Wednesday, February 28, 2018

"The Missing Pieces" in THE WOMEN IN THE CASTLE by Jessica Shattuck

*The images in this specific piece are granted copyright privilege by:  Public Domain, CCSAL, GNU Free Documentation Licenses, Fair Use Under The United States Copyright Law, or given copyright privilege by the copyright holder which is identified beneath the individual photo.

**Some of the links will have to be copied and then posted in your search engine in order to pull up properly.  Links are at the very end of this piece in alphabetical order.

CRC Blog Analysis on
The Women In The Castle
by Jessica Shattuck
“The Missing Pieces”
    Jessica Shattuck’s The Women In the Castle was published in hardcover on March 28, 2017 and in paperback on January 2, 2018 by William Morrow First Edition and William Morrow Paperbacks.
The story begins in the castle called Burg Lingenfels in Bavaria, Germany on November 9, 1938.  Marianne von Lingenfels is in her husband’s great-aunt’s castle preparing for a great party – a party she wished had been canceled due to the rain – but her husband Albrecht Lingenfels insists the party must go on. Above Left:  Bavaria's most famous castle Neuschwanstein.  
       And the party does continue and the upper crust of society show up, dance to the music of the day, enjoy the treasure trove of food, drink the best liquor as they wait in line to shake the famous Countess’s hand.  Above Right:  Vintage postcard of Bavaria in 1938.    
Even among the festivities there is a sense of apprehension – all have heard the news that 17-year-old Polish-German Jew Herschel Feibel Grunszpan shot German Diplomat, Nazi member, and Hitler supporter Ernest vom Rath two days before on November 7, 1938.  Left:  Grunszpan moments after his arrest on November 7, 1938
       Even still Marianne pushes the bad thoughts away for her to focus on the party only to realize that her husband Albrecht is nowhere to be seen.  She immediately goes to the library where she finds her husband in a special meeting with Martin Constantine Feidermann, and other important men; one of whom she has never met before – Pietre Grabarek, who raced from Munich to the castle to deliver two fold news:  Ernst von Rath has died and Hitler is planning a riot – what we now term the The Night of Broken Glass. (Above Right:  von Rath in 1934)
Marianne stands still, becoming a member of the group of men, who now speak of the importance of assassinating Adolf Hitler for the sake of all of Germany, but Albrecht is hesitant. (Above Left Synagogue destroyed in the Night of Broken Glass)
       “I agree with the principle.”  Albrecht spoke slowly into the swell of support.  “But active collusion against our government- this government – is a dangerous thing. And we have wives and families to consider.  I’m not suggesting we should not only that we think carefully –“
       “Your wives and families will support you,”  Marianne interrupted, surprising herself and the rest of the room.  It came out like a rebuke.  Albrecht was always so measured, slow, and thoughtful.  A plodding tortoise to Connie’s leaping stage.
       “All of them",” von Strallen asked wryly.
       “All of them,” Marianne repeated.  von Strallen was a chauvinist.  He told his silly wife, Missy, nothing and took her nowhere.  Poor Missy, treated like a dumb fattened cow.
       “And bear the risk?”  Albrecht asked gently.
       “And bear the risk” Marianne repeated.
       “All right,” Connie said, turning his intense gaze upon her.  “Then you will see to it that they are all right.  You are appointed the commander of wives and children.”

       Marianne takes her role as commander of the wives of children seriously – especially when the husbands are caught in a failed assassination attempt on Adolf Hitler on July 20, 1944, and as a result, the three men (Martin Constantine Fiedermann, Pietre Grabarek, Albrecht von Lingenfels) were hanged. 

       After the war Marianne keeps her promise of being the commander of the wives and their children.  In June of 1945 she finds Martin Constantine Fidermann’s wife Benita and their son Martin and brings them back to the castle to reside with her and her three children Fritz, Katarina and Elizabeth.  In August of 1945 Marianne finds Pietre Grabarek’s wife Ania and their two sons Anselm and Wolfgang.
Together these three widows, of Nazi resistors and their children maintain their own nucleus type of family in the castle.  The castle is much different in 1945 than it was in November of 1938.  Instead of fancy, expensive and tasty food there are only potatoes, cabbage, mushrooms, boiled eggs for food; and no more lavishly furnished rooms – the main room is the kitchen consisting of the big oven that keeps them warm from the harsh winters.
       These women and their children reside in the castle revealing their own individual characters, so different from one another.  Through this revealing deceptions are discovered, hopes of redemption are denied, true love is shattered, and innocence is forever lost.  And yet each woman is an epitome of individuality, compassion and redemption within herself.  

