Just wanted to share a post I published today over at The Family Kalamazoo. I wrote about my great-uncle Charles Mulder, Jr. (Chuck). He was the leader of a small group in the U.S. Army Signal Corps in Europe during WWII. He was with the 119th Infantry Regiment, which was a part of the 30th Infantry Division. According to Wikipedia, “The 30th Infantry Division was a unit of the Army National Guard in World War I and World War II. It was nicknamed the ‘Old Hickory’ division, in honor of President Andrew Jackson. The Germans nicknamed this division “Roosevelt’s SS.” The 30th Infantry Division was regarded by a team of historians led by S.L.A. Marshall as the number one American infantry division in the European Theater of Operations (ETO), involved in 282 days of intense combat over a period from June 1944 through April 1945.
Uncle Chuck was a lovely person whose life was changed because of his war service and an incident of friendly fire. Read about it here:
While I rarely write about fiction, I do read a fair amount of the genre. Today I am sharing a review of a unique novel by blogger Anneli Purchase.
The engrossing story Julia’s Violinist, by Anneli Purchase, shows destruction by war through the eyes of one woman and her family. Julia is a Sudeten German, living with three million other ethnic Germans in what is now the Czech Republic. When Hitler’s Germany is defeated, suddenly Julia’s people are vulnerable. At the start of the story, Julia is a young widow with two daughters. Because she is a German woman amongst the Czechs, she is immediately thrust into danger. The Czech military wants to rid the country of the Germans, so they herd them into barracks where they are starved and many women raped. Julia manages to stay with her daughters, her parents, and one sister in the holding facility. She stays strong for the sake of the others, especially her daughters. Eventually Julia and her family move to Germany and from there to Canada.
Before I read this novel, I did not know about Sudetenland or Sudeten Germans, so I knew nothing of their plight when, first they were taken over by the Czechs after WWI, and then their country became Czechoslovakia after WWII. I had assumed that what is now the Czech Republic was always peopled by mainly Czechs. In a similar vein, until more recent years, although my maternal grandmother’s people emigrated from Prussia, I did not realize that Prussia was in what is now Poland or that all the ethnic Germans in Prussia were made to leave their homes after WWII. Their experience was similar to that of the Sudeten Germans. I have discovered that my accountant was a Sudeten German toddler when his family was made to live in refugee camps, just as Julia lived in the barracks, with little food. He told me that he did not have enough to eat at that age and that it affected his health.
Julia’s Violinist threads a love story throughout the historical tale. Although the story is not chronological, it is told in clearly-identified sections, so it is very easy to understand. This structure places the reader immediately in the dangerous world of post WWII, but then goes back in time to before the war, a time when Julia was just maturing and falling in love with Michael, a violinist, who also loves her. But his father dies as they are to begin courting, and Michael has to take over the family bakery. He has no time for dating. Julia’s life goes off in another direction when she marries and has children. But Michael will come back into her life. Read the book to find out what happens with the star-crossed lovers and to follow the twists and turns in the lives of Julia and her children.
Characters are so well-drawn. Julia is a very likable woman. She’s heroic, but also very human. Some of her decisions can be second-guessed, but considering her circumstances, they are understandable. I particularly admire the development of the complex and less-than-heroic character of Karl. I found myself trying to analyze him as if he were someone I knew in real life. When I finished reading the story, I felt as if I had to leave behind a hometown or community.
Although this is a minor point, the editing of Julia’s Violinist is impeccable, making it a special pleasure to read. Since Anneli Purchase is a professional editor, this makes sense. I am often sidetracked when reading by typos that I can spot at thirty paces, but this book is a smooth read. My deep involvement with the characters and their stories wasn’t broken by distractions.
Whenever I read a book from the perspective of someone from an overlooked group, I learn so much–and this novel is no exception. I feel privileged to have “met” Julia and her family.
GREAT NEWS. Anneli Purchase is offering a 99 cent sale on Julia’s Violinist and all her other books until the end of December.
