Marie’s New Coat

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I’ve had a bunch of posts for the long-discontinued Sweet Saturday Samples bloghop sitting around in my drafts folder since 2012 and 2013, put together and scheduled well in advance. That hop seems to be on permanent hiatus, but I wanted to move them out already.

This post was originally scheduled for 31 August 2013, and comes from an older, unedited version of this WIP.

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This week’s excerpt comes from a hiatused WIP called The Strongest Branches of Uprooted Trees. The book follows a group of young Shoah survivors returning to the world of the living and trying to navigate their way through the early postliberation years. This particular scene takes place in Budapest in November 1945, shortly before nine of the characters are to be smuggled across the border, with another going on a train with their pet mouse and rabbit, before the Soviets completely take over.

While they were at a furrier’s on the famous Andrássy Út recently, the hopelessly smitten Artur secretly bought a fur coat for his crush Marie after he saw her admiring it. Marie’s main character trait is how sweet, innocent, and naïve she still is, even after everything she’s gone through. Just as she truly believes her entire family might still be alive, she really has no idea her secret admirer is so close to her. And Artur is afraid to tell her how he feels.

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The next day, while Csilla was cutting up a blanket and starting to fashion it into a coat for herself, a knock sounded on the door.  Half-fearing it was someone from the authorities who’d discovered their plan, or someone who’d found out there were fourteen people living in an apartment meant for only four at most, she tiptoed to the door and looked through the keyhole.  A strange man was standing there with a box.

“I work for Szűcs Furs on Andrássy Út and was asked to deliver this package to a young woman living in this apartment.  I didn’t want to send it through the mail for fear the Soviets might confiscate it for their own.  Is there a woman named Maria in this house?”

“We have a Marie, if that’s who you’re looking for.  Her surname is Sternglass.”

Marie came up to the deliveryman. “Yes, that’s my name on the package.  Who is it from, and who would know that my middle name is Zénobie?”

“There’s a note inside the box that might explain it.  Enjoy the gift.” He tipped his hat and went back down the stairs.

Marie carefully opened the box and saw a note on top, written in Hungarian.  Her command of written Hungarian was even weaker than her command of the spoken language, so she called Eszter over to translate it.

“It says, ‘To the beautiful Marie from her secret admirer.’” Eszter gave Artur a meaningful look out of the corner of her eye. “I wonder who could have sent it, particularly since you don’t know anybody outside of our own little group.”

“This is so exciting!  Maybe it’s a handsome young fellow who saw me in the street the other day, or any time since we’ve been here!  I hope he’s tall, dark, and handsome.  It would be so romantic if he were a sophisticated man of the world as well.  Someone who’s my age would never be so romantic and thoughtful.  I bet it’s an older man.”

“Perhaps you’re right,” Eszter said, giving Artur another furtive look.

Marie pulled away the tissue paper. “What a beautiful coat!  I think I was admiring this coat yesterday more than any of the others!  It stood out in the store because it was so exotic.  None of the other furs had prints or exotic colors.  Is it leopard?”

“The furrier told me it was ocelot when I admired it myself,” Mirjam said. “Looks like whoever is secretly admiring you wants you to keep warm as the winter begins.”

“Oh, if I only knew just who this suave mystery man is, I’d kiss and embrace him right now!  I hope it really is someone tall, dark, handsome, and older, not some middle-aged ugly fat social reject.”

“That is a beautiful coat,” Aranka said. “You’ll surely stand out when we get to Italy.”

“Pierre will be so happy and surprised when he sees me again and sees I’ve become a young lady, someone old enough for furs and such a beautiful elegant coat.  If my mother and sister are still alive, they’ll be so happy too, and impressed I caught the eye of this mystery man.”

WeWriWa—An Italian Chanukah feast

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Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8 sentences from a book or WIP. This week’s snippet comes a number of chapters after last week’s, during Chapter 51, “Chanukah Italian-Style.”

My characters were smuggled out of Soviet-occupied Hungary in November 1945, and have made their way to Florence, adult character Caterina’s hometown. They initially were put up in a relief shelter run by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, but after meeting back up with siblings Imre and Júlia Goldmark, they moved into a very nice vacation apartment.

The other day, Caterina and three of the girls went shopping by the famous Sant’Ambrogio Market, only 100 meters from their apartment. They loaded their baskets with plenty of food for an Italian Chanukah feast.

Delicious chocolate-covered sufganyiot (jelly doughnuts), Copyright Noam Furer

Thursday, 29 November, the apartment flooded with the sumptuous scents of sufganiyot; chicken fried in olive oil, lemon, and nutmeg; brisket; mashed potato pancakes; eggplant fried in olive oil and garlic; deep-fried dough fritters packed with currants; vegetables fried in olive oil; pasta latkes; potato dumplings with sheep cheese; noodle kugel; green beans; stuffed mushrooms; and deep-fried artichokes.  Caterina also tossed giant bowls of Greek salad and eggplant salad.  Tonight they’d eat a meat meal, and tomorrow they’d have dairy.

“I never want this beautiful horn of plenty to end,” Eszter declared as she salted the slices of the last eggplant. “I hope our refrigerator and pantry are stuffed for the next eight days.”

“They sure will be.” Caterina covered the bowl of Greek salad and slid it into the refrigerator. “We’ll have at least as much food as we did when we escaped.”

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As fiercely proud as I am of being over half German and a quarter Slovak, I tend towards following the Italian–Sephardic customs. My one-eighth portion of Italian blood was strong enough to give me a Southern Italian body type (barring my tiny little shoulders!), which I truly believe saved my life when I was run over by a car in 2003. Italian and Sephardic Judaism also have much more interesting food, and their customs aren’t as restrictive and superstitious as the Ashkenazic ones!

WeWriWa—A new kind of atonement

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Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. This week’s snippet comes from my WIP, The Strongest Branches of Uprooted Trees, and is the conclusion of the first section of Chapter 29, “A New Kind of Atonement.”

It’s September 1945, and my characters have recently moved to Budapest from Abony so they can be in a much larger Jewish community. They’re attending services at the Great Synagogue of Budapest on Dohány Utca (Street), in the uniquely Hungarian Neolog denomination. It’s sort of like liberal Modern Orthodoxy or very, very old-school Conservative Judaism.

Parts of the synagogue are in ruins (along with 80% of the entire city), and about 2,000 people who died in the Budapest Ghetto are buried in the courtyard. There’s also the chilling knowledge that during the occupation, Eichmann had his office in the women’s gallery. Needless to say, the autumn holidays haven’t been very happy so far.

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Dohány Utca Synagogue, Copyright Gabor Dvornik

The sounds of Kol Nidre commingled and competed with the sobs and shrieks they’d come to expect here.  Beyond remembering all the people who’d been with them last year at this time, surely many people were thinking of the promises, vows, and oaths they’d made in the best of faith but been unable to keep because of the forces of evil.

Eszter thought back to one of the film festivals she’d gone to with Mirjam, before the war, when foreign films were still allowed.  The climactic Yom Kippur scene from The Jazz Singer came into her head, as Al Jolson’s character chose his faith over his career, at least for that one night.  He sang with a tear in his voice, his soul and identity laid bare, in spite of his attempts to hide behind blackface and a de-Judaized name.

Perhaps Kálmán was right, and they’d be better-off in their own homeland, without having to resort to similar hiding measures and make the Gentiles think they were better, different, more modern than those people who lived in self-imposed ghettos.  The cataclysm they’d just lived through had struck everyone, the insular as well as assimilated.  Now it was up to them to rebuild the remnants and replant the uprooted trees.

Next autumn, I’ll be doing a series on The Jazz Singer at 90, exploring a lot of different topics related to the film, the transition from silent to sound film, and so much more. I’m really looking forward to researching and writing this series.

Halloween-themed posts begin next week!

Potential new, non-competing spinoff

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I had a really good idea after I wrote the first of my stories for the second challenge of the Fourth Platform-Building Campaign. Why not expand the flashback backstory I’d already written about Jakob DeJonghe, and the real-time events in his story, into an entire book instead of inserting it periodically into my Atlantic City books taking place at the same time? A lot of the things I wrote about in my Jakob-Rachel file sound so interesting, but they’re not gotten into in the greatest detail or length because I wanted to keep it short. (The file, when converted from AppleWorks into Pages, comes out to a bit over 64 pages double-spaced.)

I also started thinking about the other files I’ve started for my other Shoah survivor characters, like Malchen, Lazarus, Isaiah, and Eszter, Marie, Caterina, and their friends. I hadn’t yet gotten around to starting a file for the Roblenskies’ aunt Etke and her adoptive daughter Tekla (Tecia, later renamed Tikva) going home to Poland, in the DP camps with her oldest nephews’ Croatian Blockältester Zvonko Borkovic and his family, making their way to a ship going to Israel, on an internment camp in Cyprus, and finally able to come home.

Instead of periodically inserting these stories and scenes into my Atlantic City books taking place at the same time, why not just make them into their own series? That way I don’t have to worry about having too many competing primary storylines and characters, and don’t have to worry that the stories of the American characters are getting shoved to the back burner or overwhelmed by the stories of their European counterparts. It also will help to ensure that none of the books are too long, for the type of books they’re supposed to be. They’re just stories of young people coming of age and having often hilarious misadventures during the Forties, not long epic sagas.

For now, I’ll continue to have the stories of the Shoah characters intertwined with the main plotlines, since they’re not that long and don’t overwhelm the primary Atlantic City stories. And there’s obviously the connection to the primary characters, since we’re introduced to Lazarus, Malchen, and Isaiah as Sparky’s childhood friends who didn’t immigrate. Then Lazarus and Malchen meet the Roblenskies and Jettchen vanderSant in the Warsaw Ghetto, Malchen and Jadwiga Roblenska meet Eszter Kovács in Christianstadt, and the three of them meet Marie Sternglass and Dr. Caterina da Gama in the privileged laundry detail at Dachau. So continue those stories on their alternate trajectory to the main story, but honor them with their own full, complete, uninterrupted stories after the liberation. (And of course, they join up with the main characters’ stories when they immigrate to Atlantic City.)

I got so into the story of Eszter, Marie, Caterina, and their friends (Eszter’s remaining friends from her native Abony, Hungary) after the War that I’d written five files for them on my old computer, and wasn’t even close to done yet. They’d only recently arrived at the strawberry farm in Béziers, France when I left off. Kálmán hasn’t run away to Paris yet, Klaudia hasn’t tracked him down yet, they haven’t made love for the first time yet, Klaudia hasn’t gone through her ectopic pregnancy yet (which reveals itself on the eve of her scheduled abortion in Paris), no one’s gotten married yet, Marie and Aranka haven’t gone to the Parisian bridal salon for their dresses, Eszter’s older sister Mirjam hasn’t finished her master’s degree and had herself smuggled out of Budapest and into France yet. To say nothing of Eszter’s Abony friends not having gotten to Israel yet, where they’re going to fight in the War of Independence in 1948.

So I think a potential series would look like:

Jakob’s life in Amsterdam under Nazi occupation, in Westerbork, recovering from his leg injury after his escape, his time in the partisans, his time as an official soldier both in Holland and in the Dutch East Indies, his life back in Amsterdam before he immigrates to Atlantic City to join his fiancée Rachel Roggenfelder.

Lazarus after the liberation, in Holland, Germany, Scotland (where he has a lovely adoptive family and experiences Scotland’s small but warm Jewish community), and Israel. For continuity, I might start the story during the War, perhaps the Spring of 1944 when he’s sheltered by Magdalena Müller in Pirna, Germany.

Elzbieta Roblenska (later renamed Elizabeth) and her unlikely story of rescue and what happens afterwards. Let’s just say, her relationship with the young Nazi who saved her gets rather complicated and unorthodox when they’re in Denmark, and Elzbieta finds a way to turn around the consequences for a very noble purpose when she’s in Sweden.

