Thursday, September 29, 2011

On The Fly and In Between Edits

  You know by now how much I love writing posts for this blog. When I sit down to think about what I will say, I feel as though I am connecting with you, my readers (both those whom I know and those whom I haven't yet met) through the heart of the ethers. And each time it is meaningful and rich for me.

  I haven't written for a little while though, firstly because I was having fun in Italy at the Lake of Garda where my husband and I had the great fortune of staying with close friends who have a beautiful stone cottage in an ancient village called Piovere, built right into in mountains with a view to die for. Not to mention the wine, cheese, truffles, pasta, grilled coregone (trout), spiedo, (kebab with all sorts of spiced meats (including the traditional small singing birds ugh! which I did NOT ingest  - but we still had a fabulous time as the kind Italian mason, Antonio, who lives in Piovere prepared the meal)) gelatto - oh my gosh - the list is endless...   I must mention our daily swims in the lake, past Mussolini's former mansion and the lemon estates. And, unforgettable for any woman who loves shopping - the markets where you can buy cool T-shirts for 8 Euro and much, much more.

Here we are - my husband Jamie and I drinking our favorite Italian drink -  "SPRITZ"
This delicious refreshing beverage is made with Aperol, Prosecco and sparkling water.
I don't believe though that Manya and Joshi - my heroine and hero in The Last Daughter of Prussia ever tasted this delightful orange substance.
( Photo Gabi Noack)

View of Lake Garda from our friends' home in Piovere

(Photo Gabi Noack)
This church stands right next to where we were staying.
(Photo James Sarles)

 The Monte Castello Monastery which we saw every time we gazed to the north
(Photo Gabi Noack)

  The second reason I've been absent is that since my return, I've been in the throes, yet again, of another set of edits. My editor is amazing. She has helped shape this book with the mind of a genius and the patience of an angel. What I am finding is that this final process, this tweaking of words and phrases is both enjoyable and rewarding, but it does take time. So, in keeping with ease and alacrity (which I must confess, my German personality needs to practice) I'd just like to share these photos of Italy with you – a country that sings and dances in my heart as deeply as East Prussia.

Castle on Lake Garda - I'd live in the tower if I could!
Our swimming pool in Italy.
Point of entrance was  always the little pebble beach
by the Fontanella Bar in Garngano.
First a swim followed by an Aperol Spritz!
Then Gelatto - yum - for someone who doesn't normally eat ice cream, I made up for lifetimes.

Last day in Piovere - didn't want to leave.
Felt like I had lived in Italy for lifetimes.

  PS: The Last Daughter of Prussia - is really coming on. It is fun to tweak and find a thought, a word or an action for one of my characters that deepens their experience. I never thought that this process could be so exciting, so enticing and pleasurable. So you know, what happens now is that this is the last edit before the manuscript goes to the publisher. Once that happens and the galleys are sent back to me and for yet another proofing .... THEN, yay! the book will go into publication.

  I'm still holding strong for early next spring 2012.

  Thanks as always for your support. Until next time. And I promise once I get through this there will be more about East Prussia. Ciao and Auf Wiedersehen...

– Marina Gottlieb Sarles

c) All content and photos are the private property of the Gottlieb family, unless otherwise stated or linked,  and may not be used without permission.
(c) Privatbesitz Gottlieb Familie

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

A Lost Home – First Impressions

Writing a book about a certain time period requires research. When I decided to write The Last Daughter of Prussia I knew that I would have to learn about the Great Trek of 1944/45, Trakehner horses, Roma gypsies, and concentration camps (the latter being the most difficult of all for me to read about.)  I decided to retrace my roots and travel to East Prussia (now Poland) to find my family's estate, see for myself, the forests and lakes they so loved while letting the spirits of the land feed my inspiration.

Twice I traveled there. Each time was a revelation, an unveiling of unconscious memories stored in my bones and my ancestral DNA.

I kept a diary. From time to time I'd like to share excerpts with you, my readers to give you an insight into my travels.

