Braha: Tale of Innocence and Intrigue by Julie Mangano takes readers on a journey following Linden St. Clair and her great-great grandmother, Leena Weiss. After Linden's grandfather dies, she explores old journals, discovering hidden secrets that pull the modern generation into a century-old mystery. It was a well-written, captivating book, and I had a chance to interview the author to learn more.
The inspiration for this story came from your own family's background. Can you share a little more about that?
My mother's parents were Germans from Russia who immigrated to the United States around 1910. Growing up, I was constantly aware of this fact. Later in his life, my grandfather made tapes for his children where he spoke about the Germans from Russia, how they came to be there, their origins in Germany, and more. When I was still in elementary school, I became interested in genealogy research. Finding out about the Germans from Russia was very difficult back then. My grandparents both died in the 1970s, so there was not much written evidence about their families anywhere. There were no official birth certificates, immigration papers were tossed in the trash once they became naturalized and soon after American citizens.
I joined the American Historical Society of Germans from Russia (AHSGR) group in the 1980s, hoping to find out more information about my family. I purchased a copy of The Emigration from Germany to Russia in the Years 1763 – 1862 by Dr. Karl Stumpp, the Bible for family history researchers looking into their Germans from Russia heritage.The anecdotal information that came down through my grandfather was enough to keep my interest piqued. We had a photograph of the Village of Grimm that was sent to my grandparents from one of their relatives who remained in Russia. My grandmother saved numerous letters from her aunt, written in German, that were handed down to me. I had the letters translated and looked for clues about my family. I learned many interesting facts during my search. One, for example, is that my mother's grandfather was conscripted and served as a security guard for the Tsar. I took that tidbit and incorporated it into my book.
Although the kernel of the idea for the Braha story focused on modern day Linden St. Clair, I soon began to think about incorporating family history into the story line. Leena was the name of a childhood friend of mine who was Finnish. Ever since, I was captivated with Finland, in part because it also happened to be close to Russia which I had a connection to because of my mother's family. Crafting a story line that included Russia and Finland was the only option I ever considered.
Why the tagline "a tale of innocence and intrigue?"
I love a good mystery. When I was first looking at cover ideas, I liked the idea of using the sheep or lamb as a symbolic cover. In the story, the colonel calls Leena his little lamb. Lambs suggest innocence, just like Leena was an innocent, caught up in a situation beyond her control. Linden's innocence can also be symbolized by the lamb. I loved the cover art because it was like the lamb is staring at the reader, its innocence splayed out there for all to see. Because I chose to use symbolism on the cover, I decided it needed a tagline that would let people know this book was a mystery, filled with suspense, innocence and intrigue.
Do you have other books in the works?
I am working on a follow up novel to Braha. If you've read the book, you know that a sequel is inevitable. Probably more than one, in fact. I have so many ideas swirling around, and I can already tell that the rest of Linden and Leena's story will need more than pages than a single sequel affords. Certainly one of the books must take place in South America. And then there is the European connection. I'm traveling to Ireland this fall to do some investigating and research for future story lines. A trip to Finland and Germany can't be far behind.
What surprised you most in the process of writing this book?
Braha took a long time to write, far longer than I would have preferred. There were periods of upheaval in my life that brought my writing to a stop, some times for months, as I dealt with family problems. My family went through two moves, my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer, and my father was diagnosed and soon died from esophageal cancer. Soon after my father's death, my mother suffered two serious falls, and the second resulting in her loss of vision in one eye. I was so overwhelmed for a while that it was difficult to focus on writing and editing. Soon after things started to calm down, I found that writing was like a salve to my life-wounds. Words bubbled out of me and it was hard for me to take a break. I thought that so much time had passed that it would be difficult for me to get back in the swing of writing and finish the book, and I was completely wrong.
In addition, after losing one parent, it became more important to me than ever to write about my mother's people (the Germans from Russia) while she was still alive and capable of reading the book. She became my biggest supporter and I couldn't have finished the book without her. At first I was worried about what she would think about the story line, since it includes a number of issues that the very pious Germans from Russia would not condone.