Multi-disciplined resident of planet Earth author Sandra Perez Gluschankoff can rightly claim expertise in the fields of psychoanalysis, anthropology, Judaic studies and Hebrew language. And, man, can she write! Today on Blog Funkhauser, the celebration of the publishing journey continues with an amazing shining light. Welcome Sandra!
1) Tell us about your book?
Franzisca’s Box is a story that spans seven decades and delves into the irreversible damage war causes in the lives of three women, in this particular case. The novel is set against the backdrop of World War II in Romania, the immigration of Nazi criminals into South America, and present day California. It’s a heart-beating journey through mystery, murder, betrayal and passionate love.
2) What made you decide to write it?
I don’t have specific reasons why I write a story. The ideas strike me like lightning, well, it’s not that dramatic… I get to walk away with my life, though. Anyway, back to the question, when a story strikes me, comes to me, I know I have to write it. It is then, during the writing process, when I start identifying stored memories, personal experiences, which make for key parts of the story. Very Freudian, if you ask me.
3) How long did it take you to complete?
I started and abandoned the story a few times, life and other things got in the way, but all in all, less than a year.
4) Do you have more planned?
Of course. I’m in the midst of another historical/women’s fiction novel. It’ll be my third.
5) What’s your guilty pleasure?
Cheesy, romantic holiday movies.
6) All writing and no play makes the writer suffer. What do you do in your spare time (other than work the day job)?
I exercise regularly, love hot yoga, spin, I run sometimes and when I get the chance I ride horses. I also get together with friends and we gossip till no end. Shopping is always on my to-do list, I may own more shoes than Imelda Marcos at this point. Also, I live a block from the beach, so I do take advantage of it and walk along it for miles.
7) What’s the thing you love most about this thing we do called writing?
The stories, the characters, the deep emotion I feel when everything comes to life before my eyes as I pour it into words. But I guess, one of my favorite parts of being a writer is that no matter how uphill I feel the path sometimes is, I still sit down and write with a smile on my face.
Thanks, Sandra. Her new book, FRANZISCA’S BOX is available now. Read on
Mystery, betrayal, murder, and passionate love were things Sofia Lazar only experienced as a movie producer. All of that changed after her grandmother’s sudden death when she comes face to face with an unwanted revelation contained in a tattered box. The meager contents take her back to her childhood and the fantastic bedtime stories that Abuela, her grandmother, used to tell her of a heroic warrior girl named Franzisca. Now, two decades later, fragments of Franzisca’s stories creep back into Sofia’s life, tying Franzisca and her grandmother to an unknown past. With the memories of her childhood bedtime stories to guide her, Sofia sets out to piece together her grandmother’s mysterious history leading her to discover the truth behind her life.
Set against the backdrop of World War II Romania, the immigration of Nazi criminals into South America, the later years of the Military Regime in Argentina during the 1980s, and present-day California, Franzisca’s Box is a story of war that ultimately affects three generations of women who will never find peace until they call for a ceasefire in their own wars and surrender to forgiveness and love.
“Sofia, are you happy?” she asked.
No one had ever asked me that question before, especially not her. Before answering, I looked around the set, felt a pull in my lower back that had nagged me for the past two weeks and visualized my unshaven legs.
“Yes, I am.”
After a prolonged silence, she came back on the line sounding a bit hoarse as though she had been crying. “I love you, Sofia.”
Her urgent declaration had come as a shock. For Abuela the word love was not spoken freely. Her conception of love was a raw, unrestrained surrender of oneself to another, a responsibility, a lifetime commitment. I knew she loved me, but why had she the need to assert it now?
“Abuela, are you all right?” I asked. My chest had tightened with concern.
“Never better,” she said, regaining her steady commanding voice.
The conversation continued without any mention of the sudden pronouncement of her feelings and with my assurance that I would be back home in time for our rescheduled breakfast the following Sunday, even if I was dead on my feet.
