In my sister’s neighbourhood, things change all the time. I notice the difference between my visits to Amsterdam every two years, when my family gets together around the birthdate of my mother, who passed away more than a decade ago. I used to live in the Kinkerstraat, not too far away from de Witte de Withstraat, where my sister eventually settled on her repatriation to The Netherlands from the USA. Since my own departure to Canada, the neighbourhood underwent many changes over time.


The area I am describing lies between the outermost canal surrounding the centre of old town, the Singelgracht, and the Admiralengracht, the canal ending at the border of the first tram zone, direction Old-West Amsterdam. It became the settlement area for immigrants from the Mediterranean—Morocco, and Turkey in particular. Shops changed into typical small food and clothing shops where Muslims could buy what they needed. Halal shops sprang up everywhere offering lamb and cow meat products, butchered according to the prescription of the Koran. The neighbourhood day-market at the Ten Cate Street became a mixed market as many merchant stalls changed hands, as its customers changed who needed a variety of different products. I would estimate this development period lasted two to three decades.


A new restaurant in a corner property. Across from it the old mosque.



I loved that development and the new changes, although I wondered to which area of the city the Muslim residents were moving to in this latest trend of the last few years. During the eighties, because the original Dutch citizens (autochthones) moved into the newer housing projects further out into Suburbia, the streetscape altered drastically, as the traditionally dressed Arab pedestrians replaced the original Dutch—allochthones. This created the feeling that I had made a trip to Morocco without having had to board a plane. A nice bonus. Now that is changing again.


The women’s entrance of the little mosque with a bread basket, for those who don’t have any.


Moving day, Amsterdam style. In this case, the house is under renovation.







Most of the old, residential neighbourhoods in Amsterdam contain subsidized rental housing in mostly pre-war blocks of four-story apartments with moving hooks on gable in the attic. Renting is the preferred method for housing, as real estate is expensive. The various housing co-ops are by law obliged to restore and maintain their properties, so the modern rebuilds or renovated neighbourhoods look especially beautiful, as maintaining style is a must! A beautiful, large Mosque and blocks of matching new construction, designed by a Canadian architect, arose in my sister’s backyard several years ago and are now complete and inhabited.

At the same time, a brand-new hotel was constructed that is accessible from both sides of the block. It accommodates the more adventurous travelers, mostly young people. It is called Hotel Not Hotel. All rooms have some quaint characteristic, such as an actual train compartment. It has a bar and restaurant. The lounge seating extends into the street onto the sidewalk.




In the millennium, the trend to share or sublet housing (AirBnB, etc.) became widely acceptable, as young professionals and youth, who began living independently, cannot afford to rent houses on their own, so are sharing housing. So also happened in Amsterdam. The Kinkerstaat and Oud-West changed from a barren, working-class neighbourhood into a sloppy little Morocco, then in the last two years, it again changed: into yuppy streets, well-maintained and clean: a gentrified part of Amsterdam catering to low-income students and young families, mostly Caucasian. I am attaching photos of this neighbourhood.


Above: the little mosque in de Witte de With straat, in use prior to, and after the construction of the large, brand new mosque.


The new mosque along the canal.




The cafe/restaurant across the mosque with the new apartment buildings, to buy, not rent.


My sister did wisely to just stay put. Her renovated third-floor two-bedroom home with a large sit/eating area across the width of the building and French doors with a view to the inner courtyard of green space leading to the balcony, is only a bike ride away from everywhere, and a five minute walk to the trams that will take you downtown, Schiphol, or anywhere in the city. Wonderful!

Any mobility issues of residents with the steep stairs in 4 story apartment buildings are solved with chairlifts, or with a move to a ground-floor apartment on request of the renter. The housing co-ops are in charge of the buildings and the renovations and are comparable to the Canadian situation of strata developments.


My sister and I had dinner on the balcony when it was still about 32 degrees—a hot summer.

The whole of the country is interspersed with canals, and the Dutch are still a nation of boaters. All waterways connect and are under the control of the government water control body, specifically established for that purpose in The Netherlands. As roughly a third of the country is situated below sea level, this is the most crucially existential institute in the country.

Old harbours and ship-building wharves around Amsterdam are renovated/rebuilt for additional housing or for recreation. This year I only visited for two weeks, but it was worth it.

Churches are also repurposed, and tear-downs are the last option, only when no use can be found or the structure is unsound. As the subsoil is permeated with water, all buildings are sitting on foundations of piles, so are expensive to build.


The renovated presbytery of the adjacent church that is now a hotel.


The church is converted to a neighbourhood social centre.


The leaded glass church windows are maintained, as beautiful works of art.



IMG_1556An old-fashioned bike that reminded me of how I sat in front of my dad as a child. We never had a car and I never had a car either as an adult—didn’t need one. M older sister could sit on the back carrier.


Nowadays, the modern, one-child family, or even families with more than one child, have this Cadillac among the bikes, hogging the roads and bike paths.  Still, better than a car.


One street over is a canal, and if you had a boat, you could park it here and go to work by boat.


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Wilbur Smith – Monsoon

St. Martin’s paperback, April 2000, 822 pages.

First published in Great Britain by Macmillan Publishers Ltd. 

ISBN 0-312-97154-0

I began reading this bestseller as I ran out of other books to read from my bookshelves during the Covid19 isolation time. It was called an adventure novel; its readers, I suspect, would be predominantly male. I got that from the description on the back cover and the front cover illustration of a threatening sky over part of a sail, partially seen through the ship’s porthole. The style also might be called historical fiction, but that classification might turn off the men and appeal more to a female readership. The publisher calls Smith an adventure writer.

And an adventure it was, right from the first pages, starting with a young girl offering herself up to Tom and Guy, sons of the gentry, for a sexual encounter in exchange for a sixpence. The portrayal of the girl and how the boys responded to her were in itself revealing. The omniscient narrator tells the story from the POV of three of the characters: Tom, Hal, and Dorian. The first protagonist, the reader meets on the pages, is Tom, son of Hal (Henry) Courtney and his second wife Margaret. 

Hal is the owner of fifteen thousand acres in Devon, Britain, a legacy obtained as the descendant of his knighted grandfather Sir Charles, a sea captain gifted with the title and lands as reward for his service against the Spanish King Philip, defeated by Calais under Vice-Admiral Drake. Hal’s father, Francis, was also a seafarer, who died away from home in a faraway land.

Tom and his twin brother Guy were born on April 30, 1677; three days later their mother died. Hal fought the Dutch and the hordes of Islam in the Order of St. George and the order of the Templars. Hal married the first time when he brought an Ethiopian princess from his endeavors in Africa, who gave him a son, William, AKA Black Billy. Margaret, the second wife, died in childbirth. The third wife, Elizabeth, mother of Dorian, was meant to replace the twins’ mother. She drowned in a rip tide when the cutter she was on overturned in the bay. Dorian was five, and a redhead.

It may be the novel’s time period and setting in 17th century Britain, but right of the bat I resented the view of women as chattel and the disrespectful, even brutal treatment by these men in the narrative—the masters—exercising their power over the inhabitants, considered no more than slaves, and the women portrayed as treacherous temptresses or pitiful wrecks. However, the women the men fell in love with were beautiful and perfect and threw themselves at the men, in awe of the strength and intelligence of these hunky chosen lovers.

Given the brutal times and the boys’ birth order, relentless and violent competition between these sons of different mothers is unavoidable. The first twenty pages were all about that. 

I was tempted to stop reading right then. Most readers do not enjoy reading about sadistic powerplays and physical assaults on women unless you are a sadist, or a masochistic woman. 

Wilbur Smith is a prolific writer of “bestsellers”, but I am afraid his books are meant for a typical male readership, who might enjoy the fantasy of exerting power over women and torturing people. Nevertheless, I continued reading to find out more and discover redeeming qualities of the novel, if any. 

Sir Henry Courtney, Hal for short, is introduced as he saves his youngest son, Dorian, from his eldest, William, before the latter succeeds in strangling the boy. Hal taught William all who knows to take over the estate from his father but excuses “Black Billy’s” brutality against the younger sons.

The underlying racism is expressed as white supremacy, prevalent in that time, as the narrator called Africa The Dark Continent for is hidden mysteries, unfamiliar flora, and fauna—that is to say, to European colonials, first arriving to the continent. William is the son of an Ethiopian princess, but is still black and despised by many, not just because of his cruelty.

As well, how the Arabs are portrayed as the natural enemy of Christians is not acceptable in the current global wave of Islamophobia, recently intensified by the Muslim border ban in the USA. To the characters in the novel, it may be acceptable, as their grandfather fought to keep Europe for the Christians with the Knights Templar, and their father a member of the order.

