WeWriWa—Treasure found

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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. I’m now sharing from Chapter 45, “Imre’s Revenge,” of my hiatused WIP The Strongest Branches of Uprooted Trees.

It’s November 1945, and Imre has chosen to stay behind in Budapest instead of being smuggled into Italy with his girlfriend Csilla and their friends. He claimed important business, among other reasons, to cover up his plans to go to Csilla’s hometown Abony to recover important possessions she hid last year.

Matters are complicated by Csilla’s old house now being owned by a gendarme who tortured her.

Copyright Gerard Dukker; source Rijksdienst voor het Cultureel Erfgoed

In the dim light, Imre prowled around the cellar, keeping his eyes peeled for big, dark lumps. The cellar had a funny smell to it, so he didn’t want to spend too long there. After endless investigation, he stumbled against a medium-sized pile of coal in a darkened corner full of cobwebs. He moved the coal aside with his feet, not wanting to get his hands dirty, and found only bricks. On closer inspection, there was no mortar holding these bricks together.

Imre removed about twenty bricks, his heart racing, and found exactly what Csilla had described. A mid-sized bundle wrapped in her orange, yellow, and brown scarf; a pair of orange skis and matching poles bound together at several junctions with yellow ribbons; a globe in a very nice dark wooden stand; a brown carrying case which revealed a portable victrola; and an orange carrying case which revealed the orange Remington Portable typewriter. He could go through the items in the bundle once he was in a secure location.

Imre put the bundle and victrola into the postal bag and tested its weight. It probably weighed about twenty pounds, maybe less.

WeWriWa—Imre’s dangerous mission

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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, I’m switching back to my hiatused WIP, The Strongest Branches of Uprooted Trees. I unfortunately lost the entire file on my computer in August 2017, but thankfully had a near-complete backup on my flash drive. It’s missing about two to five thousand words, but it could’ve been so much worse.

This comes from Chapter 45, “Imre’s Revenge,” set in November 1945. While 17-year-old Csilla and her friends have been smuggled out of Hungary and into Italy before the Soviets could completely take control, Csilla’s new boyfriend Imre begged off on going with them.

Imre claimed important business in Budapest, among other reasons, but he truly planned to go to Csilla’s hometown of Abony to recover important possessions she hid before being taken to the ghetto. Matters are complicated by Csilla’s old house now being owned by a gendarme who tortured her.


Downtown Abony, Hungary, Copyright Civertan Grafikai Stúdió

Csilla’s house was near the avenue’s genesis, not too far from the intersection with main thoroughfare Szolnoki Út, and just a bit before the intersection with Cserép Utca. It was a simple one-story brick edifice with a wooden door and yellow shutters. There was dim light behind the windows, but not much noise. The chain-link fence around the backyard wasn’t padlocked, so all Imre had to do was push down on the tension band and swing open the latch.

He didn’t dare try the back or side door when he knew full well the house was occupied, so he dropped to his knees and crept along the back of the house till he found a slightly ajar window. He pushed it the rest of the way open and slid inside, onto the top of something he quickly realized was a modern washing machine. It would’ve been much worse if he’d landed on a blazing coal heater or boiler. Landing on the washing machine also meant his entrance hadn’t made much noise. There was no time to wonder whether this time-saving wonder had belonged to Csilla’s family, or if the gendarme’s family had added it. Imre was only here to dig up the valuables hidden underneath the coal.

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.

***

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.

***

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.”

Top Ten Tuesday—Books with sensory reading memories

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Top Ten Tuesday, formerly hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, is now hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl. This week’s topic is Books with Sensory Reading Memories (i.e., linked to very specific memories).

1. The Glass Bead Game, Hermann Hesse. I was reading this when my family left NY in August ’96, and it went into storage at my maternal grandparents’ house with almost everything else we owned. When I picked it back up in 2003 or 2004, I kept the bookmark in the place it’d been all those years ago, as a reminder of that depressing time.

Interestingly, that bookmark is one I left in a library book about Tad Lincoln, and got back when I checked the book out of the library again at thirteen. I knew that was my bookmark, and no one had taken it in all those years!

2. The Tao Te Ching, Lao-Tzu (Gia-Fu Feng and Jane English translation). This was one of the few things I had during my junior year of high school, 1996–97, while we lived with my paternal grandparents. My relationship with that book of ancient Chinese wisdom was forged in fire. It got me through a lot of tough times. Just smelling the pages takes me back to that dark period.

3. Anything by Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn, my favourite writer and one of my heroes. Each and every book, story collection, play, or prose poem takes me back to the time I first read it.

4. The Play of God, Devi Vanimali. I read this beautiful book about Lord Krishna in summer 2002, while my parents and little brother were at Cape Cod. I was sick to death of that place, and decided to stay home. It was so hot, I had to go into my parents’ room for the AC unit at night. We didn’t have central AC.

5. The Lives of John Lennon, Albert Goldman. This book is absolute garbage, but I have so many memories of being a naïve 14-year-old who believed everything she read, and eating this crap up every time I went to a library or bookstore, until I finally checked it out in late ’94 to finish reading it at my own leisure.

