Friday, October 11, 2013

"The Luck of the Weissensteiners (The Three Nations Trilogy, Book 1)" by Christoph Fischer

The Luck of the Weissensteiners
(The Three Nations Trilogy, Book 1)
by Christoph Fischer

This is the first of my special series on the Three Nations Trilogy, leading up to release of the last book in the series on 15 October. Today Christoph stops by for an interview to talk about his first book, The Luck of the Weissensteiners. Make sure you enter the giveaway below for your chance to win a copy of this book. Stop by again over the next few days to find out about the next two books in this series, Sebastian and The Black Eagle Inn.

In the sleepy town of Bratislava in 1933 a romantic girl falls for a bookseller from Berlin. Greta Weissensteiner, daughter of a Jewish weaver, slowly settles in with the Winkelmeier clan just as the developments in Germany start to make waves in Europe and re-draws the visible and invisible borders. The political climate in the multifaceted cultural jigsaw puzzle of disintegrating Czechoslovakia becomes more complex and affects relations between the couple and the families. The story follows them through the war with its predictable and also its unexpected turns and events and the equally hard times after.
But this is no ordinary romance; in fact it is not a romance at all, but a powerful, often sad, Holocaust story. What makes The Luck of the Weissensteiners so extraordinary is the chance to consider the many different people who were never in concentration camps, never in the military, yet who nonetheless had their own indelible Holocaust experiences. This is a wide-ranging, historically accurate exploration of the connections between social location, personal integrity and, as the title says, luck.

Wilhelm with his good looks could have his pick of the girls and his eyes were clearly set on Greta, which secretly made Jonah a very proud father.
“Does he not mind you being Jewish, that German book boy?” Jonah asked her one evening over dinner.
“I am not sure he even knows yet,” Greta told him. “The way he talks about the Jews, it doesn't seem to have any reference to me at all.”
“How does he talk about the Jews?” Jonah said with raised eyebrows.
“He just mentions them in passing, like... so and so is a Jew so we do not have his books in our shop. I don't think he has an opinion about it himself,” Greta guessed.
“But the name Weissensteiner, that is a Jewish name! He must know,” insisted Jonah. “I often wished we could have changed that. It would make life easier, wouldn't it?”
“It only sounds Jewish to you because you know that it is,” disagreed Greta. “It could pass as a German name to a na├»ve young man, which I think Wilhelm just might be.”
“In that case you should bring the matter up soon before this 'book lending' goes any further,” Jonah lectured.
“He seems very smitten with you my darling daughter. It wouldn't hurt to get it out of the way before you waste any more of your time on him or any of his time on you, unless of course you were only in it for the books?”
“No I am not just in it for the books father,” she admitted. “I like him. I think I really like him. He is very interesting. He thinks a lot.”
“Oh he thinks a lot does he?” Jonah said with a little sarcasm in his voice. “Then it is important that he learns to do something as well, thinking alone will only give him a headache.”
“Do you like him father?” Greta asked, ignoring his previous statement.
“Does it matter if I like him? You must like the goy and make sure he does not mind your family,” her father warned. “I'll like him enough if he makes you happy; even if he thinks all day until his head hurts. If a thinker you want, a thinker you shall have. You have the pick of the men, my beautiful. Trust me. Make sure you chose a good man and that you do really like him.”
“I do like him, father. He seems such a gentle man from what I can tell from our short meetings but I still need to get to know him better,” she admitted.
“You take as long as you like to make up your mind. I hope you realise that he has already made up his mind about you. It is written all over his face how enchanted he is. He could accuse you of playing with him if you let him visit this often and your decision is not the one he hopes for. You must not lead him on. Be careful, you know, because I don't think we need to wait much longer for a proposal from this one.”
“I am not so sure. There are plenty of girls who make eyes at him, maybe he just loves talking about books. That could be all he wants from me,” Greta said more to herself than to her father.
“Yes, if you were a fifty year old librarian that probably would be all,” Jonah said with a roaring laugh. “Why is he not content talking about his Goethe with the old men in his book shop then? I tell you why, they are not his type. Always remember that men of his young age mainly think with their loins. Once they have satisfied such needs, they may not be interested in your views on books anymore and go back to the shop to discuss literature there. An attractive girl like yourself always needs to choose wisely.”
“I don't think he is like that, he is so serious,” Greta defended.
“Yes he is serious, the Germans often are. Now let’s hope his seriousness is good for something and makes him worthy of you,” Jonah laughed.