Leaving William in charge of the estate, Hal takes his other three sons away from the estate and William’s assaults to London, on a mission to meet the King’s delegates. His sons have no claim on their father’s property, as the first-born son inherits everything by law. They’ll have to seek a living elsewhere, in the army, the navy, or the church. They might as well start looking now.

At the end of the next twenty pages, the English East India Company comes to the rescue. In a private audience with Lord Childs, King William III’s Chancellor, Hal hears about his new adventure that involves protecting the company of which he, and Lord Childs, and the others present at the meeting are major shareholders; the largest shareholder is the Crown itself. They seek to protect their assets from the pirates robbing their ships and the company blind. Hal accepts the job with the generous reward of half of all recovered goods and a title of Baron to boot on completion of a successful commission.

Here, the author caught my attention, elaborating on the King and world of the time, the English King—William III. This prince was also the Stadthouder of the Netherlands as the representative of the wealthy Dutch cities and their powerful company men, who put William III in charge of the Dutch republic by invite. It was interesting to me, as a Dutchie by birth, to read the history and views of the characters from the English POV. Smith portrays the Dutch as crueler and less scrupulous than the English, so a good customer to sell captives to as slaves.

A few years ago, I attended the SAIL event in Amsterdam, when the many tall ships arrived worldwide, demonstrating their prowess and beauty over days after they arrived in the harbor. I admired the skill and agility of the crews, elevating the joyful spectacle of the event for the many thousands of visitors, sharing good food and drinks as the ships opened up for visitors. This experience ultimately brought the novel to life for me, which largely plays out at sea and in harbors on tall ships. As well, I was familiar up close with the antique tall ships after a visit to a dry dock in the Netherlands, where a crew built a tall ship according to the traditional craft. Thus, I could envision what the ships in the novel looked like. 

The adventures take off in earnest when Hal and his sons leave for Africa, and the many near-misses and disasters, bloody battles, and the robbing, rapes, and destruction of enemies unfold. Of course, if the robbing and killing are perpetrated by the English side, it’s okay, but it is evil when the Arabs do it. The words infidel and pagans are used freely. So, don’t expect an ethical story. 

Do not expect the women in this story to be well-defined or interesting beyond serving as the underlay or an illustration of the boys’ coming of age, or their prowess as lovers, as this adventure novel lacks those balanced views or any sense of reality. These type of escapist stories are, after all, meant for a readership of men, or should I say: eternal boys? The book could not reach me on an emotional level other than disgust reading certain chapters, except one scene where Dorian’s camel succumbed in a battle.

To be fair, the novel was well-written, and it helped me through the quarantine period at my hotel on my return to Kelowna BC, with a note that the author should check his use of Dutch, as the sloppy spelling mistakes were evident to a Dutch person. For instance, the famous Admiral Michiel de Ruyter’s name (info readily accessible on the Net) was butchered, whose brilliant naval victories in the Second and Third Anglo-Dutch wars enabled the United Provinces of the Netherlands to maintain a balance of power with England.  

Smith did his research and I enjoyed the historical bits. Another interesting subject to me was how ill-informed the doctors were and that the hygiene to prevent illness and infections was unknown. My toes curled at times, reading their practices. 

Finally, the heroes in the novel were members of the well-to-do British upper-crust, and the narrative made it clear that the common men were just cannon fodder and used to it. No rebels, here. Indeed, Monsoon is historical fiction but also a fantasy novel. 

In the end, the whole endeavor was all about the money—the primary motivator behind the adventures—and the novel shows the reader the early beginnings of capitalism. The English and the Dutch East India Companies collected vast wealth by exploiting the East Indies spice islands and Africa, including inventing the massive world of slavery, which still distorts society in North America and is the cause of ongoing racism in the world. If you keep this in mind while reading the novel, you may get educated.

After this analysis early in my read, I kept reading as the relationships between the sons and the father intrigued me. Will Dorry be saved? Will William finally defeat Tom? Will Hal keep his sons in line? Alas, the story about family got lost soon in the adventures and only occasionally returns as a structure devise.

Towards the end of this book, I almost threw it in the garbage, when the hunt on elephants is described as one of Tom’s major adventures, undertaken just for the sake of the trading value of ivory tusks. In this age, hunting of these highly evolved creatures is considered criminal. The section was hard to read, especially now we know so much more about the intelligence and family structures of elephants. I resented Tom’s ecstasy after bringing down a magnificent animal. The scene reminded me of the media reports and photos of big game hunting by the Trump sons. The very last chapters were even harder to read when the elephant hunters met the slave hunters. The small mercy of the author for readers was that Smith at least had Tom draw the line at hunting black Africans for the slave trade. Oops, spoke too early. In the last pages, his brother Dorian was indeed involved in the slave trade. Oh boy.

Well, I finished the book but would not ever pick up another Wilbur Smith book.

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Writing Historical Fiction

Historical Fiction is a popular genre of books, not in the least because of Diane Gabaldon and her series The Outlander, hefty tomes written in Scottish-accented language with numerous unfamiliar words—not the easiest, quick reads. The lusciously-filmed series made her a household name.

I did not know about the series. Only through the appearance of videos and the talk of friends did I finally bump into these historical novels. 

I already had written two novels of a more immediate past. My first self-published book-in-stories (On Thin Ice) dealt with my own life experiences. My second novel (Guardians’ Betrayal) was inspired by my work experiences, which I turned into a fictional story about two adopted children. Just for fun, I wrote a murder mystery next, motivated by a three-day novel writing contest, to keep going on the job of writing. 

In the meantime, I had become curious about the history of my parents during the war. As the youngest of five and born after the war, I knew nothing, although my eldest siblings knew a bit from their own memories. None of us had been able to coax more details out of our parents. The only document left behind was a spiral-bound book of coloured pages printed on rough paper with reports from the Resistance group’s various members, including one by my dad. The proof was a couple of sketches of him, portrayed in between other people. 

My parents raised small children as my dad continued in his job as a rural police unit commander under the Nazis. How did they survive five years of Nazi occupation—an experience never far from Dutch memory—and at what costs? I was born four years after the end of the war on the forefront of the second generation. Even for us, the whole experience of an invasion by a foreign enemy will never be excised from our memory during our lifetime.

To explore how it affected my parents, and in turn, to find out its effects on me, raised by traumatized parents, I started researching their lives of that time—until that point, a closed book. My parents never wanted to talk about those years. My dad would wave questions away with that’s so long agowater under the bridge.

As I researched, an unexpected trove of information opened up for me. I contacted a historian, the editor of a publication from the Historical Society in the village where it all happened. He shared a veiled suggestion that my father might have been involved in matters of foul play. It didn’t stop me from opening that Pandora’s box. 

Through an online search of the publicly available Dutch war archives, I found files with my dad’s name. Since my dad was deceased, I qualified to access his files in the National Archives in The Hague—unseen for 70-plus years. On my next trip to Dutch relatives in the Netherlands, the historian and I arranged to meet and research the files together. We read the original notes and carbon copies of letters, affidavits, interview reports, charges filed, all evidence collected for the trial under the Special Court for Public Servants. It became the story.

I wanted to avoid making the obvious mistakes of so many books about the Second World War, for my story to be dismissed as fanciful and not likely to have happened, so the research was essential. I wrote it to honour the many people who have lost their lives during the Second World War and to honour my parents, who never wanted to burden their children with the knowledge of what they went through. 

Of course, this novel is fictional. I wasn’t there. I didn’t witness a thing but used all the information I obtained and added fictional elements. My goal for the novel was to make this a story that reads as authentic and reflects the time. I have no idea who my parents were in those days, so all the dialogue and events were made up where the historical documentation and my siblings’ reports left gaps.

When the first few drafts were completed, I searched for people who wanted to read it and give me their feedback. Not as easy as it sounds. Unless somebody is also in a writing course or is a writer, the feedback one can expect is somewhat unfocused. I used several writing professionals to guide me along. Nine drafts followed, as well as a Dutch translation, finished by my sister. 

I queried agents and publishers directly (some will consider un-agented queries) and waited. 

Writers’ chat rooms and instructors of writing courses spend much time on warnings about sending in too early before the manuscript is polished and finished. Editing is paramount for acceptance. I indeed made precisely that mistake and got many rejections: almost 100. Live and learn. Even my last manuscript version was judged flawed by a Kirkus reviewer because of too many distracting editing errors. I am still working on polishing the manuscript with the publisher before its actual release on November 30, 2021. I will repost here when it is ready for pre-ordering.

What else did I learn along the way?

