Monday, February 19, 2018

Dear Reader, Love D.E. Haggerty

Dear Reader…

I’d like to explain a little bit about researching this novel and some interesting historical facts you’ll come across while reading. I’m a total history geek and love diving into research. Despite my total geekdom, Searching for Gertrude was especially challenging to write as a historical novel. Firstly, it was incredibly difficult to research Istanbul and Turkey during the Second World War. Most of the research material is only available in Turkish, and many documents are only available to accredited researchers. And none of the information is available online! Because of this, many people – especially those outside of Turkey who are my targeted readers – are not aware of the history of Turkey during this time period. This caused my second difficulty – how to write this fictional story without dumping historical information on readers (and therefore causing their eyes to glaze over). 

Despite the difficulties, I felt it important to persevere with this project. The picture that many have in their mind regarding Turkey and the Holocaust is that many Turkish public institutions, such as Istanbul University which features heavily in my novel, took in Jewish scholars who were prosecuted in the 1930s. Unfortunately, my research has shown that Turkey was not as welcoming towards Jews during the Holocaust era as the Turkish government would have one believe. This is not meant as an attack of Turkey. Many, many countries, including my country of birth, are untruthful about their policies and past (military) activities. In this time of ‘fake’ news and ‘alternative’ facts, it is even more important to correct misconceptions and lies than ever before.

I have, therefore, done my level best to maintain historical accuracy in this novel. Naturally, I’ve included the more well-known historical events such as the sinking of the SS Patria, the Pera Palace bombing, and the Struma tragedy. I also refer to several historical occurrences which are less known. Reading the novel, the reader may in fact assume these ‘facts’ are fictional, because these events aren’t well known. I’d like to share some of these lesser known events with you now.

In the winter semester of 1933-34, eighty-two German Jewish professors began teaching at Istanbul University. This was a direct result of the law enacted in Nazi Germany in 1933: “Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service”. These exiled professors were in a much better position than their counterparts as they earned higher salaries and were largely protected from repressive refugee policies. When I discovered this information, I realized I’d found the starting point of my novel. 

Although Turkey was officially neutral until February 1945, in October 1941, high-ranking Turkish military leaders traveled to the German eastern front. No Turkish troops ever saw combat and many claim Turkey was blackmailed into joining the Allies. It’s fascinating to read how Turkey was able to play both sides of the fence while being a neutral party.

German consular offices were operational centers for Nazi secret service activities throughout the Near and Middle East. The Consul complained on numerous occasions that the consular offices couldn’t accommodate the large number of secret service employees. Adding to the strain, German expats continually spied on one other and reported their findings to the consulate. Istanbul was in fact a hot bed of espionage activity during the Second World War. Actually, that’s why I wanted to set my novel in the city. 

The Turkish government began to expel German Jews in the spring of 1937. In 1939, the Turkish minister of the Interior explained this policy to the German embassy stating that “[when] it became evident that they intended to settle here, German Jews … were expelled from our country to prevent a concentration of Jews.” Academics were mostly exempt from expulsion until 1943 when the second year of five-year contracts expired. The fear of expulsion plays an important part in my novel.

Those are just a few of the findings I made during my research. These are the findings, though, that play a role in the novel. I hope I’ve managed to pique your interest in reading Searching for Gertrude.

About the Author

Dena (aka D.E.) grew-up reading everything she could get her grubby hands on from her mom's Harlequin romances to Nancy Drew to Little Women. When she wasn't flipping pages in a library book, she was penning horrendous poems, writing songs no one should ever sing, or drafting stories, which she is very thankful have been destroyed. College and a stint in the U.S. Army came along and robbed her of any free time to write or read, although on the odd occasion she did manage to sneak a book into her rucksack between rolled up socks, MRIs, t-shirts, and cold weather gear. After surviving the army experience, she went back to school and got her law degree. She jumped ship and joined the hubby in the Netherlands before the graduation ceremony could even begin. A few years into her legal career, she was exhausted, fed up, and just plain done. She quit her job and sat down to write a manuscript, which she promptly hid in the attic after returning to the law. But being a lawyer really wasn’t her thing, so she quit (again!) and went off to Germany to start a B&B. Turns out being a B&B owner wasn’t her thing either. She polished off that manuscript languishing in the attic before following the husband to Istanbul where she decided to give the whole writer-thing a go. But ten years was too many to stay away from her adopted home. She packed up again and moved back to the Netherlands (The Hague to be exact) where she's currently working on her next book. She hopes she'll always be working on another book.

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About the Book:

While growing up in Germany in the 1930s, Rudolf falls in love with the girl next door, Gertrude. He doesn’t care what religion Gertrude practices, but the Nazis do. When the first antisemitic laws are   
enacted by the Nazi government, Gertrude’s father loses his job at the local university. Unable to find employment in Germany, he accepts a position at Istanbul University and moves the family to Turkey. Rudolf, desperate to follow Gertrude, takes a position as a consulate worker in Istanbul with the very government which caused her exile. With Rudolf finally living in the same city as Gertrude, their reunion should be inevitable, but he can’t find her. During his search for Gertrude, he stumbles upon Rosalyn, an American Jew working as a nanny in the city. Upon hearing his heartbreaking story, she immediately agrees to help him search for his lost love. Willing to do anything in their search for Gertrude, they agree to work for a British intelligence officer who promises his assistance, but his demands endanger Rudolf and Rosalyn. As the danger increases and the search for Gertrude stretches on, Rudolf and Rosalyn grow close, but Rudolf gave his heart away long ago.

How far would you go to find the woman you love?

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