Diary Excerpt: First Impressions 

  As the car bounced along, I clutched the Polish map I had bought in Warsaw at the train station, my index finger gliding across all the undecipherable Polish names of towns and villages. I gave a sigh of relief, grateful that out of all the names in Poland, the government cartographers had left my grandparent's village - Guja - unaltered. 
  The car braked. Andrea, my college classmate from Berlin who had decided to come along with me and my son Nikolai, turned onto an oak-lined road bordered on both sides by blindingly bright fields of yellow rapeseed.

Fields of yellow in East Prussia
(C) Photo Christine Matthäi

  My heart beat fast in my chest. There was the street sign indicating we were close, but where was my family's home? And how on earth would I find it? I had no clue where to go. I sent a silent request up through the ethers to my dead mother, asking her for help.

The first sign I saw for Guja
(c) Photo Marina Gottlieb Sarles

  We drove on. Just ahead, I saw a small building where several Polish farmhands were drinking beer on porch. Andrea stopped the car and waved. A bearded man with a apple-sized tumor growing out of the side of his neck hobbled up to my window.
  "I'm looking for the von Sanden estate," I said, knowing he didn't understand a word.
  "Von Sanden?' he muttered, repeating my grandparent's name as a question. 
  My heart sank. How would he know? My grandparents had been gone for 55 years.
  Much to my surprise he nodded.
  "Von Sanden – Malla Guja." (von Sanden - Guja estate) He smiled and pointed up the road and to the back seat of the car, gesturing that he wanted to climb in and show us where to go.
  We drove alongside a river, (a tributary surely of the Angerapp) turning onto smaller roads and finally passing through a forest thick with poplars, oaks, firs and birch trees. This must be the Guja forest, I thought. The one that Grossvati told me about. I could just imagine him riding along this same road in his green hunting jacket and high riding boots on one of his fine Trakehner horses. 

The Guja Forest
(c) Photo Marina Gottlieb Sarles

  The car bumped up a muddy hill, the tires falling in and out of potholes, kicking up stones.
  Had my mother skipped up this hill as a little girl? My heart was pounding now. Where was the house she'd been born in? Was it still standing or had it collapsed in ruins after all these years? I looked back at Nikolai as if I might see answers in his young eyes, but at ten, he was more interested in the rap music coming through his headphones than the scenery. Still, something in him understood that I needed contact with a blood member of my family and he stopped his head bobbing long enough to lean forward and pat my arm. 
  The Polish man said something and just then the forest opened. Before me I saw a house. I don't know what I was expecting but because of all the stories I'd heard and photographs I'd seen, I knew that this was the place my mother and grandparents had so lovingly called Guja.

Guja before the war
(c) Photo Gottlieb Property-Familienbesitz Gottlieb

  Dilapidated, run down and uninhabited, the house seemed smaller than I imagined yet as I opened my car door I felt the spirits of my ancestors looming larger than ever.

Guja as I found it
(c) Photo Marina Gottlieb Sarles

  I looked around. Though old and falling to pieces the structures still were standing – the coach house, the red brick building used for firing bricks, the barns and livestock quarters, and finally, the stables I had heard so much about. Nikolai and I waded through the high grass and blooming cornflowers entering into that sanctuary that had once housed so many horses. I thought about my mother and her beloved Dandy - the Trakehner pinto she'd so loved. How many times had she come running into his stall to saddle him and ride out over the endless meadows? And where was his stall? 

Baby swallows nesting in the barn in Guja before the war.
(c) Photo Gottlieb Property-Familienbesitz Gottlieb

  Suddenly, I felt as if my mother had fallen in step beside me and I was drawn to a soft chirping sound. Glancing up I saw a pair of nesting swallows. Was it a sign? Was she telling me that this was where I should stop? She'd always spoken of swallows nesting in Dandy's stall. She'd said they were fearless because they knew Dandy would never hurt them and they would always have grains. I smiled. I knew she was happy I'd come.