  1. My relative is NOT a character. I needed to go beyond the person I based my story on and thought I knew. Make them characters and use your imagination, unshackle them, make them suffer, raise the stakes, so the reader will be intrigued and follow.
  2. Research the facts, make a timeline of actual historical events and set the story in the correct time frame. I kept checking the facts as I proceeded through drafts and often found significant time mistakes in a scene.
  3. Instead of reciting facts, I had to make the characters live the times, see through their eyes, experience what they feel. The reader doesn’t want to read a history lecture.
  4. The old adage: show, don’t tell, at best is only part of good advice. The narrator (or your character) needs to “tell” how that character feels and interprets events. I took “show” to mean describing the character’s behavioural reactions, and I described the physical states as indicators of emotions. But that is not enough. I didn’t “tell” why s/he felt that way and how s/he interpreted what just happened in the scene. I left that too much open to reader’s guesswork. When the story unfolded differently than the reader had guessed, the reader got confused and lost interest.
  5. After an editor completed the job, I changed the manuscript again; the mistakes slipped in. Know what type of edit the document needs. I contracted an editor before the work was developmentally ready for it. After the very last edit by a line (or copy) editor, nothing should change before going to press.
  6. My nature is to do things ass-backwards in life. This may be due to my overconfidence combined with ignorance. Self-publishing is different than the process of publishing a novel with an established company. My first books were published quickly, and I now see why suspicions of lower quality exist in the industry.

I hope this was an interesting post, helpful for writers or to those who think about writing historical fiction.

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Book review

This novel was published by Harper Perennial, hard cover edition and first published in 2013. It has a prologue. I was advised in my writing classes to not use a prologue or epilogue to tell the story I want to tell, but preferably integrate the material in the story itself. In this novel the prologue could have easily be a chapter, whether at the start or somewhere in the middle. The narrator is Gualteriero Agnello, the director of the Stadler Museum in Three Rivers, Connecticut, a character in the novel, who is interviewed for an article in the Connecticut Magazine. 

Agnello provides the connection between two characters in the story: Josephus Jones, a black artist of primitive paintings, and the artist Annie O’Day, a contemporary creator. Josephus Jones won unexpectedly the price of Best of Show in an exhibition organized by the museum, of which Agnello was the curator, long ago.

The story takes place for most part in the town of Three Rivers in Connecticut from the points of view of a long lineup of characters, almost too many if you ask me, over a period of close to thirty years. All characters are white middle class or working-class characters, except the character of Josephus Jones, a black working-class man and amateur painter. There is the danger of whiplash, as the characters are so very different. The reader gets into the mood and the world of one personality, and then it is over. On to the next one. I was beginning to feel a little schizophrenic as I read, trying to figure out all these players and how they were related.

The author specifically mentioned the ethnic backgrounds of the characters, apparently an important aspect of these American characters, although they were all born in the USA. To me, when I first started reading the novel, it was an oddity to specifically mention these ethnicities, as it could promote stereotyping. As a Canadian immigrant and a Dutch-born person, I assume it does not matter where people’s parents or grandparents come from. Our prejudice is still under the surface in Canada and open discrimination is frowned on: you have to dig quite deep before it is revealed. Later in the book, I got the reason Lamb is using these ethnicities: to highlight the intergenerational traumas of the various characters.  

There is the main character, Annie O’Day of Irish heritage, in her early fifties, who at the start of the novel is about to get married to Viveca, three years after Annie’s divorce from Orion Oh after a 27 year marriage. 

Vivica is the New York gallery owner of Greek heritage, who first signed on Annie as an artist and made her famous. She is searching for more works of Josephus Jones.

There is ex-husband Orion Oh of mixed Italian and Chinese heritage, a psychologist who works in a group home and is on his way to Viveca’s beach home, to allow Annie and the children (twins Andrew and Ariane, and Marissa) to stay there the night before Annie’s second wedding, taking place at a nearby hotel, where Vivica will stay the night.

Part I Sets the stage of the book and is all about Orion and Annie, who think back and relive their lives narrated in their respective POVs in interchanging chapters. 

Part II is called Mercy. The narrator is a woman, Ruth Fletcher, a neighbour of Annie’s parents. This charming character, married to Claude, thinks back on her life and her husband’s funeral, taking place at the same funeral home at the same time as the funeral of Annie’s mother and little sister takes place. Annie’s baby sister and her mother, Sunny, both drowned in a flash flood when a dam broke, when Annie was five. Claude had a daughter from a previous marriage, Belinda Jean, who is obese. Ruth likes to think Clade married her because Belinda Jean needed a mother. This is all told in a flash-back of many years earlier.

Claude Fletcher had a temper, and was a KKK member; he harassed Josephus (Joe) Jones and his brother, Rufus, stone masons, who both lived in the cottage behind the big house for which they constructed the mantel and fireplace. The big house was later purchased by Annie and Orion and they raised their family there. Rufus and Joe Jones lived with a white woman in the cottage, and Ruth suspects Claude had killed Joe, found dead head-first in the five-foot-deep well after Belinda Jean had become friends with Joe Jones.

Part III The Family. 

This is the story, told in interchanging chapters of the three children of Orion and Annie. Andrew (in the army, works at the ward for ill soldiers), and Ariane—the twins, and Marissa. Andrew is engaged to Casey-Lee, both are devoted to their Christian evangelical convictions. Ariane, heart-broken from a recent break-up, is the do-gooder of the family and manages a soup kitchen. Marissa tries to break into the acting business and has a hard time with that abusive environment, the novel written before the Me Too movement and Harvey Weinstein. They tell their stories about growing up, and their struggles in their lives as adults. Annie and Orion’s deteriorating marriage is highlighted from all angles and from everyone’s POV. 

Later chapters are also from the POV of the secondary characters in addition to the primaries.

Annie’s mother, Sunny, was married to Chick. They had an older son, Donald, and then Annie. Sunny’s nephew, Kent, would rather spend his time with his cousins Donald and Annie at Sunny and Chick’s. After Sunny and baby Emma drowned, Kent came to live at Chick’s to help out the family and babysit Annie, as Chick went off the rails from grief and guilt. 

There is the chapter of narrator Kent Kelly, fatherless since his dad, the brother of Sunny, had runoff with another woman with a son, the cause of Kent’s intense hatred of that little boy, Peter, who attended the same school. His story of pedophilia is told from his POV, as well of from the POV of his victim, a five-year-old girl. There are many other characters, too many to highlight in this review. 

Any subject one can think of, including believing in God versus agnosticism, is getting a treatment: its causes, and the consequences of the players’ deeds are narrated, using their stories in the voices of the various characters. The novel is well-written and interesting. Lamb sure knows his way around humanity and the psychology of human failure. It may be a book for those who already are okay with the shocking facts of life, but people of certain convictions may take offence. They are hereby warned. This book contains enough material for at least five books, which justifies its 560 pages. Of all the characters, I could identify most readily with Orion, and not at all with others, for instance Annie. I am not sure if that was because she is a woman but very unlike me, or because I couldn’t buy into her character and it was the writing. You be the judge.

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My publisher asked me for media people, educational institutions, and reviewers of literary magazines who might be interested in my novel, to be released at the end of November. Still a long way from now, but the work of preparation happens way ahead of that day. Labouring over the questionnaire, I realized that the mandatory isolation and the cancellation of literary events put a big dent in my ability to connect with those important people. I miss the writers’ group, which meets on Zoom. I miss the genealogy society meetings (on Zoom) and the meetings at the library research table a lot. I cannot attend the writers’ conferences—cancelled. I had sunk into a prison-like state of mind. Having to fill out the list for the publisher shook me awake.

My excuse for this isolation? 

  • I tried Zoom meetings but found that a headache-producing undertaking. The tiny pictures of people make it hard to see who is actually speaking and the difficulty breaking into the conversation myself reduced me to a watcher. There are more enticing things to watch on screens. 
  • I had another novel on the go. This was a bonus in a way, as I had begun writing it before the actual onset of the pandemic in March 2020, and I was glad I could focus on this work. Writing is a solitary business, so I felt blessed.
  • In November, I escaped my small condo in cold Kelowna to a different Mexico with fewer distractions, as all the fiestas were cancelled. On my patio, the conditions for writing were perfect. Surrounded by five-meter-high walls, and the sun, shining only on part of it, I could spend my days writing. When I got tired, I could take a nap on my lounger, in or outside the sunshine. Indeed, the novel progressed well. My editor seemed to have the time and occasion to finish his work within two weeks in January. My break from writing was short, and I started a new draft—the fourth.

I am just about at the point of querying this novel. The question arises: do I send it to the same publisher as my previous novel? Or should I first see how the novel to be released in November fares? Can I afford the luxury of waiting and working longer on the manuscript? Both novels have the Second World War as setting, although the first novel takes place exclusively during the five years of German occupation in the Netherlands. The second novel, still in development, has a broader timespan (from 1890-1970) with the two world wars as the background of the protagonist’s story.

