because of the “Kraut” name, Emeline says Hermann Hesse is Swiss, not German, and that one of the books Sarah recommended (Narcissus and Goldmund) hasn’t been properly translated into English yet, so she had to settle for different titles. Presumably they include Siddhartha, which Sarah also recommended.

Throughout the book, Demian and its themes are referred to several times, like Hesse’s marvellous Midrash about how the Mark of Cain is really the mark of a nonconformist, someone special, someone unafraid to go against the crowd, and the concept of a half-good, half-evil deity like Abraxas.

Emeline finally gets to read Narcissus and Goldmund in 1968. Though one of her majors at Vassar is German Studies (a love largely inspired by Hesse), she explains that knowing a language fluently doesn’t automatically mean one can easily read an entire book without stumbling. Emeline is also very annoyed that many of her hippie friends are into Hesse because he’s trendy, while she loved him long before his books were embraced by the counterculture.

Part III, “The Conjoined Twins of Agony and Ecstasy,” takes its title from an important moment in Narcissus and Goldmund, when Goldmund sees a woman in childbirth. Her face strikingly reminds him of an orgasmic woman. Never before has he realized how closely linked agony and ecstasy are, and that becomes one of the things he’s most keen to translate into the dream Madonna he longs to create. (Goldmund is an artist.)

One of the two quotes on the title page of Part II, “Dramatic Developments,” is from Siddhartha, “I have always believed, and I still believe, that whatever good or bad fortune may come our way we can always give it meaning and transform it into something of value.” Emeline also includes some Hesse quotes among the things taped up on her apartment wall when she moves to Hudson Falls.

That same pivotal realization in Narcissus and Goldmund inspired the title of Chapter 27, “The Close Entwining of Despair and Joy,” in The Twelfth Time: Lyuba and Ivan on the Rocks.

The last line of Vol. II of Journey Through a Dark Forest, “To be born or create something new, one must first destroy the pre-existing world, for better or worse,” comes straight from a line in Demian, a cryptic note accompanying a drawing Max Demian sends to narrator Emil Sinclair, “The bird fights its way out of the egg. The egg is the world. Who would be born must first destroy a world. The bird flies to God. That God’s name is Abraxas.”

This also inspired the final line of Vol. I of A Dream Deferred: Lyuba and Ivan at University, “A new world can never be wrought without the old world being destroyed first.” Like the other line, it’s in Katrin’s POV, and in the preceding lines, she thinks back to those closing lines of her World of Tomorrow essay from 1939.

Elsewhere in Dream DeferredDemian and Steppenwolf are referred to, with the lines about hating something in people that’s part of yourself and how Steppenwolf delves into a concept like the ego, superego, and id, with contradictory desires, impulses, and beliefs.

In my Atlantic City books, Cinnimin’s father recommends Hesse to her in the spring of 1940, and suggests she might formally take German at school so she can read his books untranslated. Cinni’s German skills have gotten very rusty, and most of Hesse’s books weren’t available in English in that era.

When Cinni gives birth to her first child in August 1951, she names him Demian in honour of this special character and book.


If you’re observing Tisha B’Av, may you have an easy and meaningful fast!


Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. The rules have now been relaxed to allow a few more sentences if merited, so long as they’re clearly indicated, to avoid the creative punctuation many of us have used to stay within the limit.

I’ve gone back to my hiatused WIP The Strongest Branches of Uprooted Trees, which follows a group of young Shoah survivors during the early postwar years. Part II tells the story of what happened to some of them while they were separated.

Mirjam Kovács, a graduate student in Budapest, fled back to her hometown of Abony immediately after the Nazi invasion in March 1944. Though this put her in considerable danger, it also enabled her to find a way to send her youngest siblings to safety. Even in the death train, she still didn’t give up hope.

The escape she engineers is inspired by the 2006 German film The Last Train (Der Letzte Zug). With help from other passengers, a rock was transformed into an axe which increased the size of a pre-existing hole in the floor. While some of the young men raised a loud disturbance, Mirjam’s siblings escaped.

