An Interview with
1. Was there a specific moment where you thought “I need to turn this experience into a book?”
There were two such moments. The first when I discovered the diaries with their day by day account of life in Berlin 1945. The second when the diaries revealed that my beloved grandfather had been a member of the Nazi party.
2. What lessons did you take away from writing this memoir?
So many, although they come more as questions than definitive answers. What it is like living in a totalitarian regime. How people cope in desperate and violent circumstances. How love, faith, and writing helped my grandfather survive. The importance of our early experiences in shaping our outlook and attitudes.
3. How did your previous historically focused titles and your professorial experience influence writing this memoir?
Already as a student I found the excitement of research when I discovered an unpublished play. Since then, by luck and hard work, I have gained a better understanding of history, and, yes, made more discoveries by reading, talking to people, and more reading. Just recently as I was writing about Studebaker workers from the South who met Jim Crow in the north, I was given the minutes of the first African American housing project in Indiana. And now my grandfather’s diaries literally fell into my hands and led to the current book.
4. In this memoir, you balance history and personal legacy beautifully. Why is this story important to you? What do you hope readers will take away from it?
For me personally, it was as if my grandfather was there talking to me across the decades and it confirmed how much I have learnt and absorbed from him. For the reader, I think the story works first of all on an immediate emotional and dramatic level. Then it also invites questions about the political responsibility we all carry. In the end I hope readers come away not with any easy answers but with an appreciation of what binds us all together.
5. Do you have any advice from people hoping to tackle a book with tough subject matter?
Memoir writing has many challenges, but I believe the rewards predominate. It gives us an exciting opportunity to re-evaluate and re-invent ourselves and see our lives in a broader historical context. “Memoir is the only second chance you get in life.” Lauren Slater, author of Prozac Diary and Lying. A Metaphorical Memoir.
GABRIELLE ROBINSON tells stories about people that reveal their personal situation within its historical context. One reason for her fascination with the intersection of the personal and historical stems from her own experience. Born in Berlin in 1942, her father’s fighter plane was shot down over England in 1943; after her family was bombed out twice, they fled Berlin in 1945, the beginning of a string of migrations that ended in the US. Gabrielle holds an MA from Columbia University and a PhD from the University of London. She has taught at the University of Illinois, at Indiana University South Bend, and abroad, and has won a number of awards for her writing and community engagement. Gabrielle is now settled in South Bend, Indiana, with her husband Mike Keen, a sociologist turned sustainable neighborhood developer, and their cat Max. Her favorite leisure time reading is about animals and trees. Learn more about Gabrielle and Api’s Berlin Diaries at https://www.gabriellerobinson.com/.