According to The New York Times, the fiction of Thaisa Frank (A Brief History in Camouflage, Sleeping in Velvet) works “by a tantalizing sense of indirection.” The critic Don Skiles has described her stories as being “in the grand tradition of the fairy tale, the legend, the spell,” while the reviewer Rob Hurwitt has called her work “domestic magical realism.” From Thaisa’s guest post, Do I Choose My Material or Does It Choose Me?, however, this acclaimed writer states: “I would say that I don’t work in the tradition of magic realism but in the tradition of surrealism.” And that is clearly what she’s done in her first novel, Heidegger’s Glasses, debuting soon. [The release has been delayed, but its new date will be noted here as soon as possible.]
Over twenty years ago, even the content of the book chose the unknowing author, as Thaisa explained in in her February 17, 2010 Red Room blog post, “The Promise of First Pages:”
Wallace Stevens, Adagia.
“How many of us have started promising beginnings only to have them sputter out, take wrong turns, and just refuse to go on? And how many of us say about ourselves ‘”I just can’t seem to finish things even though I start them?”‘
“Over twenty years ago, when I’d written just one collection of short stories, I heard a woman’s voice from deep below the earth. She lived in Germany during World War II and was helping people answer letters to the dead. I knew her name. I could feel her claustrophobia. I also heard some of the letters. I wrote sixteen pages and stopped because I knew this woman lived in a world with so many strands only a novel could do it justice. I could even hear the length, like a few musical notes surrounded by hours of silence. But I only knew how to write short fiction.
“I wrote other books. But the sixteen pages kept turning up in my studio, as if attached to springs. They turned up on the bookshelf. They turned up in a tax pile. They turned up under my printer. They even turned up inside a flyer from my son’s school–a long flyer, pleading for ecologically-packed lunches. They began to feel like a letter from the woman in the mine, asking me to tell her story. The paper grew more brittle and the typewriter print more antiquated. From time to time I saw her writing in a large room with other people. I always read the sixteen pages. I felt drawn to them. But I always put them away.
“A few years ago, someone at a Christmas party told me that the philosopher Martin Heidegger once had a revelation that was caused by his own eyeglasses. As soon as I heard this, I saw the title Heidegger’s Glasses and knew I was going to write a novel. I had no idea what it would be about; but I was sure it involved World War II. I didn’t think about those sixteen pages until I’d written the novel and received the galleys. Then I found them–again on invisible springs–as if they were determined to remind me that they were the origin of the book. I read them over and realized they were a DNA of almost everything that became Heidegger’s Glasses. I also realized that even though they were about an imaginary world, the world was launched by real events in World War II. I didn’t know about these events when I wrote those pages. I only found out about them afterwards, when I began to write the novel.” Please read more….
Thaisa Frank’s imagination, research and writing evolved into this synopsis:
A love affair larger than a World War.
A fairy tale with atrocities.
And it all begins with one single letter….
Heidegger’s Glasses is the startling, surreal debut novel from critically acclaimed author Thaisa Frank. The Third Reich’s obsession with the occult has led them to create the Compound of Scribes. Concealed in a converted mine shaft complete with rose-colored cobblestone streets and a continuously shifting artificial sky, the Scribes’ sole mission is to answer letters written to the dead—thereby preventing the deceased from pestering psychics for answers and inadvertently exposing the Final Solution.
As Germany falls apart at its seams, a letter arrives written by eminent philosopher Martin Heidegger to his optometrist and friend, a man now lost in the dying thralls at Auschwitz. The presence of Heidegger’s words—one simple letter in a place filled with letters—sparks a series of events that will ultimately threaten the safety and wellbeing of the entire Compound.
Part love story and part historical fiction, Heidegger’s Glasses evocatively reconstructs the landscape of Nazi Germany from an entirely original and haunting vantage point.
Much like a Grimm fairy tale, Heideggger’s Glasses has garnered Advance Praise, including fellow authors:
“This is stunning work, full of mystery and strange tenderness. Thaisa Frank has written one of the most compelling stories of the Nazi regime since D.M. Thomas’s Pictures at an Exhibition. It is a book that will haunt you.” —DAN CHAON, AUTHOR OF AWAIT YOUR REPLY
“Thaisa Frank has composed a mesmeric image of prisoners trapped in the madness of a decaying Nazi regime. Ms. Frank’s skillfully laced prose and riveting imagery combine to create an unforgettably surrealistic portrait of a world gorged on insanity.” —THOMAS STEINBECK, AUTHOR OF DOWN TO A SOUNDLESS SEA
Also there is an Excerpt from Heidegger’s Glasses.
Although history was one of my college majors, I handled the delivery of Heidegger’s Glasses Uncorrected Proof with wariness. Glowing words for a tale that included the Reich, Auschwitz, Hitler, Mengele, Goebbels, SS leader Henrich Himmler were bound to be hauntingly depressing. But then I remembered anecdotal “stories” of Germany housing fluently linguistic scribes to write letters for the dead. Hitler’s reliance on astrology and the occult were facts, yet the idea of these scribes being saved from death to write for the dead sounded too ironic as well as absurd. Now could it have been true?
Writing brilliantly and mystically, Thaisa Frank has brought the scribes’ story to life and, though fictionalized, it rings true. Honest, sobering, and fairy tale hopeful, this is historical fiction at its best by acknowledging the humanity amidst the insanity of Hitler’s Germany during the end of World War 11.
The woman’s voice — that Thaisa first heard over twenty years ago — is Elie Schacten, considered to be an “angel.” Whether providing for the scribes and/or attempting to save as many innocent lives as possible, Elie is the mystery of the tale. Yet who is she, really?
Thoroughly engrossing Heidegger’s Glasses is mindful of how our present needs to be aware of our past. Thaisa Frank’s debut novel is something special, deserving to be on everyone’s TBR list — hopefully on high school required reading too. Please remember that the release date has been changed…yet your patience will be rewarded once the book becomes available.
Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away one copy of Thaisa Frank’s Heidegger’s Glasses in a random drawing to anyone who comments only on this specific post. Comments left on other posts during the week are not entered into the contest. The deadline is Wednesday, May 19, 2010 at 7:00 p.m. EDT with the winner to be announced here in Thursday’s post. If you enter, please return on Thursday to possibly claim your book.