I think I am going to focus for a while on approaching reviewers to generate some traction on the novel, soonto be released (November). If you feel like reading this story and writing a review on a website for books and readers, in a magazine, a newspaper, a blog, or a publication for military personnel, please, contact me. I just sent off the list with the people and magazines I came up with to my publisher, so I will collect any responses and pass those on to the publicist with HISTRIA BOOKS. I can be reached at johanna.vanzanten074@gmail.com

So, how to connect in isolation? 

  1. I have signed on with the San Miguel de Allende Writers Conference and will watch a video life presentation with Diane Gabaldon for the conference today at 6 pm. The ticket price is reasonable. I do not have to peer into a ZOOM screen, and not do I have to travel. Three years ago and the year after that I attended the conference in person and have good memories. The workshops were delightful, the presentations inspiring and enlightening, and the ambiance unparalleled. I intend to resume visits when the Covid19 is defeated next year. There may be other conferences that offer their gifts in ways that suits your modem of communication. Diane Gabaldon is an effortless writer and the historical setting is right up my alley. There are other writers whose presentations were taped and you can access those, e.g. margaret Atwood, our wonderful Canadian celebrity author.
  • I have signed on with a number of relevant blogs and Facebook pages to become more familiar with what’s going on in the world of writers and books, and to interact in a less hectic pace of conversation, compared to a ZOOM meeting. I might be able to offer some useful information as well. The nature of the particular site and the kind of books is important. My blogs/FB pages are for Historical Fiction and Second World War, relevant to my new novels.
  • I have reached out to former instructors of creative writing programs, and editors of magazines that may be interested in my novel for a free ARC (advance reading copy). We will see what happens.
  • I will write articles related to the content of my novel and post it, send it to relevant papers and magazines, and contact the local media for additional exposure.
  • To all writers I recommend to use the isolation to your advantage and keep writing, but not to forget connecting with your tribe.
  • Happy Writing!
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As one president left in the official government airplane after the demanded 21 gunshot military salute and a red carpet, another arrived in a private plane, because the departing one is too unhinged by his loss to honour the custom of sending a military plane to pick up the winner of this last election.

I watched the TV show with interest, noticing the obvious differences from a Canadian viewpoint.

WASHINGTON, DC – JANUARY 20: Newly sworn in Vice President Kamala Harris looks back at Jennifer Lopez during the inauguration of U.S. President-elect Joe Biden on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol on January 20, 2021 in Washington, DC. During today’s inauguration ceremony Joe Biden becomes the 46th president of the United States. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

The inauguration event—in reduced form due to the Covid19 fear for contagion—opened with a religious official, who called all present to join him in his prayer, in spite of the country not on the books as a religious state, like Israel, Iran, or Afghanistan. In God We Trust. I wondered how people felt who are agnostics, or believe in something other, possibly the Goddess. 

Canada, on the other hand, has no longer God in its official discourse. State and church are clearly separate entities. Even in Quebec, established by Roman Catholic priests no longer allows any symbol of religion displayed in public service. Religion is a personal choice. Religion can be misused by governments and we have heard that lately: God wants Trump to be president. Yeah, no.  


America lacks royalty since 1783 when it proudly kicked the British and its House to the curb. The impression I got is they wish to have some royalty of their own. Whenever some royal shows up, they tend to go gaga over her (Princes Diana, Duchess Megan Markle-Sussex). The inauguration event certainly demonstrated that wish. Certain people exist in American society with special status beyond the people of this day’s focus, instated in official positions. Those are the celebrities, whether from Hollywood fame or TV, famous singers, and actors, and the former presidents and their wives. An excited murmur rose among the attendants when Lady Gaga was announced. She fulfilled the royalty gig. 

Canada does have actual royalty, since it kept the tie with the British House intact. Once in a while, a royal or two show up for some event, or just to show their face and remind us they are our nobility, and not just an absentee British landlord. However, none of them lives in Canada, so in fact Elizabeth is an absentee head of state.


The Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag is an odd thing in my view. A flag is just a piece of cloth with colours and symbols, and it was recently abused and misused. In the lead-up to the transfer of power, the official flag competed citizens with a different flag—long since abandoned as being a traitors’ flag—the confederate flag of the losers of the civil war. It seems to me that the emotional significance is an easy short-cut to show which side you are on, and the civil war continues. The swearing allegiance to the Republic makes more sense, to its constitution and its current government. 

In Canada, the choice of a flag as symbol of identity for the country was a long time in coming. Only in 1965, the red Maple Leaf became the official, first flag of Canada. Until that day, we had a borrowed, British flag, the Ensign. A flag is not an important thing and officials do not swear allegiance to a flag when appointed in office. 

  • RACE

The specific mentioning of someone’s race is startling to me. As well, the classifications rattled me. The minister in his opening prayer mentioned Americans of “many races”. He needs a better education: there is only one human race in modern thinking. Historically, only five distinctions of race were made: African/negroid, Capoid/Hottentot & Bushmen, Caucasian/white, Mongoloid/Asian & Amerindian, Australian/Aborigine & Papuan. The preacher (and others) thoroughly confused me by classifying Kamala Harris as African and Asian, while her parents are immigrants from India and of independent Jamaica, and Kamala was born in the USA. Where did the “African” come in? Did they mean to say she is not white? Oh my God! 

To have to brag about somebody coming from a non-white minority, who made it into the big leagues is pretty sad to me. Maybe it gives hope to members of minorities, so needed in that still fundamentally racist society, but it IS clearly an indication of the state of play about race.

In Canada, discrimination on the basis of race is also an issue, but it seems we do talk about race a bit easier than our southern neighbours, and we have more representation from minorities in government. Our racist origin stems from the British imperialism, and our dominion’s genocide attempts with our First Nations, although we had no civil war about race. In modern times, we use the terms black, white, brown or Asian, and First Nations. I recently heard somebody use the term African-Canadian for the first time, and it sounded VERY odd. I was going to write that person for asking not to start copying the Americans. The only appropriate usage in my mind would be, if that person came straight from Africa, born in Africa, and then it would be better to use the country’s name, not the continent to indicate background. Please, do not hyphenate our citizens. 


For a young nation not even three centuries old with a reputation for innovation, and unbound by the traditions of old, like the European nations, it sounds very odd to me, that the majority of a nation would vote for an openly-Christian septuagenarian with traditional, neo-liberal beliefs to settle the unrest the previous POTUS caused. Only two choices are offered to the Americans: conservative or liberal: the Democratic Party or the Republican Party. It implies that the Republicans with their choice of name do not believe in democratic principles: you have to vote for the other party to find those. Which is of course, not true, or not wholly true. It is true, however, that the Republican choice for POTUS wanted to get rid of the constitution (about equal rights and democratic principles), and recruited white supremacist to his autocratic reign.

I am surprised there are no other parties, that Americans can only choose for one or the other (and that people kicked out of the party, still can sit as so-called independent). This bifurcation of society organically causes the divide into opposites. It demonstrates too, that diversity is not valued, different opinions not counted, and alternative views are not respected. 

During the past four years, American society became one humongous conflict of the white supremacists against diversity. Black Lives Matter came out of this. The overwhelmingly male white cabinet spurred female candidates for the next president. The binary way of thinking, set up by the two parties doesn’t appeal to many people. No wonder that so many Americans did not vote until this last election, when the insurrection of the white supremacists led by a president happened.

The quintessential difference with Canada is that our federal governments emphasize that diversity is the main characteristic of our nation and highly valued, and the belief that our multi-cultural society makes ours a richer nation, whether led by a conservative-led, or a more liberal-leaning cabinet. Several federal parties exist, and another new party arises occasionally, or several parties combine into one, in other words: a dynamic, organic, political discourse is taking place, and cabinets can be formed as coalitions, or supported by a non-governing party (BC Greens supported an NDP Government). Our federal leaders have addressed our genocidal history with our First Nations, and reconciliation goals are in progress.

Canadian citizens are pulled forward by public discourse to reject discriminatory views. Public positions contain many ethnic representatives: it is government policy. So far, the trend towards conservative governments in the prairie provinces—rich with non-renewable resources—demonstrated that those conservative provinces are not successful in establishing racist and white supremacy leaders by purging them in elections. 


Americans seem extremely self-conscious and have a sense of exceptionalism: they must be better than the rest, must be excellent if not perfect. Phrases I heard often: “The world is watching.” “We are better than that.” “This is not who we are.” “We have a great country.” “The best country in the world.”

Whaaat? Have they not seen the stats, the level of poverty, the income discrepancy between the top 1% and the rest, the discrepancy between white and brown and black people in terms of career, top ranks of the military, income and education, admission to elite schools, the lack of medical care and health, and the ability to pay rent, car and house insurance—what have you? It seems there is little awareness of the actual situation among its citizens. An American friend of mine thought that 17 million voted for Trump. Yeah, no: 70 million, dear.

The USA is only in the top ten of bad stats: level of environmental pollution for one, and the infection rate, death rate, and the spread of the COVID19 for another.

