Thursday, February 7, 2013
Sarah Pleydell - Cologne: A Novel - Guest Post
About the Book
London, 1960: Renate von Hasselmann, a nineteen-year-old German au pair, arrives at Victoria Station prepared to meet her new charges, Caroline and Maggie Whitaker. Yet she is ill-prepared for their parents: the mother, Helen, knows more about Nazi Germany than Renate does, and the father, Jack, disarms Renate with his quicksilver charm.
In Sarah Pleydell's debut novel, childhood and history collide, blurring the distinctions between victim and victor, ruin and redemption. With delicate humor, Pleydell presents a portrait of a family on the cusp of great social change, while reminding us that the traumas of war revisit the children of the peace.
After living for twenty years in the United States, I developed an overwhelming nostalgia for England, the country of my birth, a longing for the consolation of native not adoptive soil. I loved the United States but felt in my bones that these were not my lands, mountains, rivers or streams. I think this is true for many expatriates. As I journalled and reflected, I realized that Kew Gardens, the affluent London suburb where I grew up, presented the perfect setting for a novel. It had a beguiling beauty and melancholia than was distinctively British but also fertile soil for more universal themes.
As I wrote the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew became a central motif; it represented (as Christmas does for so many) the idealized childhood that every child yearns for but especially those -- and certainly for the two sisters in my book-- whose domestic world has been invaded by personal and historical trauma. It was the sanctuary where Caroline and Maggie Whitaker went every afternoon with their au pair, Renate, to play, to fantasize and to escape. They climbed the steps of the tropical hot house imagining themselves big birds flying away to a locale outside time and history. But then had to come back down to earth and endure yet more conflict and discord.
Returning to the landscape of my own childhood was challenging, as I found myself reliving not only sensory details but also the sensate experiences they evoked, replete with both kinds of “feeling”: I felt them on my skin and I knew them as emotions. As the book addresses child abuse this was both difficult and cathartic.
The novel covers nine months in the Whitaker girls’ lives, so I had to track the changes in setting over four seasons. On the one hand, I derived great joy from recalling the flowers --rhododendrons, marigolds, wallflowers and exquisite roses—the butterflies, moths and bees, and, on the other, the dreariness, the damp, the pervasive grey of the British weather. The book’s terrain had grown to include streets, houses, shops and even the British seaside.
I realized that not only were these details—the sights, sounds and scents of London – essential for me as the British writer, but they were also the lures that would make this foreign environ tangible to the American reader. In addition, therefore, I added signature British tastes –the sweet and starchy puddings, the kippers, kidneys and tripe. Every sense would come alive, every sense would draw the reader in and every feeling could be tasted.
Price: $14.95 paperback, $6.47-$12.95 ebook
Release: September 18, 2012
Buy Links: Kindle, Nook, Fuze Publishing (paperback), Fuze Publishing (ebook)
About the Author
A graduate of Oxford and London Universities, Sarah Pleydell is an award-winning writer, performer and playwright who teaches English and writing at the University of Maryland. For the past twenty years, she has been a master teaching artist and arts integration specialist, working with institutions that include The Wolf Trap Institute for Early Learning Through the Arts, The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and the Luce Institute. In 2000, she won the American Association for Theatre Educators’ award for best book of the year with co-author Victoria Brown. Most recently she wrote the script and played the role of Isadora in Revolutionary: The Life and Times of Isadora Duncan with Word Dance Theater.
Based on her childhood in London, "Cologne" (Fuze Publishing) has been twenty years in the making. It has benefited from fellowships at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts and input many generous and gifted writers.
Connect with Sarah:
Blog Tour Site
Fuze Publishing Web Site
Fuze Publishing Blog
Fuze Publishing Facebook
Fuze Publishing Twitter