by Susan Finlay
My most popular book series is Tangled Roots, a historical/WWII genealogical mystery series with a dual-timeline. I’ve always been interested in World War II history, but it’s more than that. I grew up hearing bits and pieces about my ethnic German mother, siblings, and parents who were caught in the war because they lived in the Sudetenland, the border districts of Bohemia, Moravia, and the Czech Silesia.
Many years ago, my American father and his sister became hooked on genealogy and worked on their family tree. They traced their family back as far as the 1600s. Pictured are my father and mother shortly after they married.
My mother provided some history for her family tree, but only back a couple generations. Much of her family’s history/documentation was lost during the war. She was a young child during the war, so her memories were vague on some of the details. Years later, after her passing, one of her brothers obtained some old WWII-era Identity Cards that his grandparents had carried. He made copies for me and for one of his sisters. From those, I was able to fill in some missing information from that side of my family’s tree.
Because of my family history, I understand why people are interested in genealogy. As I worked on the first book, I got out those old records and photos and dug deeper around my family tree, in a similar way to what my protagonist does in the story. That’s how I got the idea to make the story about someone’s search for his ancestry. My historical research, and the story I wrote, helped me better understand what my German relatives may have endured.
I’ll backtrack a bit here. Back in 2016, my mother’s sister wanted me to write their story—the story of her and her siblings living in the Sudetenland during the war and their traumatic expulsion from their homeland as the Germans were losing the war. She wanted people to know what happened to ethnic Germans in the Sudetenland, but she didn’t know how to write her own memoir. When we began talking about a book, she was in her eighties and couldn’t remember enough details from her past. We discussed how I might proceed with the minimal details we had available. We finally agreed I should write a fictional book about a similar family and add my research and creativity. I didn’t get started on the book right away because my husband and I were in process of moving.
Days after our move, I received news my aunt had passed away. Saddened, I vowed to write not only Breadcrumbs and Bombs but a whole series in her memory. The series follows a young Californian, Lucas Landry, on his quest to trace his ancestry using breadcrumbs found in WWII diaries of two German girls in Germany and the Sudetenland. He discovered the diaries in a secret attic in the house he inherited from his father and was slowly drawn into a mystery that hooked him into researching his entire family tree. Each book is a genealogy mystery and is a dual-timeline story, alternating chapters between Lucas in modern-day and his ancestors in the past during and shortly after WWII.
The third book, Berlin and Betrayal, was released August 10. I wrote it during the Pandemic, while I, like most people, was suffering despair and fear and wanted to forget, and yet I felt it necessary to include the Pandemic, as it will become another major part of the world’s history, as WWII did. Combining the two actually worked extremely well and showed some similarities, in a way. It was also interesting for me because I set the modern-day portion of the book in Munich, Germany, (where my son lives) during the earliest days of the pandemic. He helped me with some of the details of what it was like in Germany back then.
Berlin and Betrayal begins in February 2020, shortly after Lucas uprooted wife and kids from California and moved them to Germany for a year. Unfortunately, coincident with their arrival and start of new jobs, a worldwide pandemic occurs, throwing the world and Lucas’s plans for a large family reunion with all of his German relatives into chaos. With his oldest WWII-surviving relatives in their 80s and 90s being most vulnerable to the disease, Lucas fears a reunion might be impossible.
In February, 1945, Germany’s defeat in WWII is inevitable and ethnic Germans, including Jette Nagel, her Nazi son, and his family are being chased out of their homes in the German controlled Sudetenland by the Red Army. Dresden, the home of Jette’s closest family, is bombed to shambles by the Allies.
Berlin and Betrayal is a story about guilt, betrayal, tragedy, and forgiveness.
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