Thursday, 13 September 2018

Tara Lynn Masih - Guest Post - My Real Name is Hanna

I am honoured to be hosting Tara Lynn Masih on the blog today. Tara is the author of the fantastic novel My Real Name is Hanna and I can honestly say that it has been one of my favourite reads this year. My review of the book can be found here. Without further ado, over to you Tara.

"When I began writing My Real Name Is Hanna five years ago, I had no idea where my plot was going. I had just seen the powerful documentary No Place on Earth about the Stermer family, who hid in Ukrainian underground caves to avoid being found by Nazis during the Holocaust. Within twenty-four hours of viewing the film, I started writing what would become my first completed novel. At the beginning of the process, all I knew was that some version of their story had to be told in fiction, and I felt driven to be the one to do it. Toni Morrison once wisely said, “If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.”

I very much wanted to read this book, and I very much wanted to have young readers be inspired by the story as well.

I was lucky to awaken the morning after I saw the film with the voice of Hanna in my head, her name, and the first few lines. From there, a very rough outline grew. Within thirty days, I had scaffolding, but little else. There was no good foundation to make the book sturdy and liveable. And I needed to find a way to reveal the horror that was the Holocaust as clearly and as accurately as it needed to be revealed, without using the pain of others to advance a story.

Until I came to realize that this book would not be about the Holocaust as much as it would be about the Holocaust’s devastating effect on community and family and tradition and culture. And that it would be about how one family managed to find a way to survive not just physically, but emotionally. We tend to concentrate more on physical survival during traumatic events, but emotional survival is more complex and, I think, even more important.

Besides the obvious strong family bonds and deep faith the Stermer family had, they had stories. What else can you take with you into the dark? For centuries humankind has been staving off the darkness with myths, fairy-tales, and folklore, both fantastical and ordinary. I love what writing coach Lisa Cron says about storytelling: “Before there were books, we read each other.” Around campfires and kitchen stoves, beside beds and on pulpits.

So my novel became one overarching story of one woman reading herself. Then as I continued to do research and fill in the flooring and hang the support beams, I heard other voices, other stories. “Story” in My Real Name Is Hanna becomes a replacement for community, even for food during times of starvation. It bonds the hideaways in shared history and educates them about their past. They “read” each other to survive, just as Hanna reads her treasured Joan of Arc story, as told by Mark Twain. Hanna clings to Twain’s iconic crusader story through the voice of Joan, as a way to hold on to her own self.

My hope is that this novel will be the kind of book that will allow you to better read yourself and your neighbours, and that what you find during your “reading” will help you build up your community, not tear it down and divide it once again.

A portion of the author’s royalties will be donated to the Unites States Holocaust Memorial Museum in memory of Esther Stermer."

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