We've all studied World War II in history classes and some of us are old enough to have had relatives who fought in the war. For me, it was always somewhat abstract. The brilliant author, Christoph Fischer, bring the war alive through characters who live every horrible minute of it. The struggles of the family and extended family are unbelievable. And we think we're struggling when the cable doesn't work or our cell phones aren't charged!
In movies about World War II, it seems that action becomes far more important than relationships. But in this excellent book, relationships trump action. The book beautifully explores the struggles of a family and how each of them is affected by the war. This is an up close look at the hardships and tragedies this family endured. The characters are wonderfully drawn: Wilma, Johanna, Greta, Wilhelm, and all the rest. The author juxtaposes the horrors of war with individuals' acts of kindness. A juxtaposition that might not work in less capable hands. I learned more about that area of the world in that time frame than I ever did in any classroom situation. Should be mandatory reading in every history class. A tour de force and I can't recommend it highly enough! Bravo, Mr. Fischer!

Interview With the Author
Hi Christoph Fischer, thanks for joining me today to discuss your first book, The Luck of the Weissensteiners.
Which writers have influenced you the most?
That is a difficult question to answer simply because I have read a lot and over the years I have come across so many talented and amazing writers. Which ones have actually influenced me and my own writing would be difficult for me to tell myself. I adore Lionel Shriver and Christos Tsiolkas for their raw and sharp powers of observation and their uncompromising ways of speaking the truth. It is something I aspire to but I doubt that I am like them. For The Luck of the Weissensteiners, Stefan Zweig and Siegfried Lenz were probably important influences.
Which age group do you recommend your book for?
I guess any age from 14 or so onwards. There is not much violence in the book given that it is set during war times, but how much the little sensitive scenes that I had to include will be perceived by a fragile young soul is hard to tell. The book is however by no means “graphic” or “adult-themed”.
What sparked the idea for this book?
The idea came from my own family background and research I did in the field. My family comes from the former Czechoslovakian areas, although they were German speaking, part of the minority that gave Hitler the excuse for laying claim to those territories. As child I was never interested in the history. My father died when I was young and suddenly there was no source for information. I started to research the country and its history and with some family tales in mind I began to write and fill in the gaps. Then of course the story kept changing as I wrote it and the characters took on a life of their own and gave me no options how to continue.
Which comes first? The character’s story or the idea for the novel?
I had certain ideas about the characters I wanted to write about but as I said before, they were stubborn creatures who would not obey my plans for their lives. During the entire writing period I continuously read about the history or at least read novels that were set in that era to keep myself committed to the setting. I was in the story together with my heroes, and what I had originally planned seemed out of place, impossible or boring.
What was the hardest part to write in this book?
The title implies that there is luck involved in this story and many scenes that would have been very convenient for me as the writer in terms of plot development I could not bring myself to write. On the other hand there are some stereotypes that a Holocaust story needs to be realistic but which I was desperate not to make a simple repetition of what has already been done.
How do you hope this book affects its readers?
I hope it will add to people’s perception and awareness of the time. We have heard about the big dramas and the main victims of the Holocaust. I try to tell stories of a smaller scale, the story of lesser but all the same difficult and painful misfortunes. There are so many books about the war but I keep finding new eye witness reports and life stories that teach me additional dimensions of the tragedy. Feeling a little what life then might have been like for smaller and less prominent victims may help to have more compassion and turn a few of the large numbers and statistics into human beings.
How long did it take you to write this book?
I researched and read history books about the time for a few months while still writing a smaller novel. Then I wrote for three months solid. I re-wrote the book several times until I finally had the guts to let it go and share the story with the world.
What advice do you have for someone who would like to become a published writer?
Believe in yourself, don’t compare yourself only to the great writers. Find out what your strengths and weaknesses are and focus on them but always stay true to yourself. It is hard to find your audience but it is out there. Keep going. There are a lot of helpful people out there to help you in the virtual indie world. If you are reading this you already have come across some of them: the selfless people behind this website.