The chapters take place in January of 1923; the years 1934 and 1935; March of 1938; November of 1938; the year 1943; January of 1945; April to May of 1945; August of 1945; December of 1945; May to October of 1950; December of 1950; July of 1991; and October of 1991.
The book is entertaining and well written but yet I was hoping for the castle Burg Lingenfels to have a more active role as character in the story.  Instead the three widows and their children only live in Burg Lingenfels Castle for six months from June of 1945 to December of 1945, which only covers the first of four sections in The Women In the Castle. The character Burg Lingenfels Castle leaves the pages of the book after December of 1945 and does not return until October of 1991.

There seems to be missing pieces in the hardcover edition – specifically concerning Ania Grabarek, which fortunately the author Jessica Shattuck recognizes and as a result has included the so called missing chapter, which takes place on February 13, 1945 in the paperback edition.   
       I also wanted to know more information about an act of violence that Benita Feiderman, German prisoner of war Franz Muller, and an unidentified Russian soldier are involved in.
Last but not least I wanted to know more about the tortured soul of Franz Muller, the German Soldier/ Nazi who did work at the castle.  While at the castle he was able to touch everyone’s lives (except perhaps that of Marianne) in a positive way. 

One of the most touching scenes from The Women in the Castle is when Martin, the son of Benita, and Anselm and Wolfgang, the sons of Ania, make a special trip to a POW camp where German prisoners of war are imprisoned where Franz Muller is imprisoned.  (Right:  German POW camp guarded by the Americans)
       “Here!”  Martin was the first to speak.  “We brought this for you.”  With frozen fingers he pushed his half candy bar and tin of cheese through the fence.
       “For me?”  Herr Muller asked, studying their faces.
       Martin nodded.
       “Do your mothers know you came here?”
       Martin shook his head.
       “Ah.”  Muller seemed to consider this.  “It was kind of you.”
       The boys stamped their feet against the cold.
       “Have you met anyone named Brandt?”  Wolfgang asked, and his words were slightly breathless as if he had pushed them out.
       Muller frowned.  “I don’t think so.  From where?”
       The Grabareks exchanged another glance.  “The Warthegau.”  Anselm answered this time. 
       Muller shook his head.
       “Your father?”  Martin asked, unable to stop himself.
       “No,” Wolfgang said his voice harsh.  “Our father is dead.”
       Who, then?  Martin wanted to ask, but didn’t.
       Muller regarded them in silence.  “Well, thank you,” he said finally.  “Take care of yourselves.  And your mothers.  And don’t come back here.”   
       The one term “the missing pieces” describes Women In The Castle perfectly because, as Jessica Shattuck stated on her web page video, (Right)  the characters in this book do not live in black and white but in the gray.  She further describes these characters as ordinary Germans – those who were aware of what was going on in Hitler’s Nazi Germany and said nothing.  All were still ordinary Germans, ordinary human beings.  Something humanity will always try to understand but that missing piece of our understanding will never be clearly explained.  
       And it is these missing pieces that makes us human and makes The Women in the Castle a book to savor and to treasure.

Jessica Shattuck Facebook Page

Jessica Shattuck Web Page

William Morrow Facebook Page

The Women In The Castle paperback on Amazon

Saturday, February 24, 2018

#9 Backstory of the Poem "The Gift of the Year With Granny" by Charles Clifford Brooks III

*The images in this specific piece are granted copyright privilege by:  Public Domain, CCSAL, GNU Free Documentation Licenses, Fair Use Under The United States Copyright Law, or given copyright privilege by the copyright holder which is identified beneath the individual photo.

**Some of the links will have to be copied and then posted in your search engine in order to pull up properly

***This is the ninth in a never-ending series called BACKSTORY OF THE POEM where the Chris Rice Cooper Blog (CRC) focuses on one specific poem and how the poet wrote that specific poem.   All of the BACKSTORY OF THE POEM series links are posted at the end of this piece. 

Backstory of the Poem
“The Gift of the Year With Granny”
by Charles Clifford Brooks III

What was your grandmother’s full name?  Her birthdate? And the day she died?   Hazie Hestine Stager-Justice.  She was the only daughter among five brothers, born on February 2, 1925 and died on December 9, 2013.  She was brought up tough, and as much as she loved to give a hug, she could knock you out with a cast iron skillet for taking the Lord’s name in vain.  God broke the mold after He blessed this earth with her feisty affection.

