Come join the fun over at the Historical Fiction Club Facebook group as Shelly Sanders takes over the group for the day to talk about her book, "Daughter's of the Occupation"! Join the discussion on her content posts, her questions, and giveaways!
When I was eighteen, I discovered that my grandmother had been Jewish, but had given up her faith after escaping a Russian pogrom. I wanted to ask Nana about her experiences, but she'd died five years earlier.
I was sad that this information was withheld from me; I'd always envied religious people, and felt as if I'd missed out on something. When I became a mother, years later, the need to learn more about my grandmother flourished.
From Nana's sister, I found out that their family left Russia when fires were set in their village. They fled to Shanghai. After high school, Nana worked for a couple of years, and learned English. Then, she went alone by ship to California, worked as a nanny and completed a science degree in 1930 from the University of California, at Berkley.
My grandmother gave up her Judaism when she met my grandfather. They settled in Montreal where Jews were not welcome.
I wondered if Nana ever regretted her decision, was impressed by the forward-thinking woman she'd been, and had to know more about what life would have been like in pre-revolutionary Russia.
Rachel's Secret came out of this compulsion to understand my grandmother, to get inside her head. I named and created the main character after Nana, a smart, willful woman determined to escape the limitations thrust on Jewish women.
Because I wasn't raised Jewish. I wanted to see both sides: how did pogroms look to a non-Jew? As a journalist, I'm fanatic about accuracy, and carefully researched the period and culture.
Now, I wish I could tell Nana that her difficult journey to Canada inspired me to write my first book, that her struggle with religion has given me a healthy dose of skepticism, and that her determination to get a degree in a foreign country and language has instilled in me a perseverance which keeps me going, even on my darkest days.
I'm the author of Daughters of the Occupation (Harper, 2022), a Canadian Best Seller. This historical fiction is inspired by the discovery of my Jewish roots as an adult, and by my grandmother's family, most of whom were murdered in the Latvian Holocaust.
When I traveled to Riga, Latvia and stood at the mass graves the Rumbula Forest (where more than 30 relatives lie), I knew I had to write this untold story.
I'm also the author of three Young Adult historical fiction novels: The Rachel Trilogy (Second Story Press); the first received a Starred Review in Booklist, and two of the three were named Notable Books for Teens from the Association of Jewish Libraries.
Before historical fiction, I was a journalist with articles in the Toronto Star, National Post, Maclean's magazine, Canadian Living, Reader's Digest, Today's Parent and Homemaker.
I graduated from the University of Waterloo with an Honors Degree in English; Toronto Metropolitan University (formerly Ryerson) with a graduate degree in Journalism; and University of Toronto's Creative Writing Certificate.
Follow me on Twitter @shelly_sanders and on Instagram: fictionbyshellysanders
Inspired by true events in World War II Latvia, an emotionally charged novel of sacrifice, trauma, resilience, and survival, as witnessed by three generations of women.
On one extraordinary day in 1940, Miriam Talan’s comfortable life is shattered. While she gives birth to her second child, a son she and her husband, Max, name Monya, the Soviets invade the Baltic state of Latvia and occupy the capital city of Riga, her home. Because the Talans are Jewish, the Soviets confiscate Max’s business and the family’s house and bank accounts, leaving them with nothing.
Then, the Nazis arrive. They kill Max and begin to round up Jews. Fearing for her newborn son and her young daughter, Ilana, Miriam asks her loyal housekeeper to hide them and conceal their Jewish roots to keep them safe until the savagery ends.
Three decades later, in Chicago, 24-year-old Sarah Byrne is mourning the untimely death of her mother, Ilana. Sarah’s estranged grandmother, Miriam, attends the funeral, opening the door to shocking family secrets. Sarah probes Miriam for information about the past, but it is only when Miriam is in the hospital, delirious with fever, that she begs Sarah to find the son she left behind in Latvia.
Traveling to the Soviet satellite state, Sarah begins her search with the help of Roger, a charismatic Russian-speaking professor. But as they come closer to the truth, she realizes her quest may have disastrous consequences.
A magnificent, emotionally powerful story of family and the lingering devastation of war, The Daughters of the Occupation explores how trauma is passed down in families and illuminates the strength and grace that can be shared by generations.