Standing alone in her study, the irony of the metaphor undid me. One of us was indeed dead. My eyes slid over the darkened order of the room then went back to the box staring insolently back at me from the center of the desk. It wasn’t an ordinary box. Its battered state spoke of safely kept secrets, hardship, and survival. There was only one character in my life that had tempered all of those experiences and more. With that in mind, the events of the last twenty-four-hours were gradually falling into place. I thought back on the last conversation I had with Abuela. The way in which she had pronounced the words I Love You, brought back long buried childhood memories. Her words hinted to a time when we had shared a love for stories, fantasy, adventure. To Franzisca, the make-believe heroine she had introduced me to during my early childhood years. The fearless adventurer who could do it all, the fictional character I had secretly admired all of my life. The brave woman I’ve always aspired to be.
I remembered looking around the disheveled state of my rented apartment in Sienna, wondering if I had become who I had dreamt of being. Wondering if I was really happy. I shrugged. Was there a real answer to such an existentialist question? I saw my life as sliced in two. One part was infused with unlimited possibilities alongside Franzisca and her adventures. The other was limited by my fears, my skeptical thoughts on happy endings and my repudiation of everything Franzisca stood for.
Perhaps it had been the piled-up exhaustion throughout the production of The Italian Nightmare that had me fervently wishing that I could be embraced again by those stories that used to bring me so much warmth and comfort. Stories I ejected from my life because regardless of how much Abuela loved me, I had learned the hard way that fairytales only belonged in books. The most important question that nagged me with a big question mark was, why now? Why did I want to claim Franzisca back? The answer was simple. I missed Abuela terribly; moreover, I missed the connection we shared when we were both immersed in the land of Franzisca.
A wave of conflicting memories invaded Margaret as soon as her eyelashes rested atop her cheekbones. But this time, unlike the weeks preceding this trip, she did not pursue the safety of the light, and kept her eyes shut. It was time she revisited the event that had triggered her becoming Margaret.
Her silence had been sworn more than sixty years before when she was only a little girl. But her tender age had nothing to do with the years her soul had accumulated during her short life. Perhaps it had to do with the distress all survivors of war suffer. She had been amongst a group of thirty-five fortunate children who have fallen under the protection of an anonymous philanthropist.
It had happened during the second year of War World II when Margaret was a girl of six. Streets, sewage tunnels and abandoned buildings had become her temporary housing during the war-years. Margaret learned survival skills and to hide like a rodent during the daylight. She was not certain of the reasons that drove her to live in hiding, but the memory of her parents’ glazed eyes, as they lay dead after being shot in the head, caused her to avoid being seen by anybody in uniform.
Since the death of her parents, the butchery on the streets had diminished significantly. The soldiers sporting the interlaced crosses on their jackets became a common sight in her town, especially around the oil refineries. On many nights, when she was scared and hungry she had made her way back to where she thought her home was. But when she approached the main gate of the property, visions of guns and death pushed her back into the darkness, back to the safety and the anonymity of homelessness.
However terrifying the Nazi occupation had been in her town, Margaret had found a certain balance to her survival. The intense questioning the citizens of Ploesti had been subjected to during the first year of the war had ceased soon after her parents were murdered. She noticed that most men, the ones she knew as neighbors or local business owners, were no longer in the vicinity and she wondered if they, just like her parents, had breathed their last breath down the cold barrel of a pistol.
The lack of adults made for a large amount of unattended children, which at one time or another moved together as a swarm of bees only to shoot in different directions at the slightest sign of danger.
When caught, children were forced to work in the oil refineries managed by the Nazi soldiers. The activities inside the refineries were a mystery to her. Yet, the results of being swallowed by those grim buildings stayed branded on the faces of their young prisoners. Some of the kids, who only days before had been on the run with her, were now gradually turning grey behind the barbwires surrounding the forced labor camp. Margaret was too young to understand the concepts of freedom and oppression, but she was old enough to notice the path of death, a one-way road, the imprisoned kids were set upon.
