Welcome, Rose Seiler Scott! Tell us, Is your new novel ‘Threaten to Undo Us’ a Christian novel?
Yes, in the sense that I am a Christian and I wrote the book. Themes of hope and faith weaved themselves into the story as I wrote.
No, it is not a typical Christian novel. The storyline is not specifically arranged around how God can change and transform people.
I think Threaten to Undo Us is a “crossover” book that many readers – both secular and Christian will enjoy.
There are lots of books on World War Two. What makes Threaten to Undo Us different?
The shelves at the library are filled with stories and memoirs from the Second World War. Most focus on the Holocaust or stories of Allied soldiers. Few books in English are written from the perspective of German protagonists and even less have been written on one of the largest expulsions in history that took place after the Second World War. Trust me, I tried to find them!
Where did you get the idea for the book?
War stories, such as the Diary of Anne Frank, The Hiding Place and Unbroken, have always captivated me with tales of people surviving under the most trying circumstances. Over the years, I heard a number of anecdotes from my Dad’s family and realized the story they told was nothing short of incredible. No-one else seemed to be curating their experiences, so when the family gathered and started talking about those days, I grabbed a scrap of paper and took notes. The book is based on their story.
What were some of the challenges you faced in research and what did you discover?
It was confusing to piece together the family narrative, because it didn’t fit the framework of World War Two as I understood it. They were German, but lived in Poland. Even those that were children at the time said they were in concentration camps. I wondered why, since they weren’t Jewish. Family friends had similar experiences, but initially I could find no mention in any historical sources about this. Eventually I was led to a few crucial books about what happened after the war in communist Poland and East Germany.
The history in a nutshell is this: Before the war, culturally German people lived all over Europe; in Poland, Ukraine, Czechoslovakia (now Czech Republic), Hungary and Romania. In the final days of the war, Russian forces moved west into German occupied territory but Hitler took a defiant last stand preventing the German army from retreating in enough time to get their civilians out in a safe, organized manner. Women, children and the elderly had to flee for their lives and many didn’t make it to safety. Those who returned to their homes were soon forced out.
As a response to the devastation in Europe and as retribution to the Germans for their part in the war, Stalin, Churchill and Roosevelt determined at the conferences of Yalta and Potsdam to redraw the borders and “repatriate” all Germans to Germany, even if they had never lived there. Germany was ill-prepared to receive millions of refugees. As the communist regime established itself, revenge, terror and slave labour became the norm for ethnic Germans in Eastern Europe.
I also had to get into the mindset and perspectives of my characters during a terrible time and figure out how people and why they acted the way they did. It is easy to look back and point fingers at past evils and certain groups of people, but it is not so easy to put ourselves into the context of another era! Studying this history has made me realize how important it is to have a moral compass that doesn’t waver with current opinions.
A few years ago, I had reached a point in the writing the book where I felt it was necessary to go to Poland and Germany in order to write knowledgeably so I made the trip with my parents in 2009. Even though much has changed since the war, it really helped to actually be there. Certain scenes would not have come to life in the same way had I not gone.
How long did it take to write the book?
12 years, give or take. I was raising a family, volunteering at my children’s school and church and regularly suffering with migraine headaches. I was so frustrated by the lack of information, I set writing aside a few times.
How much of the story actually happened and how much is fiction?
Though the book is based on actual events, the decision to go with fiction made it more representative of a whole group of people and created an even more compelling narrative. Incidents have been imagined, re-imagined and embellished, but for the most part the basic plot is what really happened. Truth really is stranger than fiction, but fiction plays a role in telling the truth.
[Tweet “Truth really is stranger than fiction, but fiction plays a role in telling the truth. – @RoseSeilerScott”]
Sounds like a really heavy read. Is it a depressing book?
Yes and no. Yes. The book is about a family’s struggles under two totalitarian regimes. Bad things happen. Grown men have told me they were moved to tears.
No. As a Christian, I believe there is hope even in the darkest of times. I also avoid graphic depictions of evil, violence and bad language. If it were a movie, I would rate it PG because of the subject matter.
[Tweet “I believe there is hope even in the darkest of times – @RoseSeilerScott”]
What are you working on now?
I was seriously considering a story based on my English grandmother who also had a fascinating life, but people are asking for a sequel to Threaten to Undo Us. Hopefully it won’t take me 12 years this time! I also have two blogs!
Thank you Rose! If you would like to learn more about Rose Seiler Scott’s book or purchase it, you can find it below: