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HFC Editorial Review of "Tapesty of My Mother's Life" by Malve von Hassell

Author Bio

Malve von Hassell was born in Italy and spent part of her childhood in Belgium and Germany before moving to the United States. She is a freelance writer, researcher, and translator. She holds a Ph.D. in anthropology from the New School for Social Research and has taught at Queens College, Baruch College, Pace University, and Suffolk County Community College. Working as an independent scholar, she published The Struggle for Eden: Community Gardens in New York City (Bergin & Garvey 2002) and Homesteading in New York City 1978-1993: The Divided Heart of Loisaida (Bergin & Garvey 1996). She has edited her grandfather Ulrich von Hassell's memoirs written in prison in 1944, Der Kreis schließt sich - Aufzeichnungen aus der Haft 1944 (Propylaen Verlag 1994). She published two children’s picture books, Letters from the Tooth Fairy (Amazon KDP 2012/2020), and Turtle Crossing (Amazon KDP 2021), and her translation and annotation of a German children’s classic by Tamara Ramsay, Rennefarre: Dott’s Wonderful Travels and Adventures (Two Harbors Press, 2012). The Falconer’s Apprentice (namelos, 2015) was her first historical fiction novel for young adults. She also published Alina: A Song for the Telling (BHC Press, 2020), set in Jerusalem in the time of the crusades, and The Amber Crane (Odyssey Books, 2021), set in Germany in 1645 and 1945. Her latest release was a biography, Tapestry of My Mother’s Life: Stories, Fragments, and Silences (Next Chapter, 2021). She is working on a historical fiction trilogy featuring Adela of Normandy.

Book Blurb

Tapestry Of My Mother's Life is a biographical account of a woman coming of age in Germany during the 1930s. Malve von Hassell explores her mother's life through the fragmented lens of transmitted memory, and its impact on the second generation.

Born at her grandfather's house in Farther Pomerania, 1923, Christa von Hassell had to contend with the increasing and pervasive impact of the Nazi regime. As the child of a German army officer, she moved with her parents often. Through boarding school, university, marriage, the Second World War, life under Soviet occupation, and a new beginning in the West, eventually in America, the biography is an incredible, emotional journey of childhood, survival, and relationships.

The portrayal of Christa's life also focuses on the role of memory: shaped, distorted, and realigned in the continual process of telling stories of the past in conjunction with silence about many aspects. Children of women who shared similar experiences and life trajectories struggled with the challenge of learning about their parents' lives during extraordinary times, confounded by a wealth of stories on the one hand and a seemingly impenetrable veil of silence on the other.

Working through such memorabilia, as well as the tales of the past, can offer ways in which one can come to terms with the inherited detritus of thoughts and memories. As such, this account of the life of a unique and complex individual has also wider relevance in that it addresses age-old questions of the relationship between one generation and the next.

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Editorial Review

The subtitle of Malve von Hassel's latest book ''Tapestry of my Mother's life'' is ''Stories, Fragments and Silences''. This is an altogether appropriate byline for what is in fact a biography of the writer's own mother. Any person attempting to recall and chronicle the life of a loved one no longer present to act as Editor and Proofreader; anyone attempting to create a 'tapestry' of that person's life, will, in the attempting of the task, come to the realisation that the 'tapestry', perforce, becomes a collection of stories and fragments, memories and incomplete documentation. The 'silences', of course, are the gaps in the writer's knowledge, the incomplete and missing documentation, facts never discovered, the questions perhaps never asked or answered.
Thus it is that the author presents her own portrayal of her own mother; a young girl on the threshold of womanhood in the increasingly and relentlessly harsh times of wartime Nazi Germany and the subsequent Soviet occupation. The account is, by turn, speculative, factual and affectionately wry. It is also a highly sensitive and perceptive series of observations, an intensely readable account.
Thus we are introduced to Christa, daughter of a Landowner and Diplomat and her happy, not to say idyllic, early childhood in former pre war Pomerania, a time rich in childhood memories and reminiscences of the Zitzewitz family; fond portraits of her shy and volatile mother and father, frequently absent on diplomatic missions, of colourful relatives and servants and local characters. There are Sleigh rides in the snow and family Christmases, a variety of experiences in the many schools attended; all is recalled with sharply drawn and poignant affection. There is a brief family posting in Warsaw and back to Germany. Christa is fifteen when the war breaks out. In 1942, school left behind, she travels to Leipzig to take up studies at the University. Christa has to deal with frequent changes and upsets. She has a spell as a munitions worker, transferring to a new University where she enters into her first romance and a move again, this time to Prague to study Art and Architecture, the start of a lifelong passion. There is a voluminous correspondence surviving of these war years and the writer incorporates all this into the story, compellingly and with great skill. Both her father and her brother are away on active military service and her relationship with her mother is increasingly fractious. A clear picture is emerging of a young woman who is reflexive and resilient, well capable of dealing with and overcoming obstacles. And, of course, there is great tragedy too. Her father [known for his strong ant-Nazi views] is killed in highly suspicious circumstances in Greece and her beloved brother is killed in the Ukraine. There follows another romance, followed by marriage, to a young man who is then separated by the war and who subsequently dies in a Soviet prison camp in 1946.
The war years and the period leading up to her marriage to a government Official and rising Diplomat in 1952 are packed with incident as the country, divided now, struggles to rebuild itself. It is not possible or appropriate here to provide the reader with a full account of all the extraordinary events and experiences, but we are provided with a picture showing just how extraordinary this young woman truly is through a whole series of vignettes; of taking children across the border from east to west in the dark, of smuggling much needed food and luxuries out of dinner engagements with Soviet Officers in her pockets, the loneliness of flying to England in an empty coal plane during the Berlin air lift, difficulties in looking after her own mother, now with her in West Germany. We are happy to share the pride of her daughter, the writer, in Christa. We must bear in mind at all times just how young this remarkable human being and polyglot was, a 'shape shifter' admirable in her ability to adapt and improvise. Of her arrival in England she writes: ''I always remember how it was for me when I first arrived....the feeling of not having to worry, the experience of sitting down at a table laid with food, and the certainty of a warm bath. I literally craved danger, fear and deprivation.''
The new life in the United States, the years of happy marriage and the arrival of three children, are all described with a highly moving fondness and the reader is left with the strong knowledge that this is a description, a very personal biography, of a person it would have been wonderful to have known. Towards the end of this wholly admirable book Malve Von Hassell makes a number of truly perceptive observations. There is this, for example: ''Looking back on the hours spent listening to my mother weave entire worlds for us with her words, I wonder to what extent her vivid storytelling was a form of retreat behind an invisible barrier, a mask of sorts that disguised the degree to which many things were never spoken about.''
This is a fine and compelling book to read and it is an outstanding example, a textbook, of how to portray and describe the life of a much beloved person. I urge you to read it. As Malve Von Hassell says:
''I am left with the memory of Christa - dominant, exacting, controlling, stubborn, and who never gave up and never gave in - utterly exasperating and exhilarating, and whom I loved.''
Julian de la Motte - HFC Editorial Reviewer
Five stars and the "Highly Recommended" award from The Historical Fiction Company


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