Interview with Maraglindi author Bob Rich

Australian author Bob Rich writes both fiction and non-fiction and sends out a delightful newsletter once a month with bits of advice, philosophy, and writing news. I had the honour of endorsing his novel Maraglindi: Guardian Spirit. Today he’s answering questions about his writing and this novel in particular and offering a giveaway for someone who leaves a comment.

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Mary, thank you for the honor of featuring me on your wonderful blog. May I refer to it as the global hub of historical fiction? [So kind of you to say this, Bob.]

Having read the list of questions you emailed to me, I thought, “Hey, I really want to know the answers!” I hope I am not alone in this. But, I thought, first I’ll discuss the way my book, Maraglindi: Guardian spirit came to be written.

I used to work as a counselor at an (Australian) Aboriginal health center, and also, where I live has a substantial First Nations community, and I was able to be of service to them. I woke one morning, and a young Aboriginal girl spoke to me. No, she hadn’t entered the house, only my head. She demanded I write her story, and instantly, I had three facts: who she really was, how she was born, and how she died.

I said, “No, I’m not qualified. Aboriginal people get very upset when an outsider claims to write from their point of view. Anyway, where are you from?”

“What you people call the Hunter River. Worimi people.”

“Fair go! I have some familiarity with the Bunurong and Wurundjeri. That’s like knowing a little about the English and French, and being told to write about Romanians. Same continent is about the only commonality.”

All the same, like all the characters in my stories, she insisted on being the boss. After all, she is a Superior Spirit, and who am I to argue?

I had to do a lot of research, and also I tried to find a co-author: a Worimi person who could provide the internal details and therefore give the story legitimacy. While that hasn’t happened, I did find some very knowledgeable and helpful advisors. The strange things is, much of what Maraglindi told turned out to be correct.

It was necessary for me to include a creation story, and at the time I couldn’t find one, so used a combination of several from other Aboriginal nations. This was one of the details that proved to be false, and my advisor pointed me to the correct one. And you know what? It is uncannily similar to the Christian one, (well, Jewish one) given the cultural differences.

Maraglindi hasn’t stopped bossing me around, only now she is born the second time around, and is Florence Kline. “My name is Flossy, so I can be bossy!”

  • MARY: Indigenous people around the world have suffered trauma at the hands of settlers and colonizers. What insights about the relationships between them did you want Maraglindi’s story to provide?

Conquerors write history, so history glorifies conquerors… except when they are consigned to history. Few people say good things about Genghis Khan’s hordes, the Huns, the Vandals. All the same, there is admiration for Alexander from Macedonia, the Romans, the Vikings, and of course the various European cultures that stole from all over the planet.

To my mind, any colonial power is inherently barbaric. (The dictionary definition is “savagely cruel.”) Empire is robbery. When Queen Victoria’s empire considered itself to be the pinnacle of civilization, it was actually the nadir of inhumanity.

Everything you write is colored by your philosophy, even a shopping list. So, this attitude comes through in all my historical writing. It is just as strong in my fictionalized autobiography, Ascending Spiral, as in Maraglindi. You see, my life can only be understood by looking at the past lives I have recalled, which includes Viking raids, the Irish rebellion of 1798, and the terrible treatment of both convicts and Aborigines in what later became Australia. And in two of these past lives, I had very strong emotional bonds with Aboriginal people, although not Maraglindi’s nation.

My aim in life, the reason for everything I do, is to work to provide a future for the young people of the present, and to ensure this future is worth living in. Maraglindi’s story addresses the second part. In order to have a good world to live in, we need to learn from guardian spirits like Jesus, the Buddha, Confucius—and Maraglindi.

Every sentient being on this planet is an apprentice Jesus, an apprentice Buddha. Well, the ones who are already there are not apprentices. We do have a few. The Dalai Lama is one, and in my opinion Pope Francis another. (Mind you, I am not a Catholic, and not even a Christian.) We certainly need more!

