Katya is eighteen in Tainted Amber. She’s all grown up. She’s independent. She’s naïve and a bit insecure; tenacious and curious. I am my mother’s daughter and in the compost pile of my writer’s mind, our lives become one. While it’s her stories that I’m reducing, reusing and recycling, it's my imagination that feeds them. The result? Tainted Amber. A love story created from the leftovers of my shared experiences with her.
Perhaps I spent too many years reading books and writing critical essays during my university years. Dead authors don’t care about my critiques and I explored, with honest intentions, how the characters dealt with their relationships and how they interpreted the events in their novel world. I loved digging in between the lines of my favourites like Heinrich Böll, Robert Musil or the short stories of Gabriele Wohmann. But I digress.
Writing a book and getting it traditionally published, in today’s competitive world, is a miracle. It’s a success story, no matter what a niggly reviewer might say.
If I ever come across too harshly in a review, I want to apologize in advance. Never take what I say too seriously . . . and never take it personally. I like being the devil’s advocate. I like controversy. I like a conversation. I don’t like cheerleading.
That said, Rah, Rah, Rah. Canadian writers amaze me with their fascinating stories. Never stop! We're a small community here in Canada and we need all the support we can get.
Like Thumper said in the Bambi movie: If you don't have somthin' nice to say, don't say nuthin' at all.
Ah, so much for the energy of controversy.
We're a tenacious, curious bunch, us fiction authors. We find power in words . . . mere marks on a page. Lives past, present or future. All from our imagination. We've got to be crazy. God knows we can't help ourselves.
We'd have it no other way. Thank you, Ronsdale!
Some might consider eugenics an invasive practice belonging to the evil politics of the dictatorships in the first half of the twentieth century. However, forced sterilization was not banned in Canada until 1972.
In the 21st century we take a less political or institutionalized approach to eugenics. Our contemporary society offers “genetic counselling” or “family planning” and gives the individual or couple an educated choice.
In Tainted Amber, I explore the consequences of losing that freedom to choose whether or not to have children. What is a perfect human anyway? Is perfection even a worthwhile goal? As Leonard Cohen so poetically chanted, “There is a crack in everything . . . that’s how the light gets in.” We don’t want any government to impose discriminatory laws about what makes a perfect citizen. Canada is now dealing with the consequences of its own disturbing attempts to create perfect Canadians through residential schools.
Hitler had it all wrong when he tried to create a perfect race. It’s our imperfections that define our humanity and make us perfect. A paradox to ponder.
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I'm not too active on social media but try to make an effort. I'm a bit more of an earthworm than a social butterfly. I'd rather meet you for coffee or for a walk than in this cyber world. But the internet has opened many doors and I will not shun this amazing technology.
Only by being social, do I discover new worlds, interesting books, along with the fascinating people who write them. Writers and readers . . . we can't have one without the other.
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After having read Magdelene Redekop’s book, Making Believe, which describes the differences amongst the Mennonites of Manitoba (mostly centered on the Kanadier and Russländer distinction), I reflected on differences amongst other Germans in this province. Germans are the second largest immigrant group in Manitoba, second only to the English and ahead of the Scots. Here’s an interesting fact: according to Alexander Freund, in a 2012 Winnipeg Free Press article, he wrote: “most German-Manitobans were born outside of Germany.”
|Assembly of Volksdeutsche in Lodz|
Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-J09396 / CC-BY-SA 3.0
These are what is known as “ethnic” Germans or Volksdeutsche. These are people who were born outside of Germany, but continued to identify with the German culture. For example, my mom’s family immigrated from West Prussia (Gdansk area) to Volhynia in Ukraine, in the 1860s. Those Germans built schools, churches, established newspapers and communities in a Russian and/or Ukrainian dominated country. When Ukraine became part of the USSR, my mom ended up going to a Soviet school where she learned Russian, beside her Ukrainian classmates. So, until the age of twelve, Mom could speak in any of three languages without too much trouble. German at home, Russian at school, and Ukrainian amongst schoolmates. After the war, Mom’s language skills helped her survive in the forced labour camps.
|My Volksdeutsche mom |
and Reichsdeutscher dad
One of Hitler’s goals was to repatriate all the ethnic Germans, or Volksdeutsche, into German-occupied lands. This was done, under the slogan, “Heim ins Reich.” For the Nazis, it was all about race. To be able to establish that you were a proper Aryan, meant that you were one of the them. (Unless of course, like my character, David, in Tainted Amber, you have an inherited disease. Then you were not such a perfect Aryan, after all.)
It goes without saying that the Nazi policies regarding race were flawed and it’s incredible that they could flout such an idea in a place like Europe which had such fluid borders. After all, even Nazis saw Aryan features in some Polish children and deemed them as trainable subjects for the Third Reich.
