Two cultures, three languages and one big conflict

Chrystyna LUCYK-BERGER is an award-winning writer whose Reschen Valley series released this past January. Today she gives us an intriguing look at how the series came about.

Imagine driving south over an alpine pass, crossing from Austria into Italy. You might expect Italian restaurants, Italian signs, and Italian architecture. But that’s not what happens. It still looks like the Austrian Tyrol with a few Italian names but the German language is still everywhere.

Keep driving, because here it comes: spread out before you, an unbelievably beautiful reservoir some 4 miles long and nestled into the horizon. The sight of that aquamarine water takes your breath away. You pass the first town and quickly come upon the next one called Graun / Curon Venosta. And then there it is. Off to the right, some 50 feet from the lakeshore, is a fully intact medieval church tower rising straight out of the water. This is the setting of my series, Reschen Valley.

That haunting sight! I saw it for the first time in 2000 and I wanted to know what had happened. Immediately. However, I didn’t know enough German or Italian to understand the local’s explanations. I passed that scene for five years before pieces of the story began to fall into place.

My German had improved. I was directed to a museum located above the fire department where I discovered what devastation and destruction lay below the surface of the water. I wanted to know more. I found information about the secret Treaty of London, signed by Italy in 1915 as negotiated with them by France, England and Russia. I researched Woodrow Wilson’s 14 points, then his biography. I read the Hungarian Ambassador’s book from 1964. I found a professor in Innsbruck whose work had been translated into English. But overall, almost nobody I talked to knew the details of how South Tyrol became Italian.

More so, the deeper I went, in all directions, the more mysterious and thrilling the story was becoming. Especially in regard to how the reservoir was built. I was making two or three trips a year, spending a lot of time in South Tyrol and getting to know two cultures: the Austrian Tyrolean one and the northern Italian one.

By the time I visited the Reschen Lake reservoir for the tenth time, a whole slew of characters had risen above its surface: a young farmer woman, a sassy innkeeper, an Italian engineer, a German carpenter, a dog. A colonel and a Fascist. They clambered into my Fiat and never let go.

Here’s how the story begins: The Great War is over but a new conflict has just begun. The Austrian Tyrol is cut in two, its southern half handed over to Italy leaving an entire population severed from its countrymen. Katharina Thaler, a Tyrolean farmer, is out hunting when she stumbles on an Italian veteran who’s been stabbed on her mountain. Terrified that one of her own people has committed the crime, she must choose to save him or leave him to die. Her decision thrusts her into a labyrinth of corruption, greed and prejudice as Katharina is caught between the Tyroleans who are trying to stop the annexation to Italy and the growing Fascist powers that need their land to produce electricity; electricity required to prepare for the next war.

The journey in writing what will be five novels spanning 3.5 decades, required steering around many a conundrum. First, how far beneath the strata of my two cultures must I go before I can feel confident about creating an entire world from them and do the cultures justice? I could never presume to know or understand enough than that which lays beneath the first few layers. I will always be an outsider writing from an outsider’s perspective. And I feel that has its advantages.

Further, I’m writing the books in English with characters who would normally speak German and/or Italian. It’s thrilling to have this much fodder for conflict between my characters: cultural clashes, misunderstandings, plays on words. I am also, however, acutely and painfully aware that my ability to play on those in depth are limited if my audience is an English-speaking or English-reading audience. This has caused me to experiment for years with the use of foreign phrases, and creating a world that is universally understandable. My concern has been to make sure that I had enough of both cultural aspects and unique language that, should these novels ever be translated into German or Italian, they would not feel watered down to the native population. This was a huge obstacle to overcome.

And then there was the question of taking sides in the conflict. I made the decision to explore all aspects of this story, all its arguments and objectives. It is not my job to illustrate who is right and who is wrong in this conflict and I don’t think it’s realistic anyhow. Once again, I made conscious decisions to create three-dimensional characters with all their flaws and strengths, with all their motivations to do good or evil. I did not want to make this conflict my conflict.

In the end, I set out to write a story as well as uncover one of the least known histories in western Europe. In the process, I also discovered that there is a warning in those pages that we, today, must also heed.

Chrystyna’s first two books in the Reschen Valley series, No Man’s Land and The Breach, are available on Amazon. Her novella, The Smuggler of Reschen Pass is a prequel to No Man’s Landand on preorder now on Amazon. It releases May 15th. Bolzano,Part 3, will release in September this year.

No Man’s Land by Chrystyna Lucyk-Berger – She wants her home. He wants control. The Fascist regime wants both.

1920, former Austrian Tyrol. Katharina Thaler faces becoming the first woman to ever own a farm in the Reschen Valley. The end of the Great War has taken more than her beloved family, it has robbed the province of its autonomy and severed it in half. As her countrymen fight to prevent the annexation to Italy, Katharina finds a wounded Italian engineer on her mountain. Her decision to save Angelo Grimani’s life, however, thrusts both into the midst of a new world order—a labyrinth of corruption, prejudice and greed.

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Meet M.K.Tod

The historical fiction author behind A Writer of History...

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3 Responses

  1. Chrystyna,
    Your research journey in of itself is material for a nonfiction book! It must have taken you several years to dig that deep, going back and back?
    I think it’s a good idea to use a small helping of foreign words (German & Italian), provided most of the meaning comes out. If used sparingly and appropriately it adds flavor and color—authenticity—adding depth to the stories woven.
    I got a copy of No Man’s Land. Will have a look!
    Thank you for sharing.
    Thanks for having her, Mary!

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