Ráhel ran towards a large white building just past the woods, sidestepping and jumping over broken branches, twigs, and logs that might give them away. Instead of going through the large central door, she rang the bell to the little adjoining house with an image of Mary on the door.

A woman in a long, voluminous brown robe, a white coif, and a black veil answered the door, took one look at them, and motioned them inside. As soon as the door was closed, the woman spoke to them in a strange language. Ráhel opened her mouth, but couldn’t think of any of the necessary Russian, French, or German phrases Mirjam had drilled into her. Instead, she could only respond in the language her mother had derided as completely useless and vanity.

“Ni eskapis de tre malbona trajno. Ni estas tre malsata kaj soifa, kaj mia frato estas tre malsana. Bonvolu helpi nin.” [“We escaped from a very bad train. We’re very hungry and thirsty, and my brother is very sick. Please help us.”]

The woman draped in brown answered in Esperanto.

The ten lines end here. A few more follow to finish the scene.

“I know who you are, and about those trains passing through all the time. Follow me, and I’ll get you something to eat and drink, a nice bed, a bath, and a doctor for the little boy.”

Ráhel and Dániel followed her into the attic, where there was a bedroom behind a wall. A short while later, their benefactor and several other women draped in brown appeared, bearing trays of bread and salt, tea, chicken soup, hard-boiled eggs, pickled mushrooms, and water. Dániel could only bear to swallow the water and soup broth, though Ráhel pounced on everything like a ravenous wolf.

After they were done eating, their new friends pointed into an adjoining washroom, and they took turns bathing. The water turned black during each of their baths, and had to be drained and refilled several times. Neither of them had had a real bath since their move into the Abony ghetto in late May.

Following their baths, they changed into pajamas and returned to the soft, fluffy, warm bed. Ráhel made sure to put the scapular back around her neck, with one segment on the back and the other on the chest. Dániel’s neck had by now swollen so much he couldn’t comfortably wear Margaréta’s rosary, so Ráhel put that next to him on his pillow.

Several minutes later, the women in brown returned, accompanied by a man in a white coat. By this time, Dániel was coughing hysterically, croupier and croupier by the minute, and starting to turn blue.

IWSG—A miraculous flash of seeing everything clearly


It’s time again for The Insecure Writer’s Support Group, which meets the first Wednesday of every month to commiserate over worries, fears, doubts, and struggles.

This month’s question is:

When you set out to write a story, do you try to be more original or do you try to give readers what they want?

While we should be aware of current literary conventions and trends, someone who aspires to be a writer for all time should ultimately be true to one’s own voice, style, and interests. Even if you’re writing in a popular genre, like paranormal romance, you should at least use an original angle that makes your story stand out instead of obediently fitting into a mindless cookie cutter. Why be one of a million when you can be one in a million?

I set a 15K goal for July Camp NaNo and overachieved, though the majority of my writing was creative non-fiction for blog posts, not the actual declared project, my radical rewrite of The Very Last. I suspect I didn’t write as much as I could for TVL because I wasn’t starting it as an entirely new project or writing only new chapters.

Towards the end of July, I began reconsidering what I thought was a rejected storyline for Dream Deferred, the Konevs relocating back to NYC en masse in June 1952. I last seriously worked on it in March 2020, and the most recent chapter, still unfinished, was begun on 28 July 2020 and not updated since 28 October 2020. Lockdown ruined what seemed to finally be the homestretch.

And just when I was almost decided on resurrecting the aborted storyline that bloated the already sprawling wordcount and made me lose control of my own book, the most perfect development came to me. It’s so perfect, I had to look for reasons to possibly reject it. After all, I wasn’t going to make the same mistake twice!

What if the Konevs had chosen Minneapolis instead of St. Paul when they moved to the Twin Cities? That makes more sense, since it’s the location of the university, and it’s more likely a progressive academy like Stefania Wolicka would be there. Also, Minneapolis has always had more population and been more vibrant and cosmopolitan than St. Paul.

