Sunday, August 21, 2011

War, Memories, and Legacy

When I began writing LOVE AT WAR, my WWII novel, I relied on extensive research as well as my own family history. The novel opens on Pontchartrain Beach in the summer of 1941--before the madness already occurring in Europe and Asia engulfed America. Pontchartrain Beach in 1941 was a haven for many New Orleanians--part beach and part amusement park. Young and old sojourned there to meet and mingle. My mother and her siblings frequented the beach, but the summer of '41 was unlike any other. My protagonist Nuala and her sister Rose discuss the possibility of war, and the normal adolescent abandon they normally would experience is tempered by the threat of war. I'm sure my mother, father, and their respective families experienced a similar sense of foreboding before war actually erupted.
My mother's brothers fought in that war; one of her brothers never returned. I researched the history of that conflict extensively. No one in my family experienced the same battles that my characters do. None of the female family members were covert operatives like Nuala, yet many of them did provide "male" jobs while keeping the home fires burning. What I included in the novel of our family history were small details. As my cousins read the novel, they saw many similarities linking the fictional Comeaux family to the very real Zimmermann family. Many of my cousins experienced emotional catharsis as they read. My cousin Jim, a very conservative Vietnam veteran, said the ending brought tears to his eyes. My many cousins began e-mailing each other and me, sharing memories of our grandparent's house on Palmyra Street in New Orleans. They remembered my grandmother's Sunday dinners--very similar to Magda's in the Comeaux household in LOVE AT WAR. I wove those warm memories into the thread of a novel that is at times sad, violent, but ultimately joyous. My characters triumph over their adversity.
Such is often the nature of war. After WWII, my grandparent's loving home would never be the same. My uncle Charlie left a boy and returned a sailor with a tattoo. (I can imagine what my grandmother said.) My uncle Will, the wildest and most buoyant, returned hardened and emotionally scarred. Russell is buried on foreign soil, the victim of a bombing after the war ended. My mother saw the end of her first marriage. Nonetheless, our family persevered. Those who returned lived on, producing children now woven into the fabric of society. Those of us old enough remember that house on Palmyra Street and bask in those warm memories. Many of my cousins, the children of those WWII soldiers, have families of their own. We are all citizens who carry on the legacy our parents left us. Like our parents' generation, we will face and have faced other wars and trauma, but we, like they, have persevered. My cousin Alexandra and her husband have had a baby. I think of little Leila and wonder what wars she will see and what losses she will suffer. Then, I remind myself that such thinking is defeatist. She also will experience great joy.
Here's to family ties, joy, and trials.

4 comments:

  1. I love when our own history can be the inspiration of a grand tale such as this. I very much admire the work and dedication it must have taken to research this all.

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  2. Thanks for the sweet comments. I'm really starting to love writing historical fiction. I'm a researcher at heart.

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  3. War changes all of us in so many ways. When writing about it, it sure helps to have direct experiences and family stories, scrapbooks and photographs.

    Malcolm

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