In the mid-19th Century, the arrogant British aristocracy considered themselves to be the crown of creation. The colonials in America were beneath contempt, the Irish were animals to be either exterminated or enslaved, and when they invaded noble ancient cultures like in India and China, they treated the locals as if they were primitive. This is not even to mention the crime against humanity of enslaving Africans.

And, as you say, Mary, the treatment of indigenous people was approximately abysmal, give or take a little. OK, the Brits were no worse than the Spanish and Portuguese in the Americas, the French, Belgians and Dutch and later Germans—it was an European disease of the soul.

I didn’t particularly set out to highlight this in Maraglindi, but, like the English version of religion, it was part of the framework the story was set in. You see, when I first met this amazing person, She told me she would need to live three human lives in order to be fully competent at understanding us. The first was Maraglindi, the second Florence, who is born at the very end of this book and features in the sequel, and then we need a third one in the present.

  • MARY: What aspects of Australia’s aboriginal culture do you admire most? Are there lessons that ‘white people’ can and should learn from this culture?

Mary, this is a wonderful question about a wonderful family of cultures. Before the white invasion, there were approximately 700 different nations, each with its language, culture, customs, myths, but also they had things in common.

People interested in history probably like nonfiction about it too. One of my favorite books is The Future Eaters by Tim Flannery. He sets out evidence that a long time ago, when I was very young (a minimum of 60,000 years, but maybe 100,000 years ago), people managed to cross the Wallace Line. This is a divide of animals. One side has Asiatic fauna, the other Australian. Once across, hunting became ridiculously easy, because animals did not fear humans. So, they developed a locust culture that killed everything in its path then moved on.

Until then, humans were just one hunter species, and also being hunted. But when people returned north, they took these destructive attitudes with them. Or so Tim Flannery says. Then as the great ice sheets melted and land became exposed, weed plants moved in, and rapidly breeding animals came to eat them, and humans followed with a weed culture.

We are the fruit of that weed culture, which has now eaten the planet.

But in what became Australia, the weed culture faltered. When people drove the big herbivores to extinction, vegetation built up and this resulted in megafires. It was so severe that it changed the very nature of the continent, with plants that do well in fire like eucalypts and wattles replacing the ancient forests. The humans also adapted, and learned to become parts of the land.

We are now doing to the whole planet what those ancient arrivals did to Australia. In order to survive, we need to learn how they survived, and to copy their attitudes. In another of my books, an Aboriginal elder says, “All living beings are my family.”

  • MARY: Magic—or perhaps the better description is the spirit world—plays a role in Maraglindi. Why did you choose to incorporate that aspect into the novel?

Me choose? I did no such thing.

First, I have found evidence that each hunting band in the old days had a “magic man,” and they communicated with each other by telepathy, and that’s how things were coordinated over long distances.

But also, the first thing Maraglindi told me about herself was that She is a Superior Person, an enlightened spirit, Who has learnt the ultimate lesson of unconditional love for all, and that She has been assigned as a guide to us little humans. Try and tell that story without invoking the spirit world.

  • MARY: You talk of a ‘white person truth’ and a ‘blackfella truth’—is there a message for readers to take away from this?

I do love your questions. The force me to think. One of my hobbies is comparative religion, and you know what? Every religion I have studied carries the same set of underlying messages. Because I am a secular Buddhist (follow the philosophy without doing any ritual), I use the Buddhist term “metta” for it. You can read what that means at http://bobswriting.com/bill/metta.html

So, as Maraglindi has said in the book, both the whitefella truth and the blackfella truth can be true. So is Chinese truth, and Jewish truth, and Muslim truth—they are all the one Truth.

  • MARY: Do you have hope for the future relationship between indigenous Australians and those who took over the country?

Instead of answering myself, I will quote Aunty Lil, who is a Wurundjeri elder:

“In old times, there were 700 different nations in this land, each with their own language, each looking after their own country that was their mother and their being. Now, there is a need for one people, looking after one land that is our mother and our being. This whole planet is my mother. The land is my mother; the trees and grasses and mosses and kangaroos and elephants and wolves and rabbits and snails my brothers and sisters. The ocean is my mother; the whales and dolphins and sharks and salmon and herring and jellyfish and krill my brothers and sisters.

“And so are you, and so it is for you.

“And so, I welcome you to my country, which is your country, to my planet, which is your planet, and I invite you to stop killing my mother, which is your mother; my brothers and sisters, which are your brothers and sisters.”

Aunty Lil only lives inside my computer at the moment. She is an important secondary character in the Doom Healer series, which is doing its best to burst onto the world stage. But she does set out what humanity needs to do to survive: adopt the Australian Aboriginal attitude to nature so it fits our circumstances.

This is one of the important reasons I am a very active member of the Australian Greens political party. A Federal election is approaching, and we have a 15 point platform. Top of the list is “Treaty with First Nations.”

Mary, once again thank you for featuring me on your blog. One week after this interview goes live, I will visit random.org, and select one commenter, who will receive a free electronic copy of Maraglindi: Guardian spirit.

Many thanks, Bob. Your thoughts from Aunty Lil echo some of the philosophy articulated in a memoir I’m reading – Indian in the Cabinet by Jody Wilson-Raybould. An indigenous Canadian, Jody Wilson-Raybould says: ‘our culture, worldview, spirituality, and way of life are integrally related to the natural world … this is our religion’.

Best wishes for Maraglindi: Guardian Spirit.

Maraglindi: Guardian Spirit by Dr. Bob Rich ~~ 1850, a small town in Australia: Glindi, an Aboriginal woman, gives birth to a daughter, the result of a rape by a white man. She names her Maraglindi, meaning “Glindi’s sorrow,” but the girl is a joy to all those around her. She has the gift of love.
During her short life, she encounters everything intolerant, cruel Victorian society can throw at people it considers to be animals. She surmounts the savagery of the white invader by conquering hate with love. Even beyond death, she spreads compassion, then she returns a second time, with an ending that will touch your heart.

Maraglindi: child of the land, fruit of an evil deed, and instrument of love.

DON’T MISS OTHER POSTS ON READING & WRITING HISTORICAL FICTION.  FOLLOW A WRITER OF HISTORY

M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, PARIS IN RUINS, is available on Amazon USAmazon CanadaKobo, and Barnes&Noble. An earlier novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from AmazonNookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on FacebookTwitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.

Woman on Fire: Nazi-looted Art – the Story that Burns Within

I’m delighted to have Lisa Barr on the blog today. Lisa is the author of WOMAN ON FIRE, THE UNBREAKABLES and an award-winning WWII historical thriller FUGITIVE COLORS. Lisa’s career includes being an editor for The Jerusalem Post, managing editor of Today’s Chicago Woman, and managing editor of Moment magazine. Today, she shares the story behind her writing. When you read it, you will realize that she too is a woman on fire.

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I try to imagine what would happen if my laptop and phone were confiscated, my ability to access research was quashed, my manuscript set afire, my editor and anyone in the writing world arrested for working with me – and anything I write would be considered a crime against my country. 

This was the fate for scores of writers, artists, teachers, architects, entertainers in Nazi Germany. The “idea-makers” were persecuted for their creativity and not complying with the Aryan ideal of “what is art”.  Hitler and his henchmen were determined to eradicate those he considered to be the “degenerate” and influential segment of German society. They went after the avant-garde – particularly artists – with a vengeance and cruelty never seen before.   

Why?

As a daughter of a Holocaust survivor, I needed to know what made someone both a murderous madman and an artist bent on destroying other artists. Through my research I discovered that Hitler before he rose to power was once a painter. He’d been rejected twice from the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna. His work was considered mediocre, uninspiring, behind the times. He resorted to selling painted postcards on the street and later house painting to make a living – his dream of living as a true artist was never realized.