I asked Anneli if she would please talk a bit about Julia’s Violinist. What she told me seems to explain why this book feels so important and so close to the heart of the writer.
When I was growing up, I often helped my mother in the kitchen. As we cooked and baked, my mother talked about “the old days” and I asked her many questions. She told me how the southeast part of Germany she lived in (Sudetenland) suddenly came under Czech rule with the stroke of a pen at the end of WWI. Three million Germans were to be ruled by a Czech government. When WWII came along, these people had hoped to shed the yoke of the oppressors, but as we all know, for better or worse, Germany lost the war.
As a child, I thought that this amazing story was one that happened only to my mother, that she and her family were the only ones who were driven out of their homes. But as I grew up and learned more about history, I realized that this was far more widespread than I had imagined. After the war, with the blessing of the Allies, the victors, especially the Czechs and Russians who had scores to settle, swarmed through Sudetenland, killing and raping thousands, and driving them out of their land.
Before, during, and after these atrocities were committed, the story of Julia takes shape. She is one person, but various versions of her story happened to hundreds of thousands at that time, and therefore, it needed to be told.
The story is fictional, but it is based on a lot of research, and while the personal story of Julia cannot be verified, I have tried to stay true to the historical facts as they happened then, hopefully without prejudice.
Anneli Purchase has lived and taught in various parts of British Columbia, including the Queen Charlotte Islands and Vancouver Island where she works as an author and a freelance copy-editor. Her articles on coastal life have appeared in Canadian and UK magazines. She has published five novels (The Wind Weeps and its sequel Reckoning Tide, Orion’s Gift, Julia’s Violinist, and Marlie).
Anneli with Emma (as a puppy)
To find out more about Anneli’s novels, you can visit her website:
Gradually, I realized that her family story was quite remarkable, and that Joy had put it into book form. Since Joy is a joy to communicate with on her blog and mine (articulate and kind), I decided to read her book, which was written in conjunction with Robin Grunder, although WWII is not really “my area.”
Before I started the book, I already knew the gut punch of the book; it’s not a secret that one finds out only by reading. The horrifying reality is shared right on Joy’s website. Joy’s mother Doris had five brothers. All five young men entered the war on behalf of the United States. Only two brothers came home at the end.
Although it might seem counter to know this fact up front, it actually heightened the suspense because I was reading carefully for the details of their lives as the war began and then continued, luring one by one of the brothers into the war. I wasn’t sure who would survive and who wouldn’t—or what would happen to them before they died and how they would die. What a page turner!
I was captivated by the life of these Iowa farmers from the beginning. Hard working and smart, they also were satisfied with so little—simple, healthy food; satisfying work to perform; family togetherness; and aspirations for the future. I fell in love with each one of these brothers as they shared their hearts and lives through letters to family members, especially their mother Leora. They were not small-minded or selfish, but operated out of honor and a humble pride.
During the last section of the book, I was reading in the doctor’s waiting room because I couldn’t put the book down except when I absolutely had to. I read something so really small, but so powerful, that I burst into tears right there in front of the other patients. That’s a warning to you if you read the book in public.
This book is not a novel. It doesn’t have the frills of one. Joy curated the letters and wove the story around the letters in a very graceful way. I was so impressed with the powerful and understated writing skills that went into crafting the book. The editing job was also well done. Now I have much more feel for what my father-in-law went through in WWII. And for that entire generation.
My father-in-law Murray Scheshko (later known as Castle) was part of the 353rd Fighter Group that flew bombing missions over occupied Europe. They are considered heroes in England. Murray was not a pilot. He was staff sergeant, an “armourer,” which means that he was in charge of the weapons for the group. His file was destroyed in the 1973 National Archives fire, but there are records associated with his payment history. According to a transcript of the record he also served in the following “battles and campaigns”:
Air Offensive Europe
Here is a photo of Murray:
Murray died in 1984 from a heart attack he experienced while on a commercial plane flight.