My first review and interview of the other M.M. Bennetts Award finalists is of Liverpool Connection by Elisabeth Marrion.
If you’re familiar with John Boorman’s classic film Hope and Glory, you’ll immediately appreciate the social setting of Elisabeth Marrion’s novel Liverpool Connection. The setting is Liverpool, not London, but the theme of finding hope amidst deprivation is the same. Liverpool Connection tells the story of a working-class family before, during, and after the Second World War, and the hardships, love, loss, and far-flung connections they encounter during those years.
I was struck by the realism of this novel. The characters are believable, with their struggles and sufferings portrayed faithfully. These characters lead lives of hardship that to most of us today seem intolerable, but they manage to find love and friendship in the tiny spaces left them by their daily battle to earn enough to feed themselves and their families.
The central character of the novel is Annie, who emigrates from Ireland to Liverpool as a young woman, motivated partly by the need to relieve her family of the burden of another mouth to feed. She trades one hardscrabble life for another, only now as a wife and mother, and there are times when I wondered whether Annie would make it through her troubles, especially once the bombs began to fall. But somehow she does, and the book takes an unexpected turn when the point of view shifts to that of a German family experiencing the same kind of hardships at the same time.
The ground-level view of life during wartime appealed to me. The characters are both acutely aware of the war – it alters everything about their lives – and only dimly aware of the sweep of strategy. Young men sign up for the Africa Corps while barely knowing the location of Africa on the map.
I do have a few complaints about the book. I found it dialogue-heavy and wished for more description at times, and at other times I found the editing less than satisfactory. But overall I admired the grit of these characters as they coped with the many difficulties handed them, and when I learned in the interview below that English is Elisabeth’s second language, some of my complaints about the style lost significance in that context.
SW: Elisabeth, thanks for agreeing to be interviewed. Could you start by telling us a little bit about what inspired you to write Liverpool Connection?
Steve, first of all I would like to thank you for asking me to take part with an interview for your Blog.
Maybe I have to tell you the story from the beginning. I started the ‘Unbroken Bonds’ Series with my mother’s story. As soon as I wrote it, I knew it had to be a trilogy, but in a way that the books can be read as a series, or as stand alone books. Whereas the first book tells us about Hilde’s life before and during WW II in Germany, Liverpool Connection looks at the life of Annie, her friends and her family in England covering the same timespan. Amazingly family life on both sides of the War was very similar. My mother was German and lost her officer husband on the Russian Front. My father, from Liverpool, was in the Royal Air Force, later stationed in Germany where he met my mother. Both sides of this conflict share similar experiences and this I needed to tell in Liverpool Connection.
SW: One thing I found striking about the book was its depiction of the poverty that the main characters endured, not just before and during the war, but after it as well. Do you think contemporary audiences grasp just how hard conditions were during that time?
I believe that because of media, books, television and movies, Audiences now have a much better understanding about the hardships and poverty before, during and after WWII. Readers are eager to learn what life was like in Europe at the time.
SW: What was the most difficult part for you in writing this book?
The most difficult part of writing books about WWII, is that I am German! German people do not speak about the War. That is still the case today, 70 years after it ended. My German family was very much against me writing the story, And not only did I write about them, now Liverpool Connection views the War from the other site. The German version will only be released in Germany Autumn 2015. Oh dear.
SW: The term “war novel” tends to summon up certain associations in people’s minds – great feats of courage in crisis, battlefield confrontations, and so forth. Are you comfortable with referring to Liverpool Connection as a “war novel”?
I can not see any problem with the definition of ‘War Novel’ for Liverpool Connection. I believe the publisher has expressed in the book cover the spirit of the book wonderfully. The reader is drawn to the book by its cover and realises, this is about family life and not only about horrors on the battlefield. Maybe on this occasion it is a case of ‘judge the book by its cover’.
SW: Did you need to conduct a lot of research for this book, or was most of the material already known to you through personal sources?
I knew my mother’s and my father’s story. It is true that the generation who lived through the war speak about it very little. But since the father of my German brothers and sisters did not return to see his children grow up, my mother made true on his wish in the last letter she received from the front. ‘Tell the children about their father, live your life and through you and the children I will also live,’ he said. I listened carefully to everything my mother told us. Later she came to spend many months with me in England and together we started the project. My father’s story was not that dissimilar. He however did not want to go into too many details. What I did not learn from my family I researched, especially times, dates, speeches, I really did learn a lot and I enjoyed the research very much.
SW: My readers are mostly American, and of course they have an American picture of the Second World War, based on what they have read and learned from family members who went through it. What do you think American readers will find most surprising about the war from the perspective they would get from Liverpool Connection?
I receive a lot of comments from American readers. Most of the readers enjoyed reading about the war viewed from a family life. You are right when you say hardly anybody realised the poverty before, during but especially after the war. Ration coupons were issued until the early 50’s, something which is hard to believe now. Sweets were the last items to be rationed and ended on February 5th 1953. Immediately the shops had plenty of stock and children queued for hours. Toffee apples were the most popular sweet on that day.
SW: I see from the Epilogue that this novel has considerable basis in your own family history. Was that an asset to you in the writing of the book, or an obstacle? I’m thinking about how much freedom you felt in shaping the plot, creating characters, and so forth.
My family history was certainly an asset and an inspiration to the story. I was concerned at the beginning how my family would react and worried about the characters and their names. At the end I decided, that this is my family history and I have all right to talk about it. Mind you I did change some of the names. I really enjoyed shaping the plot and developing the characters. I hear from readers who tell me who are their favourites in Liverpool Connection and for whom they have no sympathy at all. It is really nice that the reader takes it on board.
SW: I see that Liverpool Connection is part of a trilogy, with the third book scheduled for release this spring. Can you give us some more information about that book?
‘Cuckoo Clock – New York’ is Esther’s story. Esther and Ibrahim are separated after the Burning of the Synagogues in Germany in November 1938. Ibrahim is taken to Dachau. Esther tries to keep her promise to him and flee to England and later to New York. In England she meets Anna Essinger, who is instrumental in saving German Jewish children by arranging, what is now referred to, as ‘The Kinder Transport’. Again there is a connection between the first and second book.
SW: Thanks so much for your time! Best wishes on your next book!