I believe these early rejections paved the way for what would come later … payback. From 1933 – 1945, the Nazi “elite” destroyed thousands of artworks, confiscated the most valuable paintings for themselves, and sold major “Degenerate” works to anonymous buyers through secret Swiss auctions, and then poured the profits into the Nazi war machine. 

It was a cultural rape and robbery on an unprecedented scale, beginning in Germany and spreading like wildfire throughout Europe.

This period of history not only fascinated me, but also it found me … Flashback to 1991, when I was a young reporter and editor living in Chicago assigned to cover an exhibit at the Art Institute of Chicago called “Degenerate Art: The Fate of the Avant-Garde in Nazi Germany”. When I walked into the museum and viewed the walls filled with artwork that the Nazis denigrated, chills covered my entire body. I knew right then that I was not simply covering a storyI had discovered the story that would forever change the course of my career. Soon after, I pivoted from journalist to author, writing about this aspect of Holocaust history that remains to this day front-page news: Nazi-looted art.  

Over a 10-year period – between babies, jobs, divorce, and remarriage — I researched and wrote what evolved into my award-winning debut historical thriller FUGITIVE COLORS, a suspenseful tale of stolen art, love, lust, friendship, jealousy, deception, and revenge on the “eve” of World War II. It is the story of what happens to young Julian Klein, who gave up his orthodox religion to move from Chicago to Paris to paint freely … and the price tag for following his passion. 

My second novel, THE UNBREAKABLES, while it is contemporary – still revolves around art. It is the story of Sophie Bloom, a sculptor who loses her marriage, herself, and her passion, only to rediscover her joie de vivre – a lust for life, love, and art – in the South of France. It’s sexy, empowering, and artful. 

My new novel, WOMAN ON FIRE (HarperCollins, March 1, 2022) combines it all. It marks a return to both my stolen art and journalistic roots. The novel is a gripping tale of a young, savvy journalist who gets embroiled in a major international art scandal centered around a Nazi-looted masterpiece – an Expressionist painting by an artist murdered by the Nazis – forcing the ultimate showdown between passion and possession, lovers and liars, history and truth.

The novel is historical, contemporary, and suspenseful – and of course, filled with strong, fiery women and risky journalistic pursuits. As a writer, I have tried repeatedly to choose a different historical path  … but then, like a woman fighting an undertow, I’m pulled back in, unable to relinquish my Bohemian painters and their provocative brushstrokes set against a WWII canvas. For me, this is the most powerful, destructive, and compelling period of history that has cleaved to my soul. Like an Expressionist painting, it evokes all my emotion, stirs my imagination, and just won’t let me go. 

Thanks, Lisa, for sharing your passion. The compulsion to understand history and the people who launched such horror upon individuals and ultimately, the world is a powerful force. I wonder what will be said about our time and some of those using their power to destroy others?

Lisa’s new novel, Woman on Fire, is available for pre-order. It will be published in March 2022. You can contact Lisa on social media at her website www.lisabarr.com on Instagram/Twitter: @lisabarr18, or on Facebookhttps://www.facebook.com/FugitiveColors

Woman on Fire by Lisa Barr ~~ After talking her way into a job with Dan Mansfield, the leading investigative reporter in Chicago, rising young journalist Jules Roth is given an unusual–and very secret–assignment. Dan needs her to locate a painting stolen by the Nazis more than 75 years earlier: legendary Expressionist artist Ernst Engel’s most famous work, Woman on Fire. World-renowned shoe designer Ellis Baum wants this portrait of a beautiful, mysterious woman for deeply personal reasons, and has enlisted Dan’s help to find it. But Jules doesn’t have much time; the famous designer is dying.