Malchen from September 1944 on, her survival at a very young age against all odds, her long recovery in the hospital on the grounds of the former Bergen-Belsen, then her life in the dreary, depressing Hamburg orphanage. In the orphanage, one of her roommates, Jenny von Hartrott, becomes her best friend, and she also finds Eszter’s little sister Sára there. During a visit to Austria the three girls have with the orphanage doctor, Leo Howard (who also attended to Eszter, Marie, and Caterina after their own liberation), they run into Hänne Geringer, the Blockälteste Malchen, Jadwiga, and Eszter had at Gross-Rosen. Dr. Leo falls for her so much he takes her back to Germany and marries her, and when he’s honorably discharged and goes home to Boston, on the same ship as Malchen and Jenny, immigrating to Atlantic City and Argentina, respectively, they’re also the adoptive parents of Sára.

Etke and Tecia after the liberation and their abovedescribed journey. While in Poland, Etke’s old friend Bronislaw Pankowski (who later moves to Florida) helps them out a great deal, including serving as the witness for Tecia’s adoption and posing as Etke’s husband and Tecia’s father on their train to a DP camp later on, to save them from the attacks many women on the trains after the War were victims of. In the DP camp, Tecia finds a husband, Moshe Morgenbesser, and in Israel, Etke gets the shock of her life when she finally finds her own husband, Manfred Rosen (Fredek), a decade her junior, and has two late-life children with him, Keshet and Yonatan.

Isaiah in Belgium after the liberation, catching up on all his years of missed schooling, learning to speak French, going to the University of Ghent (Belgium’s Dutch-speaking university), and finally immigrating to America, where he learns his little brother and sister are alive and well.

Eszter’s party after the liberation, and their journey from Germany to Abony to Budapest to Florence to Paris to Nantes to Paris to Béziers to America and Israel.

Kálmán, Klaudia, Aranka, Móric, and Csilla in Israel (with their new Hebrew names) after the British blockade was finally vanquished, their service in the War of Independence, and their early years in the newly-reborn state.

The tragedy that strikes Csilla (renamed Ilana) during the Yom Kippur War, and the unexpected double blessing that arises in the wake of this loss.

Eszter’s party in Newark during their first years in America. Back then, Newark was a safe, vibrant, multicultural city with a huge Jewish community.

Eszter, her friends, and her two surviving sisters finally making aliyah in 2008.

The love stories of Malchen and Pali and Jozef and Svetlana in the early Fifties.

And really, I think it’s a nice idea to write about these characters after the liberation in their own distinct books. I’m far from the only one who wishes more Shoah memoirs had sequels, or at least gave more space to covering the writers’ lives after the liberation. I was very delighted when Livia Bitton-Jackson published a third memoir some years back, so that readers can learn about her life during the Shoah, after the Shoah in Europe, and during her early years after immigrating to America. In the sequels to Shoah memoirs I’ve read, I love how the people are returning to life, rejoining the human race, taking this beautiful delight in the little things, refusing to give up hope of finding friends and family, excitedly looking forward to the future.

Dialogue Bloghop

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Juliana Brandt is hosting a Dialogue Bloghop, in which participants have to write a dialogue consisting of Twitter-style lines, only 140 characters each. I love dialogue and tend to write rather dialogue-heavy books, though I’m also very wordy, at least with most of my non-YA books. But as I’ve been editing and revising my first Russian novel (down to about 335,000 words so far during what I hope is finally the last editing, rewriting, polishing, and revising sweep-through!), I’ve discovered that you can still take out stuff in a book that’s meant to be very long and still retain the essence. So long as it makes the overall thing better and you’re not just slashing just to lower the length, you should be aware of excessive wordiness and other ways to express things.

I decided to do a dialogue with Jadwiga Roblenska, Amalia (Malchen) von Hinderburg, and Eszter Kovács, some of the Shoah/European characters in my Atlantic City books. It’s been awhile since I’ve worked with my Atlantic City characters, and I miss them. Katherine, called Sparky, immigrates to Atlantic City with her family at the start of the first book in the first of the three/four series, and her sweetheart Lazarus von Hinderburg’s family remains in Europe.

During the course of most of the books, we see the lives of these European characters and their friends unfolding on a sort of alternate trajectory to the young people in Atlantic City, who only think they have it rough during the War and their adolescence. After the War, most of the ones who immigrate to America come to Atlantic City, and so their storylines join up with those of the main characters. (I say “three/four” because I’ve seriously begun to think about just letting the original WTCOAC series stay handwritten and a memory of my very early serious writing days, in addition to how I just don’t want the headache of having three of the four series to be so overlapping in terms of timeline. But that’s a subject for another post.)

