Can we say, we’re proud of baby boomers who are still making the world a little more interesting? Well, we are, which is why we’re running this review about a new book by boomer and contributor, Exeter, New Hampshire’s Phyllis Ring. Her newest novel, The Munich Girl, is a keeper.
Baby boomer Phyllis Ring masterfully weaves an intriguing story in The Munich Girl that draws the reader in, wanting to know more as each page is turned and soon you discover that it is both a mystery and a love story.
It is a story of a woman’s quest to discover why there was a portrait of Eva Braun, Adolf Hitler’s mistress, hanging on the wall in her family’s dining room, and to learn just what connection, if any, Braun had with her family.
The story introduces us to Braun and the times just before and during World War II in Germany. But it is also much more. It is about the human spirit, survival, friendship, love, betrayal, discovery, and denial. The reader is seamlessly taken on a journey through time and place. Ring draws the reader in with her unique ability to bring her characters to life — and compels you to want to get to know them.
The editors of BoomerCafé were curious about Phyllis Ring’s attraction to write about Eva Braun. We caught up via email with Ms. Ring who is visiting places in Germany where she had lived as a girl.
BC: What motivated you to write such a book?
PR: When I reconnected with Germany as an adult after living there in the early 1960s, I wanted to understand more about its experience during WWII. I returned home and was given a biography of Eva Braun written by British-German writer Angela Lambert. In order to understand Germany and the war, I needed to read more about Hitler and the Third Reich and Eva Braun seemed a likely point of entry. What I never expected was the deeper topics and themes that would arise when I got that close to Hitler’s living room.
BC: What was the appeal of Braun?
PR: While a main character, she’s not the protagonist. (That’s Anna, a borderline Boomer born right before VE Day in 1945.) Braun’s 33-year-life provides a motif for exploring oppression and repression in many lives, those of women in particular — an über archtype, you might say. Lambert’s biography revealed how much of what was believed about Braun was inaccurate, right down to repeated misidentification in photos. Assumptions and judgments about her masked key information her life could provide about Hitler. Much of what was conveyed about her was based on presumed understanding about him, when in fact, more complete and accurate facts about her can help us better understand him. Few know that documents from testimony at the Nuremberg Trials indicate that an action she took in the last week of her life saved tens of thousands of Allied prisoners of war, something she likely did to protect his reputation. This number included some British members of my own family. That discovery was definitely a turning point for me, as a novelist.
BC: What message are you trying to convey to readers?
PR: At least two. One is that there is a reality that transcends appearances, and we miss a lot of the truth because we don’t investigate it more completely. This is also a story about outlasting that chaos and confusion of war and destruction by valuing, and believing in, the ultimate triumph of all of the good that we are willing to contribute to building together. Many Germans did this, though until recently, their stories have remained unknown. The novel is also about the eventual homecoming we must all make to our truest self, and the role that others often mysteriously play in that process.
BC: Any special connection with baby boomers?
PR: The two protagonists, one American and one German, who follow the trail of Eva Braun’s life and where a secret friendship with her leads, are each born immediately post-war.
BC: Lastly, a hard question … why should the world even need to know about Eva Braun?
PR: And one I expect to be asked a lot. She came to represent, for me, the many things that we can form conclusions about without ever delving deep enough to uncover the whole story, in order to genuinely find truth. I think this is at the heart of the equality we do not yet experience in our world, and the destructive price we pay for that.
One particular paradox I discovered might open the door to a deeper conversation about gender equality than we’ve yet had as a nation and a world, one that examines it from the perspective of human virtues. It’s that that the qualities of compassion and care that Hitler and the Third Reich sought to demean, reject, and suppress are precisely what he came home to Eva Braun for. This unexamined and very common imbalance, which distorts and abuses the value of the very things we need to heal as a world, continues to play out on a massive, violent scale in human life.
Although this is a work of fiction, it is also an historical portrait about real-life characters. It is a mosaic through dialogue and setting that allows for the possibility to imagine that this story just might have taken place.
Anyone who enjoys a good mystery, a love story, or even just history, will thoroughly enjoy The Munich Girl.
[The editors of BoomerCafé want to thank author, educator, and our friend Eric Mondschein for his collaboration on this book review.]