The inauguration seemed to offer a lot of things to be proud of and was a celebration of having kicked out the ogre, the previous POTUS. The sentiment I got from it was: now we are better, we survived, and we are a beautiful country. Hmmmmm. 

Humility didn’t seem to be in anybody’s vocabulary. 

In the self-help group of AA (the addiction treatment according to the Christian belief system), the first principle is: I admit I am powerless over X and my life has become unmanageable. To address the faults of the nation, the admission needs to come first, and its failures not glossed over. Time will tell how the nation will adjust to the realities it faces.

Canada is a middle-sized nation in terms of its global political influence, but the second-largest land area after Russia. Its drawbacks are a spare population and its northern climate, which makes much of it uninhabitable to many. We, as the mouse, watch the sleeping elephant America next to us with envy for its large population, its climate range, and its a rich tax base, its ability to provide for its citizens. When it moves, we risk getting crushed. We do our best to be liked, to be understood, but most of all, we try to get along, often to our own detriment. Your Canadian neighbour watches you, to be prepared for when you roll over, again.

Posted in Babyboomer, Blog Hop, Dealing with aging and dating, Diversity issues, elections, environment, Global immigration, Immigration, International politics, latest news items, Pubic Relations, religion, righteousness, The truth, Trump, Uncategorized, White male privilege, world issues | Leave a comment

BOOKS I READ IN 2020 AND LIKED, A Map of the World by Jane Hamilton


A Map of the World by Jane Hamilton


This book was not on my radar and came into my hands because it happened to be sitting on the bookshelves in my Mexican (pre-owned) home. It is my third book review of novels placed the American Midwest—the Trump base—which I read in an attempt to understand these people, whose ideology and way of thinking is so far removed from my own. 

Also in this story, a white family experiences their environment, with a predominantly white population, defensive and intolerant of anybody who falls outside of the norm. 

A Map of the World, published in 1994 by Doubleday first in hardcover, was written by Jane Hamilton, born in 1957. She was coming of age in the sixties with the sexual revolution and the liberal rise in the developed world. These global movements might not have reached midwestern America, or not have perpetrated it like in other parts of the world. The title reminds us that this small world described in the novel was the world for those who lived there in 1994, and was ALL of their world, apparently. This may still be true in 2021. The meaning I interpret to the title may not have been the intent of the author, who sees the map as a metaphor for the intricate world of the heart with many regions: love, betrayal, guilt, anger, grief, etc.

Jane Hamilton lives and writes in an orchard farmhouse in Wisconsin.  

The novel is a fictional story of a family living in the small, midwestern town of Prairie Center and is told in separate chapters from the point of view of Alice, and her husband, Howard. The Goodwins have two young daughters, Emma and Claire, and when the story begins, Howard’s mom, Nellie, is living with them to assist the family as Alice is recovering from an illness.

Howard was raised in Minneapolis in a neighbourhood full of Lutherans, and always had wanted to farm. Although college educated, he decided to put his dream of owning a farm into reality, with help of his mother’s savings. He bought the farm off an old local who couldn’t find anybody in his family to take over a dairy enterprise in a dying industry. 

Howard moved with a pregnant Alice to the farm with a barn-full of Golden Guernsey animals as the last agricultural independent, adjacent to the greyhound racetrack. They are considered outsiders, hobby farmers, hippies, and the community reacts with reticence or overly friendly, especially to their black friend, Lloyd, who helps them in the first months after arrival with fixing everything that needs fixing. 

The family becomes close friends with Theresa and Dan Collins and their two daughters of similar ages, Audrey and Lizzy, living in the nearby housing development. Alice works part-time as a nurse in the elementary school. She and Theresa exchange childcare duties of their preschool girls. All goes well, until Lizzy drowns in the waterhole on the farm when Alice is supposed to watch the four children. 

Affected by Lizzy’s death, and thrown into a depression, Alice isn’t herself. Then Robbie, a sickly and attention-demanding child in her care at the school, accuses her of sexual abuse, bolstered by his mother, Carol MacKessy.

This complaint and the parents’ vicious gossip causes more children to come forward, and Alice gets arrested. In the eyes of the community, she is already guilty. Her lawyer, Rafferty, is a character so far removed from her own sense of ethics that she is removing herself from the whole issue and denies anything will happen, as guilt keeps her awake in prison.

As Alice sits in jail, Howard gets support from Theresa, as Dan is away for work a lot, each dealing with their own issues of grief, loneliness, guilt, and betrayal.

This heartbreaking story deals with the issue of sexual abuse of children, and how institutions dealt with in in 1990s. The background of a small-town rural, white community is significant. 

I wonder how that would be dealt with in recent times. This is a region where many people currently refuse to wear masks or practice social distancing in a pandemic, so I fear the facts of science and a rational approach still may not have penetrated here yet.

I liked the book a lot and followed Alice and Howard’s trains of thought with interest and curiosity where the story would lead. The rural descriptions are marvellous and conjure up the landscape. Raised in a small, rural town, I can imagine their lives. I can recommend the novel—even if older—as the issues have not changed that much, and people are people with the range of emotions, anywhere.  

Posted in Author circles, book review, Children, Children and child protection, Creative fiction, Diversity issues, environment, growing your own veggies., Mental health, Parenting, Publishing, religion, righteousness, The truth, Trump, Uncategorized, victims, women's issues; torture of women, world issues | Leave a comment




HILLBILLY ELEGY BY J.D. VANCE, A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis, published in 2016, Harper Collins, Paperback edition 2018.

Like my previous review of The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers, I wrote this review with intention after I found out that some of my ancestors immigrated to the American Midwest in the migration wave of the late 1800s. My intention is to get to know more about the American Midwest, home of the fellow-white people I could least identify with. So yes, I have to admit that we are all related in this world in ways we can’t even imagine.

HILLBILLY ELEGY is a memoir of the author’s life with his family in the communities of Jackson in Kentucky and Middletown, Ohio. It perfectly described the American condition, a widespread illness in the USA: the neglect and oppression of the poor, whether they work or not, combined with pervasive racism. It gave rise to the political far-right and populism. 

If you also want to know more about these deeply religious people, who have become a force to be reckoned with in the GOP, read this memoir.

I also saw the movie version, which is in my opinion not a worthy representation of the book and mostly exposes the chaos and destruction of life under traumatizing conditions—a freak show. I am sure the family is more representative than the movie suggests.

The author, J.D. Vance managed to escape his class and his struggling family, after which he realized he owed them his loyalty—the reason for writing this book. Escaping his family at a young age, he first joined the Marines, which led to other jobs, and ultimately, to his entry into the fast lane and his success as a laywer and author. 

An elegy is typically a lament for the dead—his grandparents—and not for the class itself, as the American condition continues as before. When a third of American children go hungry to bed at night, it is clear: the condition persists, and children continue to carry the wounds of their childhood trauma into adulthood.

J. D. Vance meant wrote this book in awe of the struggles and the survival instructs of those at the bottom of society. The Southern and the Midwest states were the places immigrants from Europe were welcome as people who were already known for their proven ability to survive in the struggle for existence. When life in the New World turned out just as perilous as the Old Country they left behind, they hardened, their dreams lost. The expected agricultural successes of Kentucky, Virginia, and Tennessee didn’t pan out due to drought and the depression.

J.D.’s grandparents left the Apalachian region and Jackson, Kentucky, behind as a young couple, pregnant. Grandparents “Mamaw” and “Papaw” had their first child when she was 14 and he was 17. The child died 6 days later. They left in 1946 after the Second World War to Dayton, and moved on to Middletown, Ohio, where they settled and raised their family of eight, hoping to hire on in the industrial Midwest. Many miscarriages later, the author’s mother was born. Some of her siblings moved on to Indiana. 

J.D.’s mother trained as a nurse, but struggled with addiction, and eventually lost her job. J.D.’s father moved away and gave him readily up for adoption by the second husband—the child’s first shock in Kindergarten, when his mother cruelly told him his dad didn’t care for him. His stepdad adopted him when he was six years old. His mother divorced and remarried several times. Eventually, when his mother wanted him to deliver a clean urine sample for his mother’s rehab check-up, “Mamaw” took J.D., rescued him from his mother, and raised him. They lived separated from “Papaw”, although he remained involved with his wife and the grandchild. 

The events in the life of the family lead to a range of bad and good experiences for J.D., who wrestled to get from underneath the burden of the “traditional” upbringing, the poverty, and the lack of options for members of his class. His story is a spellbinding testimony of how the lives of the working poor are undermined in all aspects of their lives, and practically predestined the members to stay there. 

If it wasn’t for his “Papaw” who had a job in factory, he would have gone hungry more often, while “Mamaw” with her unsentimental roughness actually encouraged him to reach for more in life. The lessons J.D. took away from his grandparents were: loyalty, honour, and toughness, with a fistfight not forbidden, but only to defend oneself. J.D. credits his grandparents for creating his resiliency and the space to become who he is.

