Guest post: Malve von Hassell, The Amber Crane

Chafing at the rules of the amber guild, Peter, an apprentice during the waning years of the Thirty Years’ War, finds and keeps a forbidden piece of amber, despite the risk of severe penalties should his secret be discovered.

Little does he know that this amber has hidden powers, transporting him into a future far beyond anything he could imagine. In dreamlike encounters, Peter witnesses the ravages of the final months of World War II in and around his home. He becomes embroiled in the troubles faced by Lioba, a girl he meets who seeks to escape from the oncoming Russian army.

Peter struggles with the consequences of his actions, endangering his family, his amber master’s reputation, and his own future. How much is Peter prepared to sacrifice to right his wrongs?

(Trigger Warnings: References to rape, Holocaust, World War II, violence)

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Inspiration for THE AMBER CRANE

When I began to work on THE AMBER CRANE, it took me into an area I had not had the courage to deal with before. In my other historical fiction books, my inspirations came from historical figures and eras I found fascinating; however, they were not of immediate personal relevance. This book is personal on several levels.

My parents were Germans, and I spent part of my childhood in Germany. Born in 1957, I grew up with vivid stories about World War II, and the physical and emotional scars of the Nazi era and the war were much in evidence in my travels throughout the country and in the experiences related to me by my parents. However, the notion of incorporating any of this into my writing appalled me.

Meanwhile, in the course of researching for another book, I came across references to amber and the amber trade in Pomerania and East Prussia, where amber was known as “Baltic gold” and also dubbed “tears of the Gods.” These references reminded me of the many legends I had read as a child about this remarkable gemstone, full of mystery and power, and awakened the desire to incorporate this into a book of fiction. Amber is inextricably linked to the history of the Baltic, having occupied center stage in trade and politics over centuries.

Thus, the time-slip historical fiction book about Peter, a 17th century amber guild apprentice, was inspired by three central themes. One is amber and the role it played in the lives of people living in Pomerania and other regions along the Baltic Sea. The second theme emerged from all the stories my mother used to tell me about her childhood home in Pomerania, close to the Baltic Sea. These stories were enormously compelling. They conveyed an entire way of life, perhaps doubly enchanting due to the fact that this had all vanished in the blink of an eye in 1945. This brings me to the third theme, the history of the evacuation from Pomerania and East Prussia in the last months of World War II. I know this history both through reading about it and through the personal experiences of my mother and other relatives on my mother’s side of the family. In sheer numbers, this history is astounding. As many as fourteen million people from regions in Eastern Europe that had been a part of Germany or had been conquered and subjugated by the Nazis were forced to leave their homes and head to the West. This includes over two million from Pomerania alone. The individual stories of these precipitous flights and evacuations are remarkable and deserve to be told.

About Malve von Hassell

Malve von Hassell is a freelance writer, researcher, and translator. She holds a Ph.D. in anthropology from the New School for Social Research. Working as an independent scholar, she published The Struggle for Eden: Community Gardens in New York City (Bergin & Garvey 2002) and Homesteading in New York City 1978-1993: The Divided Heart of Loisaida (Bergin & Garvey 1996). She has also edited her grandfather Ulrich von Hassell’s memoirs written in prison in 1944, Der Kreis schließt sich – Aufzeichnungen aus der Haft 1944 (Propylaen Verlag 1994). She has taught at Queens College, Baruch College, Pace University, and Suffolk County Community College, while continuing her work as a translator and writer. She has self-published two children’s picture books, Letters from the Tooth Fairy (2012/2020) and Turtle Crossing (2021), and her translation and annotation of a German children’s classic by Tamara Ramsay, Rennefarre: Dott’s Wonderful Travels and Adventures (Two Harbors Press, 2012). The Falconer’s Apprentice (namelos, 2015) was her first historical fiction novel for young adults. She has published Alina: A Song for the Telling (BHC Press, 2020), set in Jerusalem in the time of the crusades, and The Amber Crane (Odyssey Books, 2021), set in Germany in 1645 and 1945. She has completed a biographical work about a woman coming of age in Nazi Germany and is working on a historical fiction trilogy featuring Adela of Normandy.

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