Thanks, Christoph! What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
I have three dogs which I take out for walks twice a day. I love reading of course, a bit of comedy TV and travelling. I take an interest in Reiki, Shiatsu, Tai Chi and meditation, I like running and cycling, jigsaw puzzles, philosophy, psychology and history.
What does your family think of your writing?
My brother has already written a few books long before I even started, so when I came out with my own novel they were not as surprised as I had hoped. They have been very supportive but they live in Germany still and I write in English. Some of them find it hard to follow my stories in a foreign language and my German is so rusty, my own attempts at translation sounded awful.
Please tell us a bit about your childhood.
I am the youngest of three siblings and the youngest but one of 11 cousins who were all very close. I spoke in my father’s accent and not the local Bavarian one so I always felt a little bit out of place and turned into a bit of a loner. I did have however a lot of lovely people around me and had a happy childhood. My teenage years were not so great, slightly overshadowed by the death of my mother and personal identity issues. But as they say, these things make you stronger and had it not been for these tragedies I would not have become the book-loving person that I am.
Did you enjoy school?
I did at first but then my interests were outside the school lessons and I started to get bored. I was still too playful and inattentive. I wasted a lot of good opportunities to learn useful and interesting stuff that I now have to learn about by myself.
Did you like reading?
I loved reading but not always what I was meant to read. Enid Blyton and the likes, nothing serious. I was also much more into pop music and could take or leave books. Only after I was too old for comic strips did I start reading “good books”.
When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
Four years ago I wrote a course manual. A tarot card reader had once predicted I would be writing books and I remembered that during the work on that manual. I started to write down a little short story and when it had developed into a novel of 190 pages I thought that maybe I should try writing more. After I had written six novels in raw drafts I decided to put the first one out there.
Did your childhood experiences influence your writing?
No, I think mostly my adult experiences.
What are your favourite books?
The Neverending Story was one of the first ones that got me excited. Later on Heimatmuseum by Siegfried Lenz, The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini, and The Book Thief by Markus Zusak.
The Book Thief is one of my favorites, too. Who are your favourite authors?
Do you hear from your readers much? What kinds of things do they say?
So far I have had a lot of positive feedback. The ones that have got in touch have been very complimentary. They enjoyed the characters and what they learned about the times. I am still anxiously waiting for the first hard critique of the novel. I am quite amazed. Writing in a foreign language and this being my first novel I feel at times rather vulnerable when I see a new review and expect it to be a return to the harsh reality that I cannot write.
I don't think there's much chance of that. You currently have 67 5-star reviews on Amazon! What can we look forward to from you in the future?
This book is part of the Three Nations Trilogy. Book two and three are already written. Sebastian is the next instalment and it is about a boy in Vienna in the 1910s. The trilogy is theme based, not chronological and does not feature the same characters. Sebastian focuses on the fall of the Habsburg Empire in Austria and on a young man who has had his leg amputated and still needs to support his family through the war. The last book in the trilogy, The Black Eagle Inn, will be released shortly.
The themes for my books beyond the trilogy are mental health, Alzheimers and more war stories.
Thanks so much for stopping by today. I wish you all the best for your future projects.

About the Author
Christoph Fischer was born in Germany as the son of a Sudeten-German father and a Bavarian mother. Not a full local in the eyes and ears of his peers, he developed an ambiguous sense of belonging and home in Bavaria. He moved to Hamburg in pursuit of his studies and to lead a life of literary indulgence. After a few years he moved on to the UK where he is still resident today.
The Luck of The Weissensteiners, the first book in The Three Nations Trilogy, is Christoph's first published work. Sebastian, the second book in the series, was released in May 2013. The last book in trilogy, The Black Eagle Inn, will be released shortly.
Christoph is also a reviewer of independent books and on his recommendation pages on this site he features interviews and reviews of the books that have most captured his attention and appreciation by genre.

Christoph has kindly donated an ebook copy of The Luck of the Weissensteiners for our giveaway. Please show your appreciation by entering below.