Anton, the second husband of Lyuba and Ivan’s goddaughter Lyudmila, will alert them to an old mansion next to his on East River Road that just came on the market. In that era, Victorian houses were often abandoned or sold for very cheap prices on account of being so unfashionable.

With Tatyana’s family buying the house next to that by surprise, there’ll be more than enough land for dear horse Branimir to enjoy his autumn years. There’s also ample land for hobby farming, gardening, and keeping some non-working farm animals.

On the same block will be the girls’ new friends from school, who won’t have to be introduced at the very end of the book.

Kabardin horse (Branimir’s breed), Copyright Helgie12 at WikiCommons, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.

In preparation for striking while the iron’s hot and refreshing my familiarity with the story, I began skimming through it. After almost two years away, I’d forgotten many things—little details, major plot points, seeds being planted for developments in future books.

To my great surprise, the only major issue is the aborted moving back to New York storyline. The overall story wasn’t nearly as trainwreck as I thought it was. Even the major subplots that arise in the final quarter or so are on-point and so entwined with the pre-existing storylines, it would be a mistake to move them into the fifth book. Only a few need moving or junking.

As the real-life Father Andrew Rogosh of St. Michael’s Russian Catholic Church (pictured above) says to Ivan’s much-younger sister Varya:

“….When one boils dilemmas down to their core essence instead of obsessing over a succession of minute details, the easiest solution often appears quickly.”

Have you ever found an epiphanous solution after it seemed you’d written yourself into an impossible corner? Discovered a story wasn’t nearly as trainwreck as you thought it was after some time away?

Hermann Hesse Month, Part I (Who was Hermann Hesse?)

Because 9 August 2022 will be the 60th Jahrzeit (death anniversary) of my second-favourite writer, Hermann Hesse, I’ll be spending the month blogging and vlogging about this extraordinary person—his books, his personal life, and what he means to me. Let’s get started with his biography!

Hermann Karl Hesse was born in Calw, Germany, in the Black Forest, on 2 July 1877. His parents were Marie Gundert (1842–1902) and Johannes Hesse (1847–1916). Because his father was a Baltic German from Estonia (then part of the Russian Empire), Hermann was thus born with both German and Russian citizenship. (And as someone who loves younger men, I love that his mother was older than his father!)

He had eight siblings, three of whom died in infancy. His halfbrothers were Theodore (1866–1941) and Karl Isenberg (1869–1937), from their mother’s first marriage, and his full siblings were Adele (1875–1949), Marie (1880–1953), and Johannes (Hans) (1882–1935).

From an early age, young Hermann exhibited precocious talents and great creativity. By the time he was four years old, he was already writing poetry and drawing thoughtful pictures, and demonstrated a very passionate, headstrong spirit. In addition to having intellectual, unconventional parents who nurtured his talents, he also was allowed full access to the library of his scholarly grandfather, Hermann Gundert, and drew great creative inspiration from his beautiful hometown.

In 1881, the Hesses moved to Basel, Switzerland, and received Swiss citizenship the next year. Hermann began attending his missionary parents’ boarding school, Knabenhaus, in 1885. Then, in 1886, the family returned to Calw, where Hermann continued his education.

In 1890, Hermann transferred to a Latin school in Göppingen so he could prep for Württemberg’s State Examination. Students who passed this exam were entitled to a full or partial scholarship. Hermann’s father acquired Württemberg citizenship on his behalf, which meant he lost his Swiss citizenship.

After Hermann passed the exam in 1891, he enrolled at Maulbronn Monastery’s Protestant theological seminary. However, his interest in a religious career quickly faded, and he fled in March 1892. He wanted to be a poet or nothing else. A day after his escape, he was caught.

Hermann fell into a depression and began having violent fights with his parents. Two months after his escape from Maulbronn, he attempted suicide. He then was sent to a mental hospital near Stuttgart, where he worked in the garden and taught mentally disabled kids. Hermann wrote an angry letter to his father in September 1892.

