Magda, a portrayal of the wife of Nazi Germany's propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels.
The first question must be 'Why Magda Goebbels'? What drew you to her as a subject? Has she fascinated you for a long time or did something specific spark an idea?
The starting point was very personal: 18 years ago, when I gave birth to my first child, a daughter, I struggled for two years to embrace motherhood. I couldn’t connect neither to my daughter nor the mother inside myself. Since then I have often wondered what could have happened if I had not made the emotional connection to my role as a mother? I looked around for a dramatic story to explore this ’if’. Magda Goebbels caught my attention. I soon realised that I had found a compelling example of a mother-daughter tragedy. The failure of Magda’s mother to connect to her daughter paved the way to a flawed maternal relationship in the next generation. Magda Goebbels was not able to perceive her children’s reality and lives as separate from her own – and acted accordingly.
Moreover, I wanted to allow myself to look at my own German history critically but with understanding.
And finally I want to help correct a bias towards books about Nazi men to the exclusion of Nazi women who officially did not commit crimes but in my view are equally culpable.
I must admit that until reading Magda, and then Jane Thynne's Black Roses, I hadn't thought much about the women behind the Nazi leadership. The whole Nazi world seems such a male-oriented one with women confined to child-rearing, kitchen and church, that I'd assumed they would have no influence at all.
How much of the story is based on research and how much artistic invention?
Not merely are Magda and Joseph Goebbels and their children historical figures, but also her mother and Magda’s first husband and her affair with Zionist Chaim Arlosoroff. Other historical facts: Magda spent some years as a child in a Catholic convent in Belgium, Auguste married a Jewish merchant. Magda wanted to leave Joseph Goebbels and Hitler talked her out of it. Joseph, Magda and their children spent their last days in Hitler’s bunker. At the end of the war Magda was physically sick. Since 1942 she had suffered from heart problems and Trigeminal neuralgia (a nerve disorder that causes a stabbing or electric-shock-like pain in parts of the face) that left half of her face paralysed, in addition to severe depression and heavy consumption of alcohol and cigarettes.
However all the scenes, thoughts and feelings of the characters are fiction.
I said in my review that after reading, I understood but didn't sympathise with Magda. How did you feel about her? Did your opinion change during the writing process?
While I wrote Madga, I as the writer had to empathise with my character, otherwise I couldn’t have written the book. Why? Because I wanted to draw a three dimensional human being. I also believe that there were forces at work that were too strong for her: deficient childhood, historical constraints on a woman fulfilling her ambitions and the delusion of an ideology. But ultimately she does not deserve our symphathy, because she was a grown up woman who not only could have made different choices but decided not to, but who also failed to respect her children’s rights for life.
Although it in no way excuses her, I came away from your novel feeling that Magda believed she was acting for the best - that the post-Nazi world was no place for her or her children. Maybe you created more sympathy for her in the reader, than you feel yourself!
You're now seeing the publishing world from a different angle. Did being a publisher first help at all? Does it make you better at editing or at pitching your novel to agents? Did you ever feel tempted to publish Magda yourself under the Peirene banner?
Being a publisher first has certainly helped. I’ve learned a lot from my authors. From Veronique Olmi her courageous portrayal of a mother-child relationship; from Friedrich Christian Delius for handling the familiar subject of Nazis with empathy and from a new angle; and from any number of authors teaching me the power of compression and strong voices. Furthermore, I can now recognize that publishing a book is a team effort. You have to allow other people to contribute, such as the editor, the proofreader, the designer. And finally running Peirene has demystified the act of publishing and taught me the importance of marketing literature well. However, I was never tempted to publish ‘Magda’ under the Peirene banner. For two reasons: Firstly: Peirene only publishes bestsellers and award-winners in translation. And secondly: It is a wonderful feeling to have the stamp of approval from someone else and especially from such a brilliant publisher as Salt.
And what next? Your website says you're working on a second novel. Can you share anything about it?
This is my fourth novella, but my first published book. There are recurring themes in all my books. My first two novellas, like Magda, deal with flawed mother-daughter relationships, while my third book expands on the notion of a woman who is seduced by an ideology – in this instance Islamic fundamentalism - and who eventually becomes a suicide bomber. The story I am working on now explores the husband-wife relationship of a mature couple. Again I am asking myself about the nature of love, this time between equals rather than parent and child and in the absence of any escapist ideology.
Once again, many thanks Meike for taking the time out to join us and we wish we every success with your new story and the future development of Peirene.
Maryom's reviews of Magda, and Clara's Daughter