Can you go through the step-by-step process of writing this poem from the moment the idea was first conceived in your brain until final form?   This was a hard one.  Granny was one of those most close to me.  A cheerleader and like her daughter, took no shit off me.  I wasn’t ready to tackle my love of her in my first book, I got closer with my second, but I did publish a piece of it, what I thought was complete through Hobo Camp Review.  I knew then that I could be brave enough to expand into the addiction she helped me hobble out of, the senior year of college she nurtured me to graduation, and her chicken-and-dumplings were insane.
The poem, like any life, grows.  We remember more the longer we have to reminisce.  With time I took away my foggy metaphors and mentor William Walsh (left) was the final kick in the pants to tell the truth or throw the damned thing away.  The MFA program at Reinhardt University is unlike anything I’ve seen.  Both my Granny and paternal grandfather, Big Dad, found their way out of me thus far in my two semesters there. 
You bleed from old scabs over those you want to be most honest for, not about.

Where were you when you started to actually write the poem?  And please describe the place in great detail.   It was at her funeral.  I carry Moleskines around like all poets.  There was and is so much love on mom’s side of the family, on both sides, but momma’s folks are many, laugh, and hug, hug, hug.  The funeral was held by a minister who knew Granny well, made sure we didn’t cry too much, and told a joke at the end.  It’s in the poem.  Death is not a door slammed.  Mortality does make us acutely aware of what life we have left, those remaining around us, and doesn’t make us miss those passed on any less.  I took all of that and jotted notes as my mom sat beside me in church.
Interesting side note that didn’t make it into the poem:  When I was a child (Left), my nanny told me an old superstition that if you look between your legs while sitting at a funeral, you could see the future.  For some reason that struck me while hearing about the life my Granny left us all to love.  I tried to look like I was picking up a pencil “accidentally” dropped, but I am tall.  I realized after three attempts at playing it cool, to find the truth I would have to just dedicate myself and bend over to peer into the Oracle’s eyes.
I didn’t see anything but feet and the back wall of the church.
 When I sat back up my mom was looking at me with the expression, “What in God’s name was that about?!”  I whispered to her the reasoning and she giggled at my childlike curiosity and random mindset to pull up old wives tales at a funeral.  Made perfect sense to me, and that beautiful mix of faith, sweet recollections, and poetic catharsis bled out over four or five years of edits, edits, and more edits.

What month and year did you start writing this poem?  How many drafts of this poem did you write before going to the final? (And can you share a photograph of your rough drafts with pen markings on it?)   December 2013.  Countless.  I don’t have any handwritten notes or old photos of it to share, but you can go to the Hobo Camp Review and see the earliest version I thought worthy of note.  Check out the Hobo Camp Review link at:

What do you want readers of this poem to take from this poem?   Family is not about blood.  Relation is happen-
stance.  Love is the loyalty that brings folks together, and my Granny was the love that held me together when life fell apart on me.  I want people to see the wild-haired Hazie without fake appeal or melodrama.  She was a fighter.  She wore pretty dresses to church every Sunday.  She worried about me and some “good woman” being there to be sure I ate.  I want people to remember my Granny was here, lived, made a difference, and was surrounded by happiness in life as in death.  (click on link for Exils of Eden

Which part of the poem was the most emotional of you to write and why?   Any mention of my alcoholism, thoughts of suicide, and her deep concern for me being left alone bring tears – even now.  It’s just personal stuff.  Not regretful sorts of wailing, but more the days that went by after I moved from her home, on with life, and the time I couldn’t watch Wheel of Fortune with her every evening.  I remember how my mom brought me in at the end when she remembered few, saw Granny smile real big, and say, “That’s my Cliff.”

Contact info?   I have Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter pages all with my name in it.  If you want me, it won’t take Scooby-Doo to find me. cliffordbrooks

Anything you would like to add?   Please Support my book and the press gracious enough to print “Athena Departs: Gospel of a Man Apart”.  You catch glimpses of my Granny in my memories.  “Athena Departs” builds up to her story I keep safe to save my sanity: (Click on link for Athena Departs)  

The Gift of a Year with Granny

I am less myself without her.
We shared a small house safe
from the insanity I couldn’t shake without suicide.
She spent twelve months casting
out my father’s curse.
Still, Granny never neglected to kiss me
before I left for class.
Once I decided to ditch class,
and the old broad elbowed me
in the chest. 