Meanwhile, in Europe, provocative and powerful Margaux de Laurent also searches for the painting. Heir to her art collector family’s millions, Margaux is a cunning gallerist who gets everything she wants. The only thing standing in her way is Jules. Yet the passionate and determined Jules has unexpected resources of her own, including Adam Baum, Ellis’s grandson. A recovering addict and brilliant artist in his own right, Adam was once in Margaux’s clutches. He knows how ruthless she is, and he’ll do anything to help Jules locate the painting before Margaux gets to it first.

A thrilling tale of secrets, love, and sacrifice that illuminates the destructive cruelty of war and greed and the triumphant power of beauty and love, Woman on Fire tells the story of a remarkable woman and an exquisite work of art that burns bright, moving through hands, hearts, and history.

DON’T MISS OTHER POSTS ON READING & WRITING HISTORICAL FICTION.  FOLLOW A WRITER OF HISTORY

M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, PARIS IN RUINS, is available on Amazon USAmazon CanadaKobo, and Barnes&Noble. An earlier novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from AmazonNookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on FacebookTwitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.

The Story Behind the Story

Dana Mack, author of All Things That Deserve To Perish, is an historian, journalist, and musician. She is also the author of two non-fiction books: The Assault on Parenthood: How Our Culture Undermines the Family and The Book of Marriage: The Wisest Answers to the Toughest Questions. No doubt we could all learn something from a book on marriage! However, today, Dana is here to talk about the story behind her new novel …

The idea of writing a novel about a  late nineteenth century German-Jewish woman who finds herself drawn into a fragile mixed marriage came to me nearly forty years ago, when I was a graduate student in History at Columbia University.  My German History professor, Fritz Stern, had just completed a biography of Bismarck’s banker, Gerson Bleichroeder. Reading it, I landed on a story that struck me. Apparently, Bleichroeder’s daughter, Elsa, was  a wallflower at her first court ball, not because she was unattractive, but because she was Jewish. The Prussian noblemen present cut her – this was an anti-semitic political demonstration!  

Forty years later, I incorporated that historical incident into my novel, All Things That Deserve To Perish, The reader of this article might wonder how it was that this small incident made such a profound impression upon me. After all,  I am an American Jew, and a fourth generation Californian on three sides.  Why should I care about a late nineteenth century rich girl who doesn’t get a dance? 

My family’s historical roots were in Germany, and many of my grandparents’ friends were German emigres. From my earliest childhood I understood something of the admiration German Jews had for the culture of their adopted country.  And I sensed  their profound resentment of the German people, who so cruelly rejected their sincere efforts to prove themselves loyal German citizens.  As a lifelong student of German and Jewish history, I have run across many historical incidents suggesting that long before Hitler’s rise to power,  German Jews fell victim to vicious anti-semitism;  and this, not  withstanding their significant contributions to Germany’s economic, scientific and cultural achievements. 

For these reasons, I have taken on a sort of mini-mission to try to disabuse the reading public of the widespread idea that the Holocaust was the responsibility of one man — namely, Hitler.  The Holocaust had its roots not only in the criminal dispositions of the Fuehrer and his coterie,  but in toxic attitudes of racial prejudice and distrust that were widespread not only in the lesser educated population, but even among the German elites. It’s not easy to reach people with this news.  But I determined early on that one day when I had time,  I would pen a novel that would explore this phenomenon through the prism of the most intimate of human relationships —  courtship and marital ties . 

 All Things That Deserve To Perish, in fact,  is a love story.  It is the story of a wealthy and intellectually gifted Jewish woman who falls for an impoverished Prussian nobleman despite her suspicion of his romantic motives.  The plot premise is not at all unlikely, considering the historical background.  Intermarriages between Prussian aristocrats and rich Jewesses, while not everyday occurrences, were common enough, by the end of the nineteenth century, that they were commented upon by contemporaries. And not all of these marriages were simply exchanges of a dowry for a title. Many aristocrats considered Jewish women of the “better”  classes interesting and alluring enough to be considered attractive as potential wives.  Jewish women tended to be much better educated than their Christian counterparts —  intellectually engaged, and  outspoken.  In fact, intermarried or not, German “salon Jewesses”  — Jewish hostesses who brought artists, intellectuals and aristocrats into their homes for chamber music and and discussion —  served a very special function in elite society in that they brought together thinking people from different fields of endeavor and different socio-economic backgrounds – people who would normally not have had the opportunity for social contact. 

