The "H" Word
I had an amazing time recently at Bitten By Books, where we had a on-line party for LADY LAZARUS and talked villains. (By the way, BBB is terrific, and I highly recommend hanging out there if you are a voracious reader).
Inevitably, and early, the talk turned to the ultimate villain in LADY LAZARUS, the German Fuhrer, Hitler. Even seeing his name makes my stomach queasy, yet to stay with Magda in her journey westward I had to admit the fact of his existence in her story.
The marvelous Rachel Smith brought this uncomfortable fact front and center at the beginning of the chat:
I am wondering if it was difficult for you to write about Hitler at times knowing about the atrocities he commited against so many people. I admit it is a trigger for me when I see his name. Do you get asked that a lot during interviews?
There it was, one of the questions I dreaded having to answer while in the throes of writing LADY LAZARUS. Hitler is no mere character to me — he murdered most of my family. But I couldn’t treat his name as a taboo if I was going to tell Magda’s story honestly. More than once, I muttered “who cares about Hitler?” as I chopped away at the manuscript — he stood in the way of Magda’s story like a big, ugly rock in the road.
Here is my off-the-cuff answer to Rachel during the chat:
Thanks so much for the warm welcome — it is really great to be here today.
That is such a good question about the ultimate villain, Hitler. Both my parents are Holocaust survivors, so I completely understand how you feel and I share the trigger. An interviewer recently said to me that the Holocaust is the “third rail” of historical fantasy so a lot of us feel the same way!
I hesitated before writing this story. I tried writing Magda Lazarus’s story in other settings. But she demanded I tell her tale, and in her place and time.
To me, this story is a way to ask the ultimate “what if” — what if my family had some supernatural counter-power to wield against those who sought to destroy them? What if a girl who could die and die again could stop her murderers before they killed anybody else?
In the end, this story is NOT about Hitler, and not about the murders he perpetrated. It is about the heroism of the people who outlasted him, outwitted him and his henchmen, who insisted on their humanity and their spirit even if they could not survive. I refuse to let the horrible atrocities committed by the Nazis wipe out the memory of the loving, witty, charming, elegant people he wanted to destroy.
In a way, I am reclaiming and celebrating the family I never got to know in this story. My grandparents, who saved my parents’ lives, are the true-life heroes who inspired LADY LAZARUS.
Sometimes I worry that the setting of LADY LAZARUS might push that “H” trigger and keep folks from checking out the book. But this book isn’t about Hitler. It’s about Magda Lazarus, her visions, nightmares, her hates and loves, and LADY LAZARUS is a celebration of a vibrant, beautiful pre-war world that no longer exists.
Anyway, a wonderful, thought-provoking and lively thread at BBB — thanks to all who came out!
Oh great post!!!
And kudos to you for telling the story like it is!!!
Thanks Val :) We are bound by so many silent taboos, and it is both exhilarating and scary to break this personal one. Thanks so much for your comment…