This book is a work of non-fiction, a memoir. These are harder to read, I find, but the manner in which Vance wrote it kept my attention. My only criticism is that his analysis is not sharp enough in the condemnation of the political structures that keep the American condition in place. They have strived for the status quo in favour of the business world and the rich, in which the rich get richer, and the poor still poorer. He actually confessed his membership of the Republican belief system, which boggles my mind, seeing that the American Republicans have denied the most rudimentary support to the working poor.

Posted in adolescents, book review, Children, Children and child protection, Diversity issues, drug use., Immigration, International politics, memoir writing, Parenting, religion, righteousness, Trump, Uncategorized, women's issues; torture of women | 3 Comments



CARSON MCCULLERS – THE HEART IS A LONELY HUNTER, First Mariner Books edition 2000, first published in 1940.

Carson McCullers of Columbus, Georgia, was only 23 at the time of writing this novel and it is indeed astonishing how wise and insightful she already was at that age as a writer, or as a person.

This book was not on my radar at all, but it happened to be sitting on the bookshelves in my Mexican (pre-owned) home. I was mildly interested when I read the backflap’s description. Since I found out in the past year that some of my grandmother’s Polish-German ancestors immigrated to the USA and settled in southern and mid-west parts of that nation, I have understood that it would be nonsense not to realise we are all related in some ways with everybody.  So instead of avoiding the kind of people that in my prejudice I see as redneck and unrelatable, I set out to try to understand them on a more personal level than just as an interesting exercise of reading about them. 

I read this book with that intention. 

The strange coincidence is that I read two other books in the last month in succession from that shelf:  books others brought into my home and put on my shelf, all three about similar kinds of Americans. All though life, I am learning the lessons that I should learn, which amounts to dropping my judgments, and becoming more open and forgiving to all kinds of people after I see where they might be coming from.

For some context of the world of the author: the Second World War was in progress In 1940, although the USA was not yet involved. The theme of war rings true throughout the story, but plays in the background. 

The overall themes in my view are the class differences and the racism that permeates all of American society. These two issues colour everything, the nature of the poverty and the struggles of the main characters, and their relationships.

It is amazing to read a book that is already 80 years old and see that those things have not changed much over time. 

Now that the USA has thrust itself in everybody’s face since the election of a reactive, racist, and unpredictable if not autocratic president, it is good to be aware what makes that nation’s population tick. The novel if nothing else shows the reader that poverty, discrimination, and insecurity and exploitation of the working classes has been a long-standing issue. The characters in this novel are heartbreakingly vulnerable, pitiful, and sympathetic.

In the setting of a small  Southern-American town, there is the young girl Mick Kelly who is self-relying, tough, and mature before her age, observing the world around her, as she manages her younger sibs, growing up more or less without parents, although they are around and run the boarding house with a number of the characters of the book as boarders. Mick is in search of beauty in her life and invents an inside world full of it.

Doctor Copeland, a black doctor, tries to save his people and is so full of anger of their plight, and about his own children’s failures and their alienation after his divorce that his good intentions fall flat. As his children speak the black patois, he is maintaining his dignity in speaking properly. In spite of his dignity and his profession, whites demean and abuse him, including the justice system.

There is the bar owner, Biff Brannon, who suppresses an illegal attraction to the child Mick, and has to manage the flock of strange characters as he runs his establishment. He has bought into Hitler’s propaganda that Jews are a race and thinks he is one-eight Jew with a great-grandfather who was a Dutch Jew. The rest of them was Scotch-Irish.

One of the daily customers is a non-verbal, gay man who has his mentally ill partner committed. Afterwards, he moves ito the Kelly’s boarding house, who become the sounding board for everybody and their secrets, but never talks back and thus is conceived as a very wise man, possibly with supernatural powers.

Jake Blount, a lost soul who drowns his fears and anger in alcohol, and finds a marginal job at the moveable fair rides. He gloms on to people but also hates them, a man who is mentally ill and hanging on by a nail to prevent from plunging into disappearance.

There are very few actual plot points perse but the whole menagerie moves along in changing perspectives from the POV each character, and things develop to a logical end, disasters included. This is a slow-paced novel and if you crave action, you might not enjoy this novel. Character-driven, the literati liked this novel, as expected. 

It grabbed me. The 360 pages of this pocketbook version are well written and disappeared quickly as I took the time to read and relax, with not much else to do in this time of isolation and solitude. Well worth the read.

Posted in adolescents, Agents, alcohol abuse, book review, Children, Children and child protection, Creative fiction, Diversity issues, Hitler, Immigration, International politics, Mental health, righteousness, Uncategorized, women's issues; torture of women, world issues | 2 Comments


This story starts with Friedrich and Johanna, the earliest known ancestors on my mother’s side, and follows their daughter, Auguste Münzke, my grandmother. I didn’t know any other truth than that my grandmother’s family was German. We can trace the family of Friedrich Münzke back to Pollnow, in Pomerania, not far from the northern coast of the continent on the Baltic Sea, where Friedrich was born in 1850. The area had been a province of Sweden previously, but Pollnow had become part of the Prussian province of Pomerania from 1815 on, and during a period of the story, until the end of World War 2.

Marienburg, Stronghold of the Teutonic Knights

The Prussians were a northern people on the Baltic sea, related to the Lithuanians and Latvians. “Old Prussia” was later conquered by the Teutonic Knights with approval of the pope in the seventh century AD, and then slowly Germanised as part of the Holy Roman Empire during its one-thousand-year rule over a vast area, until 1806. The later Kingdom of Prussia dominated the northern German lands politically, economically, and by spreading its German population, also physically. The Prussian identity formed the core of the unified North German Confederation, formed in 1867. 

Before I became a member of Ancestry and started to investigate my ancestry, I assumed that my ancestry was German on my maternal grandmother’s side. My Oma’s father, Friedrich, went to Osterode in Germany, Niedersachsen, as an adult, settled there as a shoemaker, and married a servant girl, Johanna. Immediately, their children arrived. Auguste, my grandmother was born and raised as their third child, with four other surviving siblings, and two others who died in childbirth. 

The family lore places the family origins in the Posen/Poznan area, with the persistent rumour that there may be a history of some of my ancestors adhering to the Jewish religion. Two years before Friedrich’s birth, Posen had also come under Prussian control. Posen was located to the south of Pollnow, in Prussian Schlesien (Silesia), but what is now Poland, just like Pollnow in Kreis Schlawe, Friedrich’s place of birth.

Although my grandmother’s side identified as German, the name Münzke is an uncommon one in Germany. Its ending -ke may indicate a diminutive in Low German, while in High German the ending would be -chen. The name Manzke is more prevalent. A more common last name in eastern Europe was Minsky, a Polish/Slavic-sounding name with its ending of -sky, or -ski, commonly known as an indication of geography: here that would mean, from Minsk, in what is now Belarussian territory.

I suspect Friedrich, or likely an earlier ancestor, had changed the Minsky family name to sound more German, a thing that was quite reasonable, as the Prussian occupiers of the formerly-Polish lands instated and implemented many anti-Polish laws in Pomerania at that time.

The name Minsky is associated with Jewish socialists from Belarus. The city of Posen was in history a desired place for Jewish with a high percentage of Jews in the population at one time, before the crackdown of the Prussians on the Jewish and the Polish.

To get a bigger picture of that time I started to trace back the movements of ethnic groups within Poland, where Pomerania used to be located, and after World War II again. It was likely that my ancestors came originally from Belarus (Byelorussia), and may have migrated to the area to the west of Belarus shortly after its Russian annexation (1793), the Pomeranian coast on the Baltic Sea. Or they may have been on their way to the Atlantic coast, or France, hoping to buy a ticket across the ocean to the New World, as so many other Jews had done to escape the pogroms. 

Pomerania and its Kreisen/counties

If my ancestors were Jewish like 50% of the population of Belarus were at one time, they might have been descendants from the older and significantly smaller of the groups of Jews who entered the territory (which would later become the Grand Duchy of Lithuania) from the east. These early immigrants spoke Judeo-Slavic languages which distinguished them from the later Jewish immigrants, who entered the region from the Germanic lands. The later and much larger stream of immigration originated in the 12th century and received an impetus from the persecution of the German Jews by the Crusaders

I went looking for my possibly Jewish ancestor who was the father or grandfather of Friedrich Minsky/Münzke. Before I found him in the documentation of births, marriages and death of the area of Pollnow, Pomerania, my imagination had him, or his father, establish a thriving shoemaking business in Minsk, with five apprentices in various stages of skill development. I imagined he or his father had scrimped and saved and managed to leave Minsk with his savings before the Russians could get hold of it by confiscating all Jewish property. He went to Posen (Poznan), where my grandmother had indicated the family was originally from, which was under Prussian control—tough on Jews, but not as brutal as the Russians, back then. 