Nikolai in the stables.
It's strange to think that if the war had not happened, if my family had not fled the estate,
he might have grown up in East Prussia.
But growing up in the Bahamas wasn't too bad either!!
(c) Photo Marina Gottlieb Sarles

  I realize there are so many more passages from my diary to share but I think blogs posts are better kept short. So, I'll be back with second impressions. Til then... Tschüss

– Marina Gottlieb Sarles

(c) All content and photos are the private property of the Gottlieb family, unless otherwise stated or linked,  and may not be used without permission.
(c) Privatbesitz Gottlieb Familie

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Lineage and Legacy

  A few weeks ago I received a lovely note from Susanne Hagen, the editor-in-chief of a beautiful magazine called Angerburger Heimatbrief.  This thoughtful magazine, which produces articles photographs, and poetry with great love and care reaches a world-wide audience of people who are still connected in some way to East Prussia, be it through family, friends, history, war stories, music, art, literature or just plain and simple heartfelt memories.
  So, when Susanne (who had run across a previous blog post of mine about five generations of East Prussian women) asked me to write an article for the Angerburger Heimatbrief, introducing my soon-to-be published novel – The Last Daughter of Prussia, I was honored.
  I am especially thrilled to have a place in the magazine because Angerburg is mentioned many times in my novel as the largest and nearest town to the estate Guja where my heroine Manya von Falken lives.

  Here is a little piece of the article I wrote. The entire article will be published in German in the next issue of the magazine, thanks also to the fabulous translation abilities of my friend Christine Matthäi and her sister, Sigrid Börner. I speak German, however writing an in-depth article is a completely different linguistic ball game.

Daughters of East Prussia:

Behind me is the first woman of the five generations I write about in the article –
my great-great grandmother,  Coelestine Baroness von Schenk zu Tautenburg.
I am the last of the East Prussian women belonging to this line.
© Photo by Christine Matthäi

War disperses families to all parts of the earth. My family is no exception. When the great evacuation of East Prussia took place in 1944 /1945, my mother Owanta Gisela von Sanden lost her home in Guja, near Angerburg. Fortunately for me, she and my father Ejnar Gottlieb, a medical doctor, immigrated to the northern Bahamas, an archipelago of seven hundred islands located in the warm, turquoise waters of the Caribbean.

The Bahamas.
I grew up on the two most northern islands - Grand Bahama where you see Freeport,
and Abaco - which on this map is noted with the town Marsh Harbour.

  My childish spirit blossomed on these sun-kissed shores where the ocean was my teacher and the turtles, dolphins, egrets and wild horses my friends. 

This is me as a child with my best, most faithful friend, Cora

But this intimate connection to nature is not unique to me – it is a gift from my mother’s family, a sacred respect for creation passed down by the generations of men and women who lived in East Prussia long before I was born. My grandparents Walter and Edith von Sanden, both avid naturalists, were part of this lineage. Well known and respected for their expression of nature’s beauty, they left a vast legacy of literature, photographs, art and sculptures. 
My grandparents Walter and Edith von Sanden-Guja
©Photo Gottlieb Family

Bronze cockerel sculpted by my grandmother
© Photo Gottlieb Family

One of the many photographs my grandfather Walter von Sanden took,
 documenting life in East Prussia
©Photo Gottlieb Family

  Although East Prussia no longer exists on a modern map today, my roots have always traveled to that vanished land. As a child I asked a lot of questions about the “old country.” I was always surprised to discover that most English-speaking people had never even heard of East Prussia. Later, when I read my grandfather’s books, Das Gute Land, Die Zugvögel and Schicksal Ostpreussen, I was left with a feeling that the story of East Prussia’s loss and devastation needed to be told in a different way so that people who do not read history books  would know what happened in those final months of WW2, when millions of people were forced to flee through the bitterest of winters. And so I began writing my soon-to-be published novel – The Last Daughter of Prussia.

A lake in East Prussia full of  lilies
© Photo Gottlieb Family

Until next time...

– Marina Gottlieb Sarles

c) All content and photos are the private property of the Gottlieb family, unless otherwise stated or linked,  and may not be used without permission.
(c) Privatbesitz Gottlieb Familie