Thursday, 1 May 2014

Author Spotlight: Saskia Tepe

I’m delighted to welcome the very interesting debut author Saskia Tepe, to my blog today. I’ve been privileged to meet Saskia several times through the Scottish Association of Writers and her local writing group but hadn’t realised what a powerful story she had to tell. I’m so pleased that she is finally able to share her memoir with others – and it’s hard to put down. The wonderful cover, using some of Saskia's family photos, was the winning design by Kevin Hickey from the competition Saskia ran through Glasgow Caledonian University.

A warm welcome Saskia and thank you for sharing the background to your compelling story. First, here’s the official blurb.

Surviving Brigitte’s Secrets: A Holocaust Survivor.  Her Daughter.  Two Traumatic Journeys.

It has always been easy for Saskia to tell her mother’s remarkable story... 

In 1938, when Brigitte Langer is 23, the Nazis claim the Sudetenland and she is labelled a Mischling (mixed race) Jew of the 1st Degree. Courageous and resourceful, she escapes the ultimate fate that awaited so many other unfortunates, only to end up at the mercy of the revengeful Czechs at the end of WW2.

By 1954, when Saskia is born, entering into a marriage of convenience seems to be the only means to leave the Valka Refugee Camp in Nurnberg. The long awaited emigration to Great Britain in 1961 finally promises security and hope for her newly formed family. Yet, as she begins the second part of her journey, Brigitte’s repressed past is never far behind her.

It is not so easy for Saskia to talk about her own life... 

A nomadic, fostered childhood leads to an unsettled, potentially angry teenager. When she is 13, Saskia learns the first of many of her mother’s secrets. Any chance for teenage normality ends as she shoulders the psychological burden of ensuring her mother’s happiness in an unfair world.

Saskia’s journey of self-discovery begins with the death of Brigitte in 1992. Unravelling their intertwined history, she is still coming to terms with her holocaust surviving mother’s past, as she continues to search for her roots.

The Story Behind the Memoir

Whenever people ask what my book is about, I take a deep breath. 

At its simplest, it is a complicated story – about what happened to my mother and me as a result of war and its aftermath. The only way I can truly describe it is to take the reader by the hand and take them with me on the journey I travelled, as I discovered my particularly unusual world and slowly tracked down my mother’s remarkable past to unravel her secrets.

Those secrets left me deeply wounded, and it seemed that the best way to heal was to tell the world what happened. So, humanity is inevitably exposed at its worst. The book covers racism, the Holocaust – although from a slightly different viewpoint than normally associated with that word. It describes the little known history of thousands of displaced persons that remained in Germany well into the 1960s, the lengths desperate people will go to in order to make a new life, and the challenges experienced by refugees arriving and settling down in a foreign country.

Other themes considered are: the reasons for keeping secrets weighed against the devastating effects discovery of those secrets can have on others, shame, labelling, bereavement, obsession, emotional turmoil, and searching for identity and roots. 

When asked what inspired me to write my memoir, my initial answer would be to provide a legacy of family history for my two sons. But actually, on reflection, as the words spilled out of me onto the paper, I have to say it was to expiate my guilt: guilt for not really believing my mother when she told me about some of her past; guilt for not being able to make her life-journey easier for her while she was alive. My own journey very much entailed coming to terms with that guilt.

All of which makes the book sound quite harrowing – but I can assure you it is not. Because it is also about the best of humankind - love, the strength of the mother-daughter bond, and the wondrous kindness of others. It is a life affirming story of family, survival, perseverance and courage. Yes, it is heart rending at times, but it is also uplifting, and seems to have touched the hearts of all who have read it so far – those who have been in similar circumstances as well as those to whom this piece of social history is totally alien.

In fact, those who knew me yet never knew of my journey, and have read the book, have felt a great need to hug me.

Which made writing it all down very worthwhile - I hope you think so too.

It's a riveting read, Saskia, and thank you for sharing it with us.

Surviving Brigitte’s Secrets is available as an e-book from  Amazon and Smashwords and in print from Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

Read more about the memoir and follow new developments on:

Saskia Tepe spent eight years trying to publish this memoir. It was probably just as well she received the rejections she did, because it allowed her the time to join two writer’s groups and learn the craft of writing. Finding her style led to winning writing competitions and the publication of a few articles. She is married, has two grown sons, and her remaining ambition is to spend the best of her retirement years touring the Western States of the US in a fifth wheel trailer, and blogging about the experience.

Sounds like a great idea, Saskia!


Joanna said...

Thank you, Rosemary and Saskia, for a really interesting interview. I should love to read Surviving Brigitte's Secrets, especially as it's about a period in history that fascinates me and I'm sure it will be a compelling and poignant read. Congratulations, Saskia, on its publication and good luck with your future plans too. x

Rosemary Gemmell said...

Thanks for your lovely comment, Joanna - it's a very good read!

Saskia Tepe said...

Thank you Joanna, and Rosemary for your lovely comments :o) Saskia

Anonymous said...

Sounds exciting and emotional, a book I'd like to read one day. Thanks both for a lovely interview.

Rosemary Gemmell said...

Thanks for commenting, Susan - it is exactly that!

Kate Blackadder said...

Congratulations, Saskia, on the publication of your book, and thank you for telling us this amazing story. Love your retirement plan!

Saskia Tepe said...

Thanks Susan and Kate. I hope it is a fitting tribute to my mum and that the historical background is enlightening.

Rosemary Gemmell said...

Thanks for dropping by, Kate!

Vikki said...

A bit late visiting! Sounds really interesting, Saskia.