In Belarus, the Jewish population had a large presence in history. (Wikipedia) The population of cities such as MinskPinskMahiliouBabrujskViciebsk, and Homiel was more than 50% Jewish. The older and significantly smaller of the groups of Jews entered the territory from the east that would later become the Grand Duchy of Lithuania . These early immigrants spoke Judeo-Slavic dialects which distinguished them from the later Jewish immigrants who entered the region from the Germanic lands. While the origin of these eastern Jews is not certain, historical evidence places Ashkenazi Jewish refugees from Babylonia, Palestine, the Byzantine Empire and other Jewish refugees and settlers in these lands (between the Baltic and Black Seas, northeast of the German lands and Poland) that would become part of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. The later and much larger stream of immigration originated in the 12th century and received an impetus from the persecution of the German Jews by the Crusaders


The traditional language of the vast majority of Lithuanian and Polish Jews, Yiddish, is based largely upon the Medieval German and Hebrew spoken by the western Germanic Jewish immigrants. The process of assigning permanent surnames to Jewish families (most of which are still used to this day) began in Austria, when the Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II on 23 July 1787 issued a decree called The Patent on the Jewish names, which compelled the Jews to adopt German surnames. Until then, the Jews were easily identified by non-Jews by their names and their specific way of life. If my mother’s family was Minsky (from Minsk), it was almost certain that they were forced to change their name, possibly to Münzke. 

As the Crusaders attacked Jews, making life in the German territories difficult, German Jews moved east. If my ancestors came with the largest group of Jews from Germany, and at some point moved away to escape the restrictions put on them, they would have increased their options for making a living with the name Münzke. 

Either way, from reading the history of the Jews who self-identified by their religious, Judeo practices, they remained separate from the general population, and generally didn’t marry much outside of their religion. It was how they came to be seen as an ethnic group as well. 

If they had wanted to disappear in the crowd, so to speak, they were prevented from that in 1566, when the nobles of Belarus and Lithuania were first allowed to take part in the national legislation, but proposed a statute to limit Jews in wat they could wear, making them clearly stand out by characteristic clothes, such as yellow caps, and their wives by kerchiefs of yellow linen, to distinguish Jews from Christians.

If I assume the most likely scenario that the Münzke/Minsky family originally came from the eastern parts of Europe, Belarus—where Minsk is located—as part of the first wave of Jewish settlers in the area, they adopted a different mode of life from those Jews who followed later: their western ethnic brethren from Germany. The Belarus Jews had no protection or representation for their settlement leaders, but they learned from the new wave of refugees from the west—the Polish Jews on the run from the crusaders. So with help from the newcomers, the Belarus/Lithuanian Jews learned to organize, and they were able to negotiate considerable privileges as a group from the occupying powers. The area’s Lithuanian governor assigned a judge especially to cases involving a conflict with Jews.

While farmers in the general population were indebted as serfs to the masters/noblemen, the Jews could start their own trades, now as a recognized class of freemen. Under these equitable laws the Jews of Belarus and Lithuania reached a degree of prosperity unknown to their Polish and German co-religionists at that time, until 1495, when their fate turned.

King Alexander of Lithuania owed his Jewish creditors a lot of money. He ordered all Jews out of the country, from 1495 to 1503, when he withdrew the order again, due to the flight of money out of the country. It is known from the Hebrew sources that by far the greater number of exiles settled in Poland, where, by permission of King John Albert, they established themselves in the towns situated near the boundary of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. The causes of the unexpected expulsion were probably many, including religious reasons, the need to fill a depleted treasury by confiscating the Jews’ money, personal animosity, and other causes. In 1569 Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania were united under a change of government.  Soon after Alexander’s accession to the throne of Poland, he permitted the Jewish exiles to return to Lithuania in 1503.

The peace between the returning Jews and other civilians didn’t last. Their relations became strained, and the enmity of the Christians began to disturb the life of the Litvak Jews. The anti-Jewish feeling, was due, at least at first, to economic causes, a result of commercial envy. The Jews were exempted from military service, and the inability to control Jewish businesses raised the hate of the population against the Jews. Then the Roman Catholic clergy stoked the fire of hate and engaged in a crusade against “heretics,” notably the LutheransCalvinists, and Jews. The Reformation movement of the protestant leaders against the exploitation by the Roman Catholic pope and the priests had spread from Germany, weakening the Lithuanian/Belarus population’s allegiance to the Roman Catholic Church, and thus also, the position of the clergy.

When the war broke out against Polish domination and against the Commonwealth forces in the neighboring Poland, it also destroyed the organization of the Jewish communities in Belarus. The East Slavic ethic subgroup in 1648 allied with the Crimean Tatars and local Ukrainian peasantry to fight a rebellion against the Polish. The East Slavic Cossacks committed atrocities against the civilian population, especially against the Roman Catholic clergy and the Jews[4].

As well, Poland waged war against Russia and Sweden (Russo-Polish War (1654–1667)) and Second Northern War (1655–1660) respectively) ended the Polish Golden Age and caused a secular decline of Polish power during the period known in Polish history as the Deluge.

The many wars, which raged constantly in the greater Lithuanian territory, brought ruin to the entire country of Belarus to the south, and deprived the Jews of the opportunity to earn more than a bare livelihood. The impoverished Jewish merchants, having no capital of their own, and by their religion only “debt-farmers”, were compelled to borrow money from the nobility, from churches, congregations, monasteries, and various religious orders. Loans from the latter were usually given for an unlimited period and were secured by mortgages on the real estate of the Jewish settlement organization, the kahal, which thus became hopelessly indebted to the clergy and the nobility.

In 1792 the Jewish population of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania was estimated at 250,000 (as compared with 120,000 in 1569). The whole of the commerce and industries of the country, now rapidly declining, was in the hands of the Jews, who were in turn indebted to the clergy and the nobility.

The nobility lived for the most part on their estates and farms, some of which were managed by Jewish leaseholders. The city properties were concentrated in the possession of monasteries, churches, and the lesser nobility. The Christian merchants were poor. Such was the condition of affairs in Belarus at the time of the second partition of Poland (1793), when the Jews became subjects of Russia.

Upon annexation of Belarusian lands, Russian czars included the territory into the so-called Pale of Settlement, a western border region of Imperial Russia in which the permanent residence of Jews was allowed. Though comprising only 20% of the territory of European Russia, the Pale corresponded to the historical borders of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and included much of present-day BelarusRepublic of LithuaniaPolandMoldovaUkraine, and parts of western Russia.

By 1800, many Jews had seen the writing on the wall and tried to escape the European continent, and many Belarusian Jews were part of the general flight of Jews from Eastern Europe to the New World. The pogroms were in full force engulfing the Russian Empire and the anti-Semitism of the Russian czars. Millions of Jews, including tens of thousands of Jews from Belarus, emigrated to the United States of America and South Africa. A small number also emigrated to the British Mandate of Palestine.  

In 1815, peace was achieved in the gathering of the warring parties, the so-called Congress of Vienna and it solidified the long-term division of Poland among Russia, Prussia, and the Habsburg Empire, in which the Austrian Empire annexed territories in the South, and Prussia took control over the semi-autonomous Grand Duchy of Poznań in the West, while Russia assumed hegemony over the semi-autonomous so-called Congress Kingdom including Warsaw. That was pretty much the end of Poland for a while.


Back to my family.

By 1815, the family of Ferdinand must have left Minsk, if they had been there at all, to escape Belarus and the crackdown on the Jews, and gone to Posen (Poznan), now under Prussian control. We know that Friedrich’s father Ferdinand showed up in Pollnow, Pomerania, which had also come under Prussian rule that year. In Pollnow, Ferdinand might have re-established his business. 

That was too good to be through. I found a document of Ferdinand Munzke (spelled without Umlaut) as a land labourer on a property of the aristocracy in Drawehn, close to Pollnow, Kreis Schlawe, where he was found dead, frozen on the field in mid-December of 1866. He left the mother of five children behind.

The area of Hinterpommern or Farther Pomerania, to the east of the Oder and Neisse Rivers and east the city of Stettin, was the site of many estates of the nobility, in fact 700 grand Houses were in that area alone, and they demanded many servants for their operation. The lord of the House had almost unlimited power over their servants, and many more labourors were needed to work on the vast fields of this agricultural backwoods. That was the fate of my great-grandfather, Ferdinand, a so-called Tagelöhner, a day labourer paid only when he worked but with a contract for attachment to this particular master/land baron.

Living in Pomerania didn’t mean peace for the Münzke/Minsky family. The first uprising of the Polish population against the Prussian ruler started in Posen to the south in 1846 and spread north, and it failed, but was followed by a second rebellion in 1848, just two years before the birth of Friedrich. 

