[During the holiday break a new comment and question was left on the November 4, 2010 post, Thaisa Frank and Heidegger’s Glasses. Martha S. wrote:
I am in the middle of the book and it is great! But, I have to know. Did the Compound of Scribes really exist? How can I find out how much is fiction and how much is history?
The Divining Wand contacted Thaisa Frank (Heidegger’s Glasses, A Brief History in Camouflage, Sleeping in Velvet) and she replied with the following guest post. For those who have read the presentation/review of the novel, the beginning of the author’s explanation may sound familiar since it was originally part of the Red Room blog post, The Promise of the First Pages. However do read on to learn what is historical fact and what is fiction.
And thank you, Martha, for both the comment and the question.]
Wallace Stevens, Adagia.
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 I’d written so long ago until I’d finished writing the novel and received the galley proofs from my publisher. Then I found the sixteen pages–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, that world was launched by real events in World War II. I hadn’t known about these events when I wrote those sixteen pages. I only found out about them afterwards, when I began to write the novel.
So what is fact and what is fiction?
Perhaps most importantly, the Reich never answered letters from the dead and there are no records of a converted mine in Northern Germany. But they did make people write letters–often just before they died. This procedure, called Briefaktion or Operation Mail, forced prisoners to write to their relatives, extolling conditions in the camps and urging them to come join them voluntarily. The letters, misaddressed or otherwise undeliverable, were usually returned to Berlin, from where they’d been mailed. This resulted in thousands of unanswered letters, most from people who had died. (Innumerable prisoners had to write letters as soon as they arrived and then were led to the gas chambers. The result is that they weren’t given numbers and there aren’t any records of their arrival or extermination.)
The Reich also relied on séances and information from the astral plane. Erik Hanussen, Hitler’s most important clairvoyant, predicted his rise to power and had a Palace of the Occult where he held séances until the Reich murdered him in 1933. The Reich was also fascinated by Lanz von Liebenfels’ concept of Ultima Thule, a place of extreme cold where a race of supermen lived. During the war a group called Die Thule-Gesellschaft (The Thule Society) met regularly to channel advice about war strategies from the astral plane
The contents of my novel were drawn unconsciously from those sixteen pages. Eventually the contents of my novel locked me into research where I found out about Operation Mail and the Nazi belief in the occult. And even though I had begun a novel (forgetting those 16 pages) in which people answered letters to the dead, the existence of Operation Mail (which made the improbable activity believable) was a surprise to me. So was the extensive interest and belief in the occults.
If indeed the imagination is the weather of the mind, then we all contend with the storms and rain and sun of our imaginations. And because the imagination is part of the world, we contend with the imaginations of people and groups who are distinct and sometimes far away. The imagination has uncanny instincts that allow it to leap beyond the limits of the mind. It can find doors to other centuries, read forbidden books, and meet improbable people. Writing Heidegger’s Glasses has been an adventure in discovering the fluid boundaries between the life of the imagination and the facts of recorded history.
A NEW YEAR, NEW BOOKS & A NEW GIVEAWAY
Happy new year. As promised, we’ve added some books to the reading list, the excellent The Day the Falls Stood Still by Cathy Marie Buchanan, and The Last Will of Moira Leahy by Therese Walsh. You can read all about them in the discussions section. And to celebrate, we are having a 30 BOOK giveaway – when we reach 3000 members, or on January 31st, whichever happens first, we’ll give away 10 copies of each of the two new books and 5 copies each of the original books. Just comment on the CONTEST POST on the main group page to enter. And invite your friends to join the group – the faster we get to 3000, the faster we give away more books!
[By all means, enter to win!]
Announcement: The winners of The Education of Hailey Kendrick by Eileen Cook are Gingermommy and Amy R. Congratulations!
Please email diviningwand (at) gmail (dot) com with your mailing address and your book will be sent out promptly. Or, if you would rather have the Kindle Edition, please send the email address you use for downloading.