6. Upon the Head of the Goat, Aranka Siegal. Not only was this the book that started my Magyarphilia, but it was one of the books I read that spring of ’95 that awakened my Jewish soul. When Piri and Iboya are being threatened by anti-Semitic bullies, I felt afraid and threatened myself.

7. Pretty much any book I read during the 11 months I couldn’t walk, from August 2003–July 2004. How could one not remember being so immobile and helpless?

8. Related to #1, pretty much everything by Hermann Hesse. I have so many memories of the first time I read each of his books, starting with Demian at age 14–15. He was the first real adult author I read, and became my next-fave writer.

9. Beatlesongs, William Dowlding. My receipt from June ’94 is still in it. That was a very happy trip to Borders. A TV in another room upstairs was playing Help!

10. Isabella: From Auschwitz to Freedom, by Isabella Leitner (originally published in two volumes, Fragments of Isabella and Saving the Fragments). Hands-down the most haunting, memorable book I’ve ever read. It was only upon rereading it as an adult that I realised how sparse the supporting details and backstory are. It’s driven by emotions, this story of four (later, sadly, three) sisters who survived for one another, because of one another.

I’ve since listened to, watched, and read a number of interviews with Isabella and her surviving siblings (now all deceased). They filled in so many blanks I was curious about, and often left me wondering why some pretty important details were omitted, like the fact that there were twin boys who died at eight months, not just five sisters and a token brother.

Meet some of the people in my alternative history, Part III

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Here are a few of the other real people who appear as characters in my alternative history, whom I haven’t already featured. Not everyone is from the Russian Imperial Family!

Captain Aleksandr Aronovich Pecherskiy (22 February 1909–19 January 1990) was born in Kremenchuk, Ukraine, and grew up in Rostov-na-Donu. He earned a diploma in literature and music, and worked as an accountant and manager of an amateur musicians’ school, and as an electrician at a train repair plant. He served in the army from 1931–33.

The day the war began, he was drafted as a junior lieutenant, and served with the 596th Howitzer Artillery Regiment. In autumn 1941, he saved his wounded commander from capture, but didn’t get any medals for his bravery.

He was captured in October 1941, and suffered with typhus for seven months. He and four other POWs escaped, but were recaptured that same day. They went to a penal camp and then a POW camp, where it was discovered he was circumcised. He admitted he was Jewish, knowing he’d be whipped for lying.

Severe punishments and several other POW camps followed. He ended up in Sobibór, where he organized and led the revolt and mass escape of 14 October 1943. After serving with two partisan groups, he reunited with the Red Army, and was promoted to Captain. He was wounded in Latvia in August 1944.

During the last years of Stalin’s reign, he lost his job, was briefly arrested, and was unable to find new employment. The Soviet government prevented him from testifying at several trials of Nazi war criminals abroad.

For his courage, he has received four medals (two posthumous), and many other awards and honors.

In my alternative history, Captain Pecherskiy and 50 other Jewish partisans, mostly escapees from camps and ghettoes, arrive at the Aleksandr Palace in September 1944 to petition Aleksey and Arkadiya to create all-Jewish regiments in the Imperial Russian Army. He becomes commander of an eponymous infantry regiment, and receives many medals and honors after the war.

King Mihai (Michael) of Romania (25 October 1921–5 December 2017) was the last king of Romania, and the last true surviving WWII head of state. He was the son of the repulsive King Carol II and Queen Mother Elena (née Princess Eleni of Greece and Denmark); grandson of King Konstantinos I of Greece and King Ferdinand and Queen Marie of Romania; great-great-grandson of Queen Victoria and Tsar Aleksandr II; great-great-great-grandson of Tsar Nicholas I.

Soon after Mihai’s birth, his sleazy father was embroiled in yet another scandalous relationship, and renounced his claim to the throne. Mihai became king in 1927, after Ferdinand’s death, with a regency including his uncle Nicolae.

Carol returned to Romania in 1930, and refused to reconcile with his wife. He forced her out of the country and only let her see Mihai a few months a year, on his own terms. After Carol abdicated in September 1940, Mihai became king again.

Mihai frequently suffered bouts of depression, feeling he were too young and inexperienced to be king, and upset at being treated like a pathetic figurehead by the ruling fascists and Germans passing through. His mother provided teachers to shape him into a strong, active king, and urged him to depose the fascist Prime Minister Ion Antonescu.

She also made him to understand he had to take a stand against Jewish deportations, or risk going down in history as King Mihai the Wicked. He listened to his mother (who posthumously was honored by Yad Vashem as Righteous Among the Nations).

In June 1944, Mihai began secret talks with members of the opposition, to discuss overthrowing Antonescu. His successful coup in August turned Romania to the Allies and shortened the war by as much as six months. Sadly, the Soviets forced him to abdicate in December 1947.

In 1948, Mihai married Princess Anne of Bourbon-Parma, with whom he had five daughters and enjoyed 68 years of marriage.

In my alternative history, Mihai and Nicolae secretly come to Russia in June 1944 to discuss the planned defection and overthrow of Antonescu. He returns in August for the belated baptism of Aleksey and Arkadiya’s surprise fifth child Shura and their nephew Oleg. It means a lot to him that Aleksey, who also came into a throne at a very young age, says he believes in him. Good kings are gradually made, not instantly created.