Across Great Divides is a timeless story of the upheavals of war, the power of family, and the resiliency of human spirit. When Hitler came to power in 1933, one Jewish family refused to be destroyed and defied the Nazis only to come up against another struggle—confronting apartheid in South Africa.
Sixteen-year-old Eva and her twin sister, Inge, witness their lives in Berlin change before their eyes. Their best friend, Trudy, betrays them when she becomes a member of the Hitler Youth. A valuable family heirloom, a beautiful emerald and diamond pendant necklace, is confiscated by the Nazis as they continue to harass Jewish families and businesses.
Their younger brother, Max, a member of the underground resistance, sees even greater danger ahead. Their father, Oskar, a diamond merchant with a thriving business, refuses to leave his beloved Germany and believes Hitler will eventually fail. Their mother, Helene, the elegant matriarch of the family, holds her family together.
The family is conflicted whether they should leave home. But after the devastation of Kristallnacht in 1938, they finally flee Germany with the help of the underground resistance after hiding many diamonds. They seek refuge in Antwerp, but war follows them as Belgium is occupied by the Germans.
A young German man, a nun, a countess conspiring against the Nazis, and a winegrower secretly hiding Jewish children, help them to escape Europe. They hike over the Pyrenees Mountains while eluding German patrols and Spanish informers. Then, they spend agonizing days on a ship bound for Rio de Janeiro that is targeted by a German U-boat. As Rio’s diamond business is corrupt, they decide to go to South Africa, another diamond market.
In Cape Town, Eva encounters an impoverished colored woman, Zoe, who is in need of work. The family hires Zoe as their maid and shields her and her daughter, Zola, from the dangers they face in the slums of District Six and from the horrors of apartheid, which are all too reminiscent of Nazi Germany.
But, when Max gets into trouble with the South African police over his participation in an anti-apartheid march, will he be subject to imprisonment?
In a thrilling conclusion, the family comes to terms with the evils of society, both in their memories and current situation in South Africa.
This story sounds amazing! Where did you come up with the idea?
Thank you. I was born in Cape Town, South Africa, and my grandparents were European Jews who fled their home as Hitler rose to power. It’s their story that inspired me to write Across Great Divides. I also wanted to write a story that plunged readers into the world of Jewish immigration during World War Two. Jews who were able to leave Nazi Germany and other occupied European countries were forced to flee their homes, often in dire circumstances, and start new lives in other countries. These countries were often quite foreign to them, but it is amazing how Jews set foot in a new land and made do with what they had. In Across Great Divides, one Jewish family refuses to be destroyed and defied the Nazis only to come up against another struggle—confronting apartheid in South Africa.
How long did it take you to write it?
I wrote and wrote and wrote for a year and a half. I wrote every day, even if all I could conjure up was two sentences. Then, I spent about six months revising the story and I hired an editor. It took about three months to do the cover, as well as format the content for the ebook conversion and paperback. In total, the whole process took approximately two and a half years.
What was your writing process for this novel?
My writing mostly took place in the evenings and on the weekends as I do have a day job. My grandfather gave us (his grandchildren) a short, typed overview of their experiences in Europe and how they fled when the Nazis came to power. I used some points from this 10-page write up to begin my novel. My grandparents passed away several years ago, so unfortunately I was left with some questions and holes, but thankfully, my parents were able to elaborate on some of these gaps and questions. I mostly turned to research and let my creative juices flow. When I had the occasional writer’s block, I turned to reading and researching ideas that I wanted to include in the novel and these efforts sparked new ideas. I have a notebook right next to my bed as I would often think of some great ideas at the moment I was falling asleep or upon waking. I tried to envision every scene and every chapter as if I was sitting in the audience at a play and the novel was unraveling before me. That helped me form ideas and develop the story. When you write a scene, you must question “what if” and “what happens next”, and usually the story flows from there. I sometimes wrote parts of the story on paper, but mostly, I worked on my laptop. When I completed the first draft, I started from the beginning and revised page after page. I rewrote the first chapter four or five times and the first sentence probably more than 10 times!
