C. K. McAdam writes historical fiction. Her debut novel No Man’s Land was inspired by her family’s history, her own upbringing, and the history of Cold War East Germany. A prequel, set during WWII, is planned for next year. Her current project is a Holocaust fiction novel. She holds a Ph.D. in history and literary studies and teaches college course on Holocaust literature and film.
Together with her family, she resides in Texas but hails originally from Germany where she grew up. When not reading, writing, researching, or teaching, she loves to spend time with her family, friends, and corgi Merlin, play pickle ball, hike, travel, and eat chocolate.
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East Germany. 1972. An accomplished violinist and her husband attempt to cross the heavily fortified inner German border to escape the claws of the oppressive East German regime, leaving everything, even their families, behind. But their escape doesn’t go as planned. She must choose—her husband and the innate human need for freedom or motherhood, family, and friends.
Years pass and hope dissolves under the constant scrutiny of the East German Secret Police. Coerced to become an informant to the dreaded Stasi, she is forced to play a dangerous game of cat and mouse to reunite her family. But who is watching who?
When in 1989 the Berlin Wall falls, she finally has to decide where and with whom she truly belongs.
No Man’s Land is a historical fiction novel set during the Cold War behind the Iron Curtain in communist East Germany. It is one woman's and her family's harrowing and captivating tale of survival and defiance.
The vivid description of the setting, palpable suspense, and zeitgeist of the story make No Man’s Land a cinematic reading experience. It describes a reality that still rings true for many people in other parts of the world.
No Man's Land
C. K. McAdam
Escaping is dangerous ... so is staying
Book Excerpt or Article
Then a shot split the air. Everyone froze. The sudden silence was only broken when the man began screaming again, though now his screams were farther off.
The woman looked at the man on the other side being pulled farther and farther away from her. With a shot in the air, the East German border guards below her had made it clear that they would shoot if she were to keep climbing. She knew it had to be over. She felt her heart stop. She had no choice. There was no way out. Slowly, she climbed down the fence. The Kalashnikovs were still pointing at her, but she didn’t look at them. Through the fence, she looked at the man who was pulled away from her into the dark, still yelling, and what she now thought was wailing. And then he was gone. And there was silence.
Her feet hadn’t even touched the ground when the guards grabbed her, pulled her down from the fence, and threw her against the metal mesh. They started kicking her. Frantically, she tried to shield not her head but her stomach from those military boots. As she was pulled up and dragged off, she tried to make out any yells in the night. But there were none. They were gone. He was gone.
The guards pulled her with them for a good mile until they reached the watchtower upstream. It seemed the longest, yet the shortest mile ever. The guards pushed her inside and threw her onto a wooden chair. She didn’t look up or around, just stared at her reddened hands in her lap. He was gone. He had made it. She hadn’t. The thoughts were hammering in her head and she closed her eyes. She licked her lips and tasted blood. It didn’t matter. Nothing mattered now. She swallowed hard and tried to fight back the tears. She took deep breaths to calm herself. Just as she looked up, two of the three guards left the tower. What did that mean?
A white light was pointed at her and she squinted.
“Name?” It came out so matter-of-fact that she had to look up at the guard who had asked this most common question in the world, only that his tone was harsher. The guard was writing something down on his clipboard. I’m not the first they’re questioning in here, she thought. It seemed much too routine. She scanned the little room around her. There was a table in the corner with three chairs. It looked as if the border guards were killing a lot of time there. Cards, a newspaper, a few bottles of beer, and a pack of cigarettes beside an ashtray were on the table. The cards were strewn across the table in total disarray, which told her that they had been put down in a hurry.
“Name!” the guard repeated in an even harsher tone of voice.
She looked at him. His face was smooth and boyish. He could have been her younger brother if she had had one. Only his uniform made him look beyond his years. His eyes, however, showed impatience and arrogance. It was better to cooperate.
“Susanne Schmidt,” she said.
The guard looked down at his clipboard, biting his lower lip and scribbling down what she thought was her name.
“The other?” The guard looked at her again. Susanne didn’t answer. The guard’s brows furrowed. “His name!”
They would find out anyway that it was her husband who had made it across the border. She had no doubt about that. Once Dieter didn’t show up for work at the Berlin Zoo, they would know. “Dieter … Schmidt,” she said softly.
The guard was smirking at her. “So, the bastard not only deserted his country, but also his wife. Fine husband you have.” Susanne swallowed hard, still tasting the blood from her lips.
“Place of residency?” he asked.
She glanced out the small window. But only darkness stared back at her. “Berlin.”
“So, you’re not a resident of Wallhausen or any other village in the Restricted Zone?” he asked.
Susanne didn’t answer. There was no need.
“Do you know anyone in the Restricted Zone? Has anyone from around here helped you enter the Restricted Zone?”
Susanne looked up at him. She hesitated for a moment. “No … no one helped us,” she said, and looked away.
The guard searched her face and then wrote something on his clipboard. Then he put it aside. He went over to the table and took a cigarette out of the pack. He lit it and looked up and down at her. “You know the law. Trying to flee the republic carries severe punishment.” He exhaled. “You’re lucky we didn’t shoot you.”
Susanne didn’t respond. There was no use. She felt as if someone had hit her over the head. This couldn’t be happening. She had never thought they would get separated. They had talked about getting caught and what would happen to them, but never about the possibility of one of them getting caught and the other one making it. She swallowed. Tears were welling up in her eyes now as the cold reality settled over her. He was gone. He had made it. What was she going to do?
Susanne was left to her thoughts when the guard stepped outside. She hoped that he had believed her. No one had helped them enter the Restricted Zone, so she had answered truthfully. But Dieter’s mother lived in Wallhausen two miles down the river. Dieter had grown up there. But the village was in the Restricted Zone and they had not gotten permission to enter it, nor had they sought permission, as they always had to do if they wanted to visit Dieter’s mother. Their connection to Wallhausen and one of its residents would soon be discovered. Her mother-in-law would be questioned. Susanne had no doubt about that. It had been wise not to let anyone know about their plans to defect to the West. That would now protect Dieter’s mother, but the thought of how her mother-in-law would learn about what had happened made her sick.
The door opened and all three guards came in. The one who had been questioning her grabbed her roughly by the arm. “Move it.”
As she was pulled up and out of the watchtower, back into the open, she tried to get a glimpse of the West and its new citizen, but the grounds on the other side lay still and deserted. As she was pushed toward a military off-road vehicle, the sun broke through in the East, igniting the fence and the West that lay beyond with an orange glow. The houses and fields on the other side lay peaceful and still in the breaking dawn.
As Susanne took her seat in the back of the Horch P3, she put her left hand on her stomach. Tears flowed freely now as the vehicle pulled away from the border. When the car entered the autobahn minutes later, she knew in an instant where they were going. Berlin.
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