“How Long Is Exile?: Book II” by Astrida Barbins-Stahnke

How Long Is Exile?: Book II Out of the Ruins of Germany by Astrida Barbins-Stahnke is the second installment from this talented and thought-provoking author. For those already familiar with her work it may need no introduction, but for the benefit of those keen to hear more we sat down with her to understand what the work means.

The two-part 387 page book may well have been named War and Peace or The Agony and Extasy, as both dramatically juxtapose, not only the historical events but also the situations and moods the central characters, Milda Berzina (13) and her actress aunt Alma Kaija (30) experience and can never forget. Part I covers the months of autumn 1944 to spring 1945. Our personas, having escaped from Latvia, are in peaceful Marienburg, Prussia. It is Advent. Milda is at school, Alma–in some work force. Christmas comes and goes on angel wings, carols and candles, but after New Year, all hell breaks lose, and people swarm westward. Allied bombing has hugely accelerated, and one city after another (not only Berlin) is bombed to ruin. Perhaps not nightly, but air-rades seem to go on without stopping. Imagine the ordinary people, mostly women & old/very young men holding the home front, while men soak in trenches. News come late & slowly. Waiting and fear wreck the nerves. Our protagonists flee by trains, on foot, as pick-ups until it is over, and African American troops roll into the village. The war is over. It is May. Soon the Iron Curtain will fall. Russian communists rule over Eastern Europe. Niece and Aunt feel their exile and are afraid, until –

Part II (1946 – 50)

They find respite in Esslingen, at Neckar, in Wurtemberg, where, under American relief program, an all Latvian camp is set up. And there, in peace, emerges an amazing cultural milieu, reminiscent of lost Riga. They are assigned an attic room where they live out their separate tragedies among their people until this camp, along with others, are closed and people are divided again in separate continents. The book ends with Milda waiting for the ship to sail to American, while Alma takes the train to Sweden, to be close to the Baltic Sea. But the longing for home and the sense of exile will never leave them. I don’t want to give my readers the impression that this is a sad, tear-jerking work and, therefore, they will walk away. So please, know that fear and release, despair and hope, laughter and tears, like night and day are interwoven. And there is LOVE, many-colored, tragic and passionate, of the moment and life-long, but mostly multidimensional and healing.

Okay, so the idea is to shine a light on this unique period of history, and to do it in a way that gets the reader inside the minds of the people who would have lived through it?

“That’s exactly right, and I really do hope that this book has done justice to my vision and imagination. I have tried to show my readers that wars never end but go on from generation to generation and that the caravans of refugees never stop looking for places to set down their burdens and rest.”

Astrid Stahnke’s is such a unique approach to storytelling that it leaves us with just one question on the tip of our tongue: how is the trilogy going to end?

“I can’t spoil that for you, but what I can tell you is that all I have written is steeped in the memories of my childhood and the observations of various adults who retold their flight journeys. As my age increased, I became much more sensitive to each one’s pain and story. I wrote because I had to, so that we would live, at least in my books, and also because throughout the years, many have said, ‘you should write a book’.”

So, having written, do you believe that you have created an arc that your readers will be excited to explore from the first page of Book I to the last of Book III?

“I hope so.”

To immerse yourself in a world that seems like a lifetime ago, visit Amazon.com and get your copy today.

Astrida Barbins-Stahnke can be contacted for interviews and speaking appearances on the details below.

Email: [email protected]

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