The Heim ins Reich motto allowed one of my older friends here in Winnipeg to leave the Soviet Union before Operation Barbarossa—the June, 1941 invasion of the Soviet Union. As a young girl, she lived in what the Nazis called Litzmannstadt . . . Lodz in Polish, west of Warsaw. Lodz was part of the Nazi’s Warthegau region (an occupied part of Poland). As a Volksdeutsche, my friend’s mother received a house that had been forcibly taken from its Polish owners.
Hitler’s insistence on racial segregation and his perceived threat of all things non-Aryan, had a huge impact on my parents’ generation. In my growing-up years, my dad—once a Luftwaffe pilot—expressed only shame about how he let himself get manipulated by the Nazi vision of world domination.
|Volksdeutsche in Lodz, Public Domain|
So when is a German, not a German? I have a reichsdeutscher father, a volksdeutsche mother, a husband with a Scottish-born mother and a Canadian-born father and 3 Canadian-born children. I live in a country where Indigenous People were pushed onto reserves, not unlike what Hitler did to the Poles. Maybe I’m just another European colonist looking for Lebensraum (living space) and maybe we have something to learn from the Indigenous People: we don’t own the land, we share the land. That could prevent wars.
This blogpost was written here in Winnipeg which is located within Treaty No. 1 Territory, the traditional lands of the Anishinabe (Ojibway), Ininew (Cree), Oji-Cree, Dene, and Dakota, and is the Birthplace of the Métis Nation and the Heart of the Métis Nation Homeland.
I’ve just finished reading Making Believe, by Magdalene Redekop, a book about Mennonites and their relationship to art. It was nominated during the recent Manitoba Book Awards and received the Mary Scorer Best Book Award by a Manitoba Publisher Award. (University of Manitoba Press).
I picked up this book because I’ve always been aware of, and curious about, the Mennonites in Manitoba. This book, along with a few friendships along the way, has given me some insight into this sizeable population of our province.
I was not raised as a Mennonite, but I lived in a parallel universe being raised as a German Baptist. There are differences and similarities between the two faiths. While I no longer consider myself a German Baptist, I get the sense that someone born a Mennonite is always a Mennonite. Mennonites often marry other Mennonites, go to Mennonite schools, live in Mennonite-centric communities and keep in close contact with their extended family and fellow churchgoers.
Redekop’s memories reminded me of the many similarities between her Mennonite upbringing and my own German Baptist one. Dancing, make-up, movies, rock music etc. was taboo. Baptism was not to be done at birth, but as a conscious decision when one grew older. I appreciated her musings on the evangelization of the young. Those big meetings were carefully choreographed scripts and German Baptists are much like the Mennonites when it comes to manipulating the young through music and guilt.
Redekop’s book also showed the complicated (to me) differences within the Mennonite culture. Types of Mennonites depend on the times of immigration. For example, there are the Kanadier and the Russländer Mennonites. Then there are the Mennonite Brethren (more like the German Baptists) and the other Mennonites, like the Swiss. All new to me and a bit confusing.
What I found most interesting is how the Mennonites have continued to be an insular group, easily identified by their names. My own maiden name, Schroeder, could be seen as Mennonite, although my father was Lutheran and from the Hamburg area. As a young woman, I was eager to remove any connection to Germans or Mennonites and ended up with a married surname that has sometimes been mistaken as the Jewish Goldstein. Goldstone might have South African or British connections. A student once called me Mrs. Goldrock and I liked the non-ethnic sound of that.
A huge difference that I noted between the Mennonites of small-town Manitoba and my German Baptist upbringing in the big city, is that our congregation was quite diverse. My church was a ragtag of displaced war survivors from different parts of eastern Europe. Men were at a premium and my mom married a Lutheran. That guaranteed that I’d never be a genuine German Baptist and I grew as an outsider.
Redekop writes about the noticeable ‘renaissance’ of Mennonite writers, specifically from Manitoba. There’s Toews, Bergen, Klassen, Friesen, Wiebe, Brandt and many more. Now there’s a newly minted children's novelist from my writing group with the last name of Driedger. Why are so many Mennonites writing? I’d like to think it’s for the same reason I like to write. Every church service I attended when young was focused on studying the word of God or singing. Since my singing or piano playing was not encouraged, I found power in the written word.
I recommend Magdalene Redekop’s book, Making Believe, to anyone curious about the Manitoba history of Mennonites and art. You need a bit of tolerance for her academic approach and there were some parts I struggled to digest. Mostly, I appreciated the snippets where the author revealed herself. She didn’t hold back and I connected with that authenticity. For the most part, a non-Mennonite like me found it to be a compelling read.
Mom was into reducing, reusing and recycling long before it became trendy. Clothes were patched and re-patched. Nothing was thrown out. Dres...