Anyway, this is a scene I don’t believe I ever wrote, either in real time or as a flashback, Malchen and Jadwiga meeting Eszter, who becomes one of their Lagerschwestern (camp sisters). This would’ve been sometime in late 1943, after they were transferred to Christianstadt, a subcamp of Gross-Rosen.

@Jadwiga  Hi. I saw you on the transport and in the munitions factory today, but I didn’t get a chance to introduce ourselves. What’s your name?

@Eszter  I’m Eszter Kovács. I’m from Abony, Hungary. It’s not a huge city like Budapest, but I always liked my hometown.

@Jadwiga  Wow, you’re Hungarian? I thought Hungary hadn’t been invaded. I’m Jadwiga Roblenska from Warsaw, and that’s Amalia von HInderburg.

@Eszter  Where’s Amalia from?

@Malchen  Call me Malchen. You can call my friend Jadzia or Wisia, but she prefers Jadzia. It’s a really long story where I’m from.

@Eszter  In that case, you can call me Eszti. Did your homeland change borders or rulers a lot?

@Malchen  I was born in Hamburg, lived in Warsaw, moved to Amsterdam, got stuck in Warsaw, fled back to Holland, then was sent to Warsaw again.

@ Jadwiga  And she’s only just turned eleven. Poor kid’s been through far too much for her age.

@Eszter  To answer your question about what a Hungarian is doing here, my boyfriend Jakob and I were in the underground and captured in Poland.

@Jadwiga  Your parents let you work in the underground and travel to a foreign country at your age? You don’t look much younger than I am.

@Eszter  I didn’t need their permission or approval to do the right thing. We were sent to Poland as runners to smuggle a family into Hungary.

@Jadwiga  And they captured children? What did you do to set off suspicions? By the way, how old are you? I turned fifteen in July.

@Eszter  I just turned thirteen. Jakob is a year older. I was so worried when I didn’t see him on the transport here from Janowska.

@Jadwiga  You do look slightly older than your age. Thank God Malchen has been passed over every time in spite of her age.

@Eszter  We were arrested because we looked foreign and were speaking Hungarian. Those damned Nazis grabbed us as soon as we got off the train.

@Jadwiga  And they just took you, without even looking at your papers or letting you tell a fish story?

@Eszter  They knew our documents were fake. I’m still horrified when I remember how they pulled down Jakob’s pants. I turned away in embarrassment.

@Jadwiga  Oh, that must’ve been even worse for him. It’s horrifying enough when we have to stand in the shaving line every week.

@Eszter  My humiliation came in the form of my first menses, starting in the train on the way to prison. I bled right into my clothes.

@Malchen  They took you to prison first instead of right to a camp? My brother and I were in prison in Amsterdam.

@Eszter  And I didn’t once crack, even with all the torture I got during my interrogations.

@Jadwiga  Why don’t we talk about pleasanter things? Do you have any brothers or sisters? I’m the second of twelve. There were almost thirteen of us.

@Eszter  I’m the fifth of eight. My parents really had two sets of kids, since there’s a big gap between two groups of four.

@Jadwiga  My parents weren’t that lucky. There’s only a year between each of us. I never want so many kids so close together.

@Malchen  I’m the last of three. First comes Isaiah, then Lazarus, then me.

@Jadwiga  There’s Samuel, me, Jozef, Elzbieta, called Elza, Zofia, Maria, Wladyslaw, Helena, Mieczyslaw, called Mieszko, Yente, Maia, and Elijah.

@Eszter  My family has mostly girls too. Rebéka, Léa, Mirjam, Dávid, me, Sára, Ráhel, and Dániel. They stopped after Dávid and then got four more.

@Jadwiga  Don’t tell me they stopped just because they finally got a boy.

@Eszter  Afraid so. I never understood why attitudes like that are still so common in this century.

@Malchen  Can we go to sleep now? I’m tired after all day in the munitions factory.

@Jadwiga  Of course, libling. At least we’re out of that damned quarry and you won’t get as exhausted as you did there. I love working indoors.