The only sister in a house full of brothers,
she grew into a grandmother
undefeated by the Great Depression,
welcomed her warrior home from World War II,
and never blinked at the legion of demons in me.
Obsessed, she hacked off the heads.
of every serpent she saw
swearing it was a copperhead. 

Granny said she loved to live alone
with her memories.  Not today,
kids off to their own lives
and fields neglected.  Back then
I was ushered in as her invalid.
We shared over two hundred sunsets,
and never saw a bad night.
No black dogs hounded me.
She could see that, but struggled.

My tiny titan stood over me during nights
my sleep was more terror than a span of quiet hours.
That woman wrote my name in all my underwear,
and said that money is fleeting when love
is better spent than saved.
I turned my attention to Shorter University
and set my sight on a diploma.
Doing the hard, last year,
I swore Satan was in the house’s
lack of air conditioning.
Instead of complaining,
I started smoking pot and forgot
why I loved whiskey.

Ten years later,
she tried to tell my momma
in the hospital that a kitchen knife
could cut dementia
away from her dignity. It didn’t,
and six days later Granny
only remembered me.
The reverend who led her funeral
was kind.
Without a word concerning the end times,
my unmoving matriarch began
to push up peaceful daisies.

The holy man that let us out in laughter
said, “The coffin only holds her shell,
because the nut has gone home.”
Still laughing the mourners got going.
I sat on grandfather’s headstone while a backhoe
filled in the six feet left
between me and Granny.
To stall the ache that agony spills
in the place of the peace I found in Lindale,
I retreat back to relive all evenings we shared.
My senior year at Shorter University
was shaped by her chicken and dumplings,
Wheel of Fortune, Jeopardy,

and Unsolved Mysteries.

Clifford  Brooks was born in Athens, Georgia.  His first poetry collection, The Draw of Broken Eyes & Whirling Metaphysics, nominated for the 2013 Georgia Author of the Year Award in Poetry, will be re-issuecd by Kudzu Leaf Press in 2018.  His full-length collection Athena Departs:  Gospel of a Man Apart as well as his limited-edition poetry chapbook Exiles of Eden were published in 2017,
also by Kudzu Leaf Press.  Clifford is the founder of The Southern Collective Experience, a cooperative of writers, musicians and visual artists, which publishes the journal The Blue Mountain Review and hosts the radio show Dante's Old South.  He currently lives in northwest Georgia and is pursing an MFA in Creative Writing at Reinhardt University. 

001  December 29, 2017
Margo Berdeshevksy’s “12-24”

002  January 08, 2018
Alexis Rhone Fancher’s “82 Miles From the Beach, We Order The Lobster At Clear Lake Café”

003 January 12, 2018
Barbara Crooker’s “Orange”

004 January 22, 2018
Sonia Saikaley’s “Modern Matsushima”

005 January 29, 2018
Ellen Foos’s “Side Yard”

006 February 03, 2018
Susan Sundwall’s “The Ringmaster”

007 February 09, 2018
Leslea Newman’s “That Night”

008 February 17, 2018
Alexis Rhone Fancher “June Fairchild Isn’t Dead”

009 February 24, 2018
Charles Clifford Brooks III “The Gift of the Year With Granny”

010 March 03, 2018
Scott Thomas Outlar’s “The Natural Reflection of Your Palms”

011 March 10, 2018 
Arya F. Jenkins “After Diane Beatty’s Photograph, “History Abandoned"

012 March 17, 2018
Angela Narciso Torres’s “What I Learned This Week

013 March 24, 2018
Jan Steckel’s “Holiday On ICE”

014 March 31, 2018
Ibrahim Honjo’s “Colors”

016  April 27, 2018
Beth Copeland’s “Reliquary”

017  May 12, 2018
Marlon L Fick’s “The Swallows of Barcelona”

018  May 25, 2018

020 June 16, 2018
Charles Rammelkamp’s “At Last I Can Start Suffering”

021  July 05, 2018
Marla Shaw O’Neill’s “Wind Chimes”

022 July 13, 2018
Julia Gordon-Bramer’s “Studying Ariel”

023 July 20, 2018
Bill Yarrow’s “Jesus Zombie”

024  July 27, 2018
Telaina Eriksen’s “Brag 2016”

025  August 01, 2018
Seth Berg’s (It is only Yourself that Bends – so Wake up!”

026  August 07, 2018
David Herrle’s “Devil In the Details”