At the end of 1892, he left the institute and enrolled in a gymnasium in Cannstatt. He passed the one-year exam in 1893, but soon dropped out of school and started an apprenticeship with a bookseller in Esslingen am Necklar. This apprenticeship lasted all of three days.

In summer 1894, Hermann began a mechanic apprenticeship in the tower clock factory Perrot in Calw, which lasted 14 months. This work didn’t speak to his soul, heart, and mind either, and he began a new bookseller apprenticeship in October 1895 in Tübingen.

Copyright Holger Gruber at German Wikipedia

At the antiquarian bookstore Heckenhauer, Hermann thrived. Not only did he enjoy working with these precious old books, he also had the chance to further his education privately at the end of each workday. On Sundays, his day off, he filled his time with reading.

When he finished his apprenticeship in October 1898, Hermann continued working at Heckenhauer as a sales assistant. During this time, he began publishing poems and stories, some in collections, some independently. Sadly, he didn’t achieve commercial success from these early first forays into literature.

In autumn 1899, Hermann moved back to Basel and began work at another antiquarian bookstore, Reich’sche Buchhandlung. In Basel, his intellectual, artistic, and spiritual life began reawakening.

View of Basel from the Rhine, Copyright Taxiarchos228 under Free Art License

In 1900, he was released from military service on account of poor eyesight. He suffered from amblyopia (lazy eye) the rest of his life, along with headaches and nerve pain.

Hermann travelled to Italy in March 1901, and stayed until May. He visited Milan, Genoa, Florence, Bologna, Ravenna, Padua, and Venice. After his return to Basel, he started working at the antiquarian bookstore Wattenwyl.

Source Dutch National Archives, The Hague, Fotocollectie Algemeen Nederlands Persbureau (ANEFO), 1945-1989, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Netherlands license.

In 1904, he published his first novel, Peter Camenzind. From this point on, he was a full-time writer. Also in 1904, he married his first wife, photographer Maria Bernoulli (1868–1963). (I love that she was nine years older!) They had three sons, Bruno (1905–1999), Hans Heinrich (Heiner) (1909–2003), and Martin (1911–1968).

The marriage wasn’t a success, and Hermann’s creative life also suffered. To try to recover, he travelled to the Far East in 1911 (India, Ceylon, Indonesia, Sumatra, Borneo, Burma). Though he got his writing mojo back, his couldn’t save his marriage. He and Maria divorced in 1923.

In 1924, Hermann regained his Swiss citizenship and lost his German citizenship. That same year, he married Ruth Wenger (1897–1994), though they mostly lived in different houses and never slept together. They divorced in 1927.

Hermann began cohabiting with art historian Ninon Dolbin (née Ausländer) (1895–1966) in 1927, and married her in 1931. They settled in Montagnola, which overlooks Lake Lugano.

Though he never openly expressed anti-Nazi views, he did strongly speak out in support of Jewish writers and other writers being persecuted. German newspapers stopped publishing his articles in the mid-Thirties, and his work was classified as undesirable in 1936. None of his books were ever banned or burnt, however.

His final novel, The Glass Bead Game, was published in 1943, and he won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1946. He continued writing short stories and poems, but didn’t begin any new novels. During the last two decades of his life, his major literary focus became letter-writing.

Hermann Hesse’s typewriter

Hermann received about 35,000 letters over his professional lifetime, and, just like dear Stan Laurel, answered the bulk of these letters personally. He felt it was a moral obligation to write to anyone who’d taken the time to write to him.

In December 1961, he caught flu, and had trouble recovering. Unbeknownst to him, he’d had leukemia for a long time. He received several blood transfusions, but they weren’t enough. Hermann died of a stroke in his sleep on 9 August 1962, aged 85, and was buried in the Sant’Abbondio cemetery in Gentilino.

Copyright Hannes Röst

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