Monday, February 4, 2013

Guest Blogger: Sarah Pleydell, Author of Cologne: A Novel

London, 1960: Renate von Hasselmann, a nineteen-year-old German au pair, arrives at Victoria Station prepared to meet her new charges, Caroline and Maggie Whitaker. Yet she is ill-prepared for their parents: the mother, Helen, knows more about Nazi Germany than Renate does, and the father, Jack, disarms Renate with his quicksilver charm.

In Sarah Pleydell's debut novel, childhood and history collide, blurring the distinctions between victim and victor, ruin and redemption. With delicate humor, Pleydell presents a portrait of a family on the cusp of great social change, while reminding us that the traumas of war revisit the children of the peace.

Reflections by Sarah Pleydell

The characters in COLOGNE emerged from the environment of memory. I grew up in London in the fifties and sixties, and as I began to remember the sentient details of this world certain characters began to assert themselves within it. At first they resembled people in my childhood, but the more I wrote the more they assumed their own discrete fictional identities.

For example, Renate the au pair. We had fifteen au pairs in our household as I was growing up and the character of Renate draws on them all. As the fictional Renate developed her own history, temperament and fate, the personality that evolved bristled with anger but was confused both by its source and the fact that the longer she was in England the fiercer it became. As a result she was forced to recall the personal and collective traumas she had been so determined to suppress.

This story thus became informed as much by the history of Germany pre- and post-World War II as by the World War history of England, specifically the history of the city of Cologne. I did research at the Library of Congress and discovered that the British firebombed Cologne as they had so many German cities. I also learned of the city’s rich cultural history. Questions began to merge about Renate and her family’s lived experiences. What if Renate’s father were a museum curator ? What if the family left Cologne to escape the bombings, but he remained to protect his artifacts? How would Renate, as a small child, feel abandoned by her father because his art mattered to him more? What about her older brother, who would have fought on the side of the Nazis? What if he were maimed by the Russians instead of killed? How would that tragedy have impacted an impressionable, fatherless young girl like Renate? And how would a sophisticated family like hers fare after so many personal and economic losses? Finally, I began to reflect on the way those Germans who were children during the war would have reacted to carrying a legacy of shame and crime they had no part in.

I began to understand then how Renate would have been susceptible to the charms of an opportunist like Jack Whitaker, the kind of mercurial person who emerges in a time of change, chaos and stress. With no strong male figures in her own life she would be vulnerable to the ersatz affection Jack offered her, but in the end, I discovered as I wrote, she was strong enough to resist him. But at what cost?

Prices/Formats: $14.95 paperback, $12.95 ebook, $6.47 ebook
ISBN: 9780984990856
Pages: 252
Release: September 18, 2012

Fuze Publishing paperback buy link: ($14.95)

Amazon Kindle buy link: ($12.95)

Barnes& Nook buy link: ($12.95)

Fuze Publishing ebook buy link: ($6.47)

A graduate of Oxford and London Universities, Sarah Pleydell is an award-winning writer, performer and playwright who teaches English and writing at the University of Maryland. For the past twenty years, she has been a master teaching artist and arts integration specialist, working with institutions that include The Wolf Trap Institute for Early Learning Through the Arts, The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and the Luce Institute. In 2000, she won the American Association for Theatre Educators’ award for best book of the year with co-author Victoria Brown. Most recently she wrote the script and played the role of Isadora in Revolutionary: The Life and Times of Isadora Duncan with Word Dance Theater.

Based on her childhood in London, Cologne has been twenty years in the making. It has benefited from fellowships at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts and input many generous and gifted writers.

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1 comment:

Tribute Books said...

Cheryl, thanks for hosting Sarah for an introspective look at "Cologne: A Novel."