Ruth & Gisela is the sort of book I was sad to have finished and as much as the story played itself out just perfectly, I wanted to know more, to have the characters tell me more about their lives, to know how everything turned out after that last page was turned. Elizabeth Wix was kind enough to answer my questions, and so interesting did I find it all, that when I asked her if there was something more I could share about the story, she agreed to drop by here today and guest post. This is some of the story behind the story:
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(Drawing room at Mall House - Fairleigh Lodge)
I've followed A Work in Progress for several years mostly because we, Danielle and I, share very similar taste in reading matter--but she often comes up with hidden delights I might otherwise have missed. I was very touched by her kind review of Ruth & Gisela. She suggested that I share with you a little of what went in to researching and writing the book. So here goes . . .
First of all, it was a very long, slow process. What really set the book in motion was my discovery - twenty years ago - of some few details of my birthmother's life. I had grown up in England always knowing I was adopted, but had waited until after my adoptive mother's death to do any researchy into my past. I didn't want to hurt Ruth or have her feel she wasn't mother enough. Even so, lurking in the back of my consciousness was the knowledge that somewhere out there was a woman whose genes I shared who formed a part of what I am.
Imagine my surprise to discover that my birth mother was German, not English - that the two fo them had both lived through the Second World War on different sides of the conflict that so marred the middle of the last century! Gosh, well, herein lies a story, my story, their story, the story of countless unheroic women battered by fate.
I knew Ruth's voice very well from the countless details and anecdotes she had shared through the years - she was a splendid storyteller self-effacing and often amusing. I was part of her world. Giselas's world and Gisela's voice were more difficult to discover though they lurked somewhere within me. The documents I received from the now defunct adoption agency offered some oddly apt details: mother's family liked literature . . . father's family were artistic . . .
Where to begin? I immersed myself in the history of the period and read huge numbers of books. I ordered obscure film footage from the Imperial War Museum in London.
In the summer of 1999 I went to the city where Gisela grew up, now Wroclaw in Poland, then Breslau in Germany. (The borders were altered after the Treaty of Potsdam in 1945). There I wandered about drinking in the physical reality of a much altered city. The place I felt most at home was the Botanical Garden, an oasis of ponds and bridges and tall stands of madonna lilies. The Monopol Hotel, where Hitler stayed in 1933, was rather grim and grand and full of orange marble pillars. In their bookshop I bought a book of photographs of the desctruction of the city by the Soviets in April 1945. Horribly depressing. I had a long correspondence by real life mail with Rita Gottschlich who grew up in Breslau and ended up in Wales. Her details of the expulsion of the civilian population of Breslau in January of 1945 are chilling indeed.
You can read about them here.
And then when most of what I had learned had sunk in and percolated, I started writing the story in two voices - wanting to tread lightly on the history which has been chronicled in detail elsewhere. I concentrated on the day to day reality of life for both women.
The houses in England are very real ones - my grandparents' house in Kent, my parents' house in Essex. Most of the people are real - my dashing uncle Maurice (Tom Stoddard in the book), my father Jack Wix (Harold Stoddard in the book), my various grandparents on both sides. The Taceys* I had to imagine - though I know women like Mrs. Tacey all too well! And as to John Tacey - he remains a mystery to this day.
And so all this came together into the book which is really a tribute to both my mothers and a world now long vanished . . .
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*John Tacey is Gisela's 'love interest' and Mrs. Tacey is his mother who in the story isn't quite so welcoming to a young German immigrant--no matter that she is her son's friend. Betty and Jack in the photo above are Elizabeth's adoptive parents (Ruth and Harold in the book).
Many thanks again to Elizabeth for sharing her story. I can warmly recommend the book to you and no worries about any spoilers having been revealed here. I think it is a book many people will enjoy.