The refineries had become a target for continuous bombings. It was said that the Germans milked the depths of Ploesti to help finance their dream of worldwide domination. With each blast, the interest the Nazis had in the town waned. The cash cow Ploesti represented during the first years of the war became a trap where high ranking Nazi officials lost their lives; burning in the fires of the hell they created. As the production of the rigs stopped, the number of people imprisoned diminished. Soot-faced zombies in striped pajamas became the latest sight along the deserted streets of Ploesti. The Nazis did not waste bullets on the escapees; the smoke and tar inhalation took care of their dirty work for them. After a few steps into a desperate freedom, the former prisoners met their untimely death by natural asphyxiation.
Although tender in age and ignorant to the mechanics of war, Margaret noticed that the appearance of the enemy had changed over the years. No longer were the neatly dressed soldiers wandering the streets of Ploesti. Instead a new breed of bearded savages roamed the shell-shocked industrial town. Much like the Germans, the newest invaders, the Bolsheviks, were bent on mayhem. Both spawns of similar evil, sought out murder as a way to leave their imprint and manifest their domination. However, there was a noticeable difference between the two. While the Nazis conducted their operations in a cold and organized manner, turning their massacres into business transactions, the Russians behaved like butchers. Their trail was bloody and dirty.
The day she was discovered, she was huddled, with two other children, in the bowels of an abandoned aqueduct in the outskirts of Ploesti, Romania.
There were three things about herself that Margaret did not remember. One was her name. She had no recollection of her given name. She remembered her mother’s panic-stricken face and her last attempt to call for her. However, every time Margaret tried to put a sound to the last word formed on her mother’s lips, all she heard was the deafening explosion of the gunshot that silenced her. The next thing she did not remember was how to talk. Since the day she became an orphan, nobody ever addressed her directly again. She understood the tongue of the local people, the foul sound of the iron invaders; however, she could not articulate a single word.
The third thing she did not know was what she looked like.
Not until the day before she was found did she discover her face for the first time. Right before the earth swallowed the ball of fire that illuminated the city, the children made their way to the Teleajen River to try their chances at catching anything edible from the riverbank. It was customary for fishermen to take pity on the little souls that roamed the docks as if sleepwalking, and before retiring for the evening they would toss them a few scraps of fish.
A storm had hit the vast river the previous week, and after succumbing to its natural course, the waters became once again a silver mirror. Margaret was among a group of children who inched hopefully toward the docks scouting for food. The sight of a lone fisherman cleaning his dinghy sent the group of starving children running his way. Margaret was ahead of the pack when she hit a rock with her naked toes. The impact sent her flying a hairsbreadth from plunging in the river. Suddenly her face was confronted by a pair of hollow dark circles that fixed her with shock. She blinked a few times, fighting tears ready to slide down her face. The pain shooting through her toes was unbearable, but the curiosity at the image that floated on the face of the river was enough to make her forget about it. The vision staring back at her from the water remained still while she did her best not to breathe. Then, she wrinkled her nose and arched her eyebrows. The silver image mimicked her actions without skipping a beat. Margaret suddenly forgot about the nagging hunger clawing at the inside of her stomach. Instead, she smiled at a reflection that accepted her with the same smile. Move by move, she discovered the contours of her face, the mechanics of her facial joints and the many funny things she could do with them. For a brief moment, her mind was free of war, and in the watery mirror, she relived her short life before everything was lost. Filled with memories of happier times, that evening, Margaret snuggled next to her wretched companions and fell into a deep slumber.
When they heard heavy footsteps approaching the large sewer pipe where they had decided to spend the night, two of the children took off running. She and a few others were too tired to flee and slept beyond the allowed depth for survival. There was a soft knock on the outer wall of the tunnel. Resigned, Margaret and the other children crawled out. She was worn out, and if surrendering meant going back to the warm embrace of her parents that had kept her safe during one the best dreams she had in years, so be it.
What she encountered outside out of the pipe was far from fear. A soft hand reached out and took hold of hers and from that day forward, Margaret was never alone again.
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