The unhappy fact of many German intermarriages, however, was that wives of Jewish origin, despite religious conversion to Christianity,  faced social prejudices and open slights in the new circles they inhabited. And not only they suffered:  their children were looked down upon as half-breeds, sullied by what was often termed  the “black stain” of Jewish heritage.  More than this, Jewish women who intermarried very often had to deal with the knee jerk racial prejudices of their own husbands, who more often than not discouraged them from maintaining ties with their families and community of origin.   

My background as a student of German and Jewish history was not the only inspiration for All Things That Deserve To PerishI am a partner in a mixed marriage. I married my non-Jewish husband in 1983. We met while I was researching my dissertation in Vienna, Austria. Soon after we married, we moved from Austria to Luxembourg, where my husband  worked for the European Community. As a new wife and mother living in Europe, I found that I was drifting farther and farther from my Jewish identity. I even became shy about disclosing it at all.  The reason for this was that in my interactions with Europeans I witnessed a kind of reflexive anti-semitism – a general discomfort with Jews, and a distrust of Jews and the Jewish religion.

Indeed, It was while living in Luxembourg that I originally worked up the plot of All Things That Deserve To Perish as a movie treatment.  Being involved also in other writing projects, the treatment soon fell by the wayside, to be picked up and turned into a novel only decades later.  But I am convinced that my experience as an American Jew living abroad among people who had very primitive ideas about the Jewish people laid the foundations for a lot of the situational tone of my novel. 

I have tried to fashion All Things That Deserve To Perish  as a story that engages the reader in thinking about a host of  matters that remain challenging to young couples today —  issues of  preserving ethnic identity and fighting racial prejudice being only two of these.  I hope that my novel  — as a story of a potent, if contentious love between two people from very different ideological and socio-economic backgrounds — will be relatable to the reader, whether or not he or she is interested in German-Jewish history.  In fact,  I think any one of us will recognize, in the romance of my main characters, some familiar gender power struggles, as well as what I hope is a compassionate portrait of  family formation.  

All Things That Deserve To Perish by Dana Mack ~~ The year is 1896, and Elisabeth (‘Lisi’) von Schwabacher, the gifted daughter of a Jewish banker, returns home to Berlin from three years of piano study in Vienna. Though her thoughts are far from matrimony, she is pursued by two noblemen impressed as much by her stunning wealth as by her prodigious intellect and musical talent. Awakened to sudden improvements in the opportunities open to women, Lisi balks at her mother’s expectation that she will contract a brilliant marriage and settle down to a life as a wife and mother. In a bid to emancipate herself once and for all from that unwelcome fate, she resolves to have an affair with one of her aristocratic suitors — an escapade that, given her rigid social milieu, has tragic consequences. All Things That Deserve To Perish is a novel that penetrates the constrained condition of women in Wilhelmine Germany, as well as the particular social challenges faced by German Jews, who suffered invidious discrimination long before Hitler’s seizure of power. It is also a compassionate rumination on the distractions of sexual love, and the unbearable strains of a life devoted to art.

Thank you for sharing the background to your novel, Dana. It’s an important topic and one that deserves our attention. I wish you great success with All Things That Deserve To Perish.

DON’T MISS OTHER POSTS ON READING & WRITING HISTORICAL FICTION.  FOLLOW A WRITER OF HISTORY

M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, PARIS IN RUINS, is available on Amazon USAmazon CanadaKobo, and Barnes&Noble. An earlier novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from AmazonNookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on FacebookTwitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.