You were born in Cape Town, South Africa. When did you move to the US?
I moved to Dallas, Texas when I was 4 in 1980. Although I was quite young and I don’t remember moving here very well, my parents experienced a lot of culture shock! Dallas became our home and is a great city.
What was life like living in South Africa?
I was born in 1975 and left South Africa in 1980. During this time, South Africa operated under the Apartheid system until 1994. White South Africans lived relatively privileged, idyllic lives with maids, gardeners, drivers, etc., but many were not ignorant to the evils of apartheid. For black South Africans, life was demeaning and often brutal as the apartheid rules governed every aspect of their lives. It is the new South Africa that owes its relative peace to the amazing Nelson Mandela, who created an important dream and a vision that will hopefully inspire South Africa for generations to come.
What was it like visiting Germany on the 70th anniversary of Kristallnacht?
In the fall of 2008, I was chosen by the American Jewish Committee/ACCESS program to travel to Berlin with 20 other young, Jewish professionals from across the U.S. This trip was a very moving and special one.
On November 9, 2008, the 70th anniversary of Kristallnacht, I sat alongside other young American Jews in Germany’s largest synagogue, Rykestrasse Synagogue, located in Berlin. I looked on in awe as German Chancellor Angela Merkel addressed hundreds of Jews and non-Jews who sat together at a commemoration ceremony to mark the anniversary of the Nazi-incited violence.
“We can’t remain silent when rabbis are accosted on the streets, Jewish graveyards desecrated and anti-Semitic crimes are committed,” Chancellor Merkel said. “Complacency is a first step toward putting the most essential values of our democracy at risk.”
Merkel also noted that remembering Kristallnacht is not enough; “we must always think how it was that it could come to this singular event, the Holocaust.”
It moved me to sit in one of the restored synagogues that was among the many damaged or destroyed during Kristallnacht. It shows that after all these years, there’s a silver lining in this destruction, and that we can learn from the past and create a better future for younger generations. My belief is that with a little knowledge and understanding, these kinds of events can be prevented in the course of time.
The shadows of an old Germany are still very much there, but I believe the Germany of today will not forget the Holocaust anytime soon. Reminders of the Holocaust can be seen throughout the streets of Berlin. Germany will continue to move forward with a stronger, re-energized sense of national identity.
Do you go back to South Africa and if you have what is life like there now?
I have traveled back to Cape Town a few times; my last trip was in 2006. South Africa is a picturesque and unique country. What is life like there? Well, it probably depends on who you ask. Crime is a major issue in South Africa and a sad reality. Murder, theft, rape, robbery, and so on have become a part of everyday life. But while crime is a huge negative, South Africa is a wonderful place with lots to see and do, from the beaches and botanical gardens to the Cape Winelands and game reserves.
What made you switch genres from writing children’s books to historical adult fiction?
I enjoyed writing a book for children and I would do it again, but I really wanted to write the story I wrote in Across Great Divides. I think switching genres helps a writer to grow and challenges them.
If you could live anywhere in the world where would it be and why?
In a villa at Lake Como, Italy! Magically beautiful — the deep blue water of Lake Como, the large mountains that majestically rise above the town and lake, the quaint European city nestled against mountains and docks. It’s would be a great place to live and seek refuge.
What is your wish for the world?
Peace—not only world peace, but peace within our own neighborhoods and communities. Also, as we dive deeper into the digital age and the convergence of media, that we don’t forget about books—real books with real pages that we love to turn. Kindles, Nooks, and iPads are great inventions, but the feel of a book in your hands will always be a truly unique feeling.
Thank you Monique for stopping by and best of luck with your novel Across the Great Divide.
Learn more about Across Great Divides, new historical fiction, at www.monique-roy.com. Available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iBookstore, Kobo, etc.
Read more from Monique on Kristallnacht—Sparking a Fading Memory