Two Fatherlands, Guest Post by Chrystyna Lucyk-Berger

It’s a dangerous time to be a dissident…

1938. Northern Italy. Since saving Angelo Grimani’s life 18 years earlier, Katharina is grappling with how their lives have since been entwined. Construction on the Reschen Lake reservoir begins and the Reschen Valley community is torn apart into two fronts – those who want to stay no matter what comes, and those who hold out hope that Hitler will bring Tyrol back into the fold.

Back in Bolzano, Angelo finds one fascist politician who may have the power to help Katharina and her community, but there is a group of corrupt players eager to have a piece of him. When they realise that Angelo and Katharina are joining forces, they turn to a strategy of conquering and dividing to weaken both the community and Angelo’s efforts.

Meanwhile, the daughter Angelo shares with Katharina – Annamarie – has fled to Austria to pursue her acting career but the past she is running away from lands her directly into the arms of a new adversary: the Nazis. She goes as far as Berlin, and as far as Goebbels, to pursue her dreams, only to realise that Germany is darker than any place she’s been before.

Angelo puts aside his prejudices and seeks alliances with old enemies; Katharina finds ingenious ways to preserve what is left of her community, and Annamarie wrests herself from the black forces of Nazism with plans to return home. But when Hitler and Mussolini present the Tyroleans with “The Option”, the residents are forced to choose between Italian and German nationhood with no guarantee that they will be able to stay in Tyrol at all!

Out of the ruins of war, will they be able to find their way back to one another and pick up the pieces?

This blockbuster finale will keep readers glued to the pages. Early readers are calling it, “…engrossing”, “…enlightening” and “…both a heartbreaking and uplifting end to this incredible series!”

Two cultures, three languages and one big conflict

Imagine driving south over an alpine pass, crossing from Austria into Italy. You might expect Italian restaurants, Italian signs, and Italian architecture. But that’s not what happens. It still looks like the Austrian Tyrol with a few Italian names but the German language is still everywhere.

Keep driving, because here it comes: spread out before you, an unbelievably beautiful reservoir some 4 miles long and nestled into the horizon. The sight of that aquamarine water takes your breath away. You pass the first town and quickly come upon the next one called Graun / Curon Venosta. And then there it is. Off to the right, some 50 feet from the lakeshore, is a fully intact medieval church tower rising straight out of the water. This is the setting of my series, Reschen Valley.

Reschensee Reservoir at dawn, photo by
Ursula Hechenberger-Schwärzler

That haunting sight! I saw it for the first time in 2000 and I wanted to know what had happened. Immediately. However, I didn’t know enough German or Italian to understand the explanations. Having moved to Austria and being only four hours away, I passed that haunting scene many times over the following five years and that was how pieces of the story began to fall into place. My German got better. I was directed to a museum located above the fire department in Graun. I discovered what devastation and destruction lay below the surface of the water. I wanted to know more. I found information about the secret Treaty of London, signed by Italy in 1915 as negotiated with them by France, England and Russia. I researched Woodrow Wilson’s 14 points, then his biography. I read the Hungarian Ambassador’s book from 1964. I found a professor in Innsbruck whose work had been translated into English. It took me over ten years to put a million-piece jigsaw puzzle together.

More so, the deeper I went, in all directions, the more mysterious and thrilling the story was becoming. Especially in regard to how the reservoir was built. I was making two or three trips a year, spending a lot of time in South Tyrol and getting to know two cultures: the Austrian Tyrolean one and the northern Italian one.

Inspiration for Hanny villa, photo by
Ursula Hechenberger-Schwärzler

By the time I visited the Reschen Lake reservoir for the tenth time, a whole slew of characters had risen to the surface: a young farmer woman, a sassy innkeeper, an Italian engineer, a German carpenter, a dog. A colonel and a Fascist. They clambered into my Fiat and have moved into my head ever since.

Here’s how the story begins:

1920. The Great War is over but a new conflict has just begun. The Austrian Tyrol is cut in two, its southern half handed over to Italy and leaving an entire population severed from its countrymen. Katharina Thaler, a Tyrolean farmer, is out hunting when she stumbles on an Italian veteran who’s been stabbed on her mountain. Terrified that one of her own people has committed the crime, she must choose to save him or leave him to die. Her decision thrusts her into a labyrinth of corruption, greed and prejudice as Katharina is caught between the Tyroleans who are trying to stop the annexation to Italy and the growing Fascist powers that need their land to produce electricity; electricity required to prepare for the next war.

My journey has culminated into five novels spanning almost 4 decades and two generations. Writing it required steering around many a conundrum. First, how far beneath the strata of my two cultures must I go before I can feel confident about creating an entire world from them and do the cultures justice? I could never presume to know or understand enough than that which lays beneath the first few layers. I will always be an outsider writing from an outsider’s perspective. And I feel that has its advantages.

Reschensee Reservoir, photo by
Ursula Hechenberger-Schwärzler

Further, the books are in English with characters who would normally speak German and/or Italian. It’s thrilling to have this much fodder for conflict between my characters: cultural clashes, misunderstandings, plays on words. I am also, however, acutely and painfully aware that my ability to play on those in depth are limited if my audience is an English-speaking or English-reading audience. For years, I experimented with the use of foreign phrases, and creating a world that is universally understandable. My concern has been to make sure that I had enough cultural aspects and unique language that, should these novels ever be translated into German or Italian, the native reader would not feel as if they are watered down. This was a huge obstacle to overcome.

And then there was the question of taking sides in the conflict. I made the decision to explore all aspects of this story, all its arguments and objectives. It is not my job to illustrate who is right and who is wrong in this conflict and I don’t think it’s realistic anyhow. Once again, I made conscious decisions to create three-dimensional characters with all their flaws and strengths, with all their motivations. I did not want to make this conflict my conflict and I did not want cardboard cutouts of good guys vs. bad guys.

In the end, I set out to write a story as well as uncover one of the least known histories in western Europe. In the process, I also discovered that there is a warning in those pages that we, today, must also heed.

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Meet Chrystyna Lucyk-Berger

Chrystyna Lucyk-Berger is an American author living in Austria. Her focus is on historical fiction. She has been a managing editor for a magazine publishing house, has worked as an editor, and has won several awards for her travel narrative, flash fiction and short stories. She lives with her husband in a “Grizzly Adams” hut in the Alps, just as she’d always dreamt she would when she was a child.

Connect with Chrystyna

Amazon Author Page:–Lucyk-Berger/e/B0764M2XSY

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