King Frederic William (Friedrich Wilhelm) IV of Prussia initially promised a certain measure of independence. While the local Posen (Poznań) Parliament voted 26 to 17 votes against joining the German Confederation on 3 April 1848, the Central Prussian parliament in Frankfurt ignored the vote, and changed Poznan’s (Posen) status to a common Prussian province. 

Prussia now demanded Polish integration in the German Confederation. The Polish revolt was defeated with a Prussian army standing by. All of the Polish territory came hereby under Prussian control. The Prussians were outstanding organizers and invented the standing army and conscription for the lowly workers, including the labourers on the land.

Were Friedrich’s forefather in any way involved in politics? If he was indeed part of the Minsky family, his ancestors from Minsk may have had rebellious or socialist tendencies. A Minsky was involved with a rebellion in Belarus, and escaped in the early 1900s to Poland.

Years later, with all of Poland’s territory firmly in the hands of the Prussians, my Friedrich Christian Münzke was listed as a member of the Shoemakers Guild in Osterode am Harz, in the state of Niedersachsen. Friedrich obviously had moved away from Pomerania, the land of cheap slave labour, where the barons and dukes could get rich off the backs of their Tagelöhners—day labourers. I sometimes think the more everything changes, the more things stay the same, thinking of how the USA is currently operating.

The minister and later Chancellor of the German Empire, Otto von Bismarck, owned vast estates in Pomerania and acquired even more of them during his time in office. He was one of the enemies of Slavic workers and instated many anti-Polish and anti-Slavic measures. He extended his anti-Polish measures throughout all of the Germanic Empire. The Polish had been tagged as revolutionaries and rebels. Hitler followed in Bismarck’s footsteps, and included the Jews in his prejudices as easy targets for sowing hate among the Germans.

Friedrich’s parents were Ferdinand Münzke/Minsky and Philippine Rosin, a spelling that could also be Rosen, also a well-known name of Jewish people all over Europe.


For many centuries, the Jews in western Europe did not get permission to join vocational and professional guilds. In the area of my family’s origins, now in present-day Poland, the Prussians were now in charge of the city where Friedrich was born, Pollnow in Schlawe. That name is German for Slavic: enough said!

The central Prussian government discriminated against the ethnic Polish/Slavs, especially targeting the areas under Prussian-German occupation in eastern, Polish-speaking areas of Das Reich. In exchange for giving up their Jewish and Slavic names and Germanizing it, they got status as residents and became acknowledged as citizens. 

All through history, the Polish-speaking ethnic identification stayed strong in the Eastern provinces, in spite of the German landgrabs of earlier wars, and its subsequent discriminatory laws.

In 1850, the year Friedrich was born, Pomerania was part of the greater German Empire under Prussian dominance. As my grandmother claimed to be German and identified strongly with the Prussians/Germans, and in fact, even with the Nazis and Hitler, a few decades later, I was surprised to find out her family just as likely could have been Jewish-Belarusian and very likely were part Slavic.

I wondered why she had been so desperate to be part of the winners’ circle, and this question led to started by development of my next novel. It is finished now and under edit, with the working title The Imposter.

Posted in Author circles, Diversity issues, Germans, Global immigration, Hitler, International politics, religion, The truth, travel, Uncategorized, war and resistance, world issues | Leave a comment



Thanksgiving is a big deal in North America. We up here in Canada celebrate it this weekend, roughly a month earlier than in the United States, while in Germany and The Netherlands that was on November 4. Everything is different this year, mostly due to COVID19, but also the elections next door to us have an effect, raising tensions in the public and also many private lives of Canadians. 

My retreat from social activities, the minimizing of interactions with those not in my immediate social circle these last eight months, made me more reflective of my life. I chose my trips and my events carefully. In spite of that self-censure, I have not accepted my imprisonment this winter in my small condo, and have proceeded with my plans to ensure a long-term visa for Mexico. I booked my flights to Mexico. In mid-November, I will land, shortly after the American presidential elections, with my elderly gatita: two sensitive beings that like the warmth of a moderate subtropical climate.

But first: the paperwork. My visit to the Mexica consulate in Vancouver was postponed due to the COVID 19 closures in late March, and rescheduled formats week. I considered the safety of my plans, as the economy slowly opened up and flying was allowed nationally (although not recommended for non-essential traffic). I considered my escape to Mexico essential. Last week in Vancouver, the airport and the Transit rail were lightly populated, as the photos show.

My test trip in August to visit friends on Vancouver Island turned out to be positive. I was pleased with the safety measures on the airplanes and airports, and the disinfection of the shared spaces. Everybody wore masks and nobody wandered around the plane, thank god. I would encourage to make this a permanent measure! Everyone on the flight was quiet and not all seats were filled. Lovely. Now if Air Canada could designate only certain flights for parents with small kids, I would be in heaven.

This week, Vancouver was eerily empty without tourists. My appointment with the consulate was very quick: I was turned away, not having the correct paperwork. My tax returns and pension statements didn’t do the trick. The requirement for becoming a resident is to submit paperwork that proves I have enough income to live on. Mexico want to avoid a foreigner becoming a burden to the Mexican state, understandably. 

I guess the Mexican government knows already that the only way to see what my income is, will be to actually see my pension deposited into my bank account, so the consulate wants to see my bank statements—never mind the tax returns I submitted. They are smart. 

In Canada (and the USA), the tax returns of a person do not prove dick-all, and can be manipulated, via imaginary losses, i.e. Mr. Trump and his tax evasion, off-shore hidden companies, the laundering of much criminally obtained money in BC through the casinos, and, possibly through the real estate. So the consulate’s clerk booked a second appointment for me a week before my departure.

I was in Vancouver at 7:30 a.m. and downtown around 8 a.m. The trip from the airport to downtown West Hastings with public transit was easy, just as easy as from the Schiphol airport to Amsterdam, and as in Toronto. The Transit line is fully automatic and buying a ticket for 2 zones relatively cheap. 

What will await me in my host village in Mexico? COVID19 restrictions also hit there. Fiestas have been canceled, and that is a deep and hard loss in this community were the Mexican traditions were in full bloom. 

The Easter passion play is cancelled, children will not go door to door for the advent’s and Christmas celebrations, no processions take place, no nine days of celebrations for the town’s protector, Saint Andreas, no week of processions and celebration and no decorations for the Virgin of Guadalupe.

Downtown Vancouver in the fall. Fog makes for an eerie atmosphere.

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It will be very quiet this winter. I do hope bands will still practice and occasionally play. The traditions and the village’s communal life are the source of joy, and enhance the community bonds, besides offering opportunities to get out of the house and make new friends. Also here, it will be a weird and difficult year. 

I will find a stocked fridge and my house will be clean. I am so fortunate to have the choice to change my scenery and instead of surviving a cold and dark winter, can stay isolated in my bright and roomy home in a warmer climate. Just in time, the gringo organization is opening its doors for certain activities, such as the library. Air transit companies have resumed the direct flights for snowbird, offering free flight cancellation, in case you change your mind. 

In November, four and a half hours after departure, I will have changed a frigid for a warm clime. 

I am thankful for staying healthy, for having been able to meet with friends, and I saw my daughter from Quebec twice this year. I am delighted to have my writing, which prevents me from going stir-crazy.  Having my health let me go for walks in my beautiful environment. None of my loved ones died from the virus. Hopefully, I will see my daughter again with Christmas. I will bring my little cate with me; she’s a good traveller.

The experience of restrictions of these last months has made me more appreciative of what I do have, that we collectively are able to live in safety with our stable, boring government. Thanks to their collaboration we have the health care institutions we need. The boundaries for social restrictions our federal and provincial representatives—whom WE elected—have established for us, provided the safety we experience. 

That is not to say we have no problems In Canada. Unfortunately, our old lifestyle was the cause of unemployment of the many service staff, left without an income. They need financial and retraining support. Minorities and our Indigenous are suffering inequality, and the elderly need better care homes. We could do better at lessening our consumption of everything, and recycle, take better care of our world, and divert from non-renewable resources. But living next door to a vast country in turmoil with many millions of residents who do not have that safety or that stability, made us aware that we haven’t got it bad in Canada.

The end of mindless living is over, thanks to COVID19. 

With the selective trips and fewer trips to the store, we reflected on what we eat and how much. Many more people started canning this year, and so did I and found out canning jars are at a premium, not on the store shelves anymore. Many more people started gardens and grew vegetables. Baking bread at home was revived. Many more were able to save some money and pay some debts. All good things in my view.

Let’s hope this is a long-term change. When the prevention for COVID19 has been found, let’s not run out to exchange our more interior, attentive life for our old ways. Let’s leave the over-consumption of goods and foods behind for good

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