Writing the transgression was a catharsis

Interview with the author of Ben Stoltzfus

Transgression follows a young boy and his parents as they escape the Nazis during World War II and face danger as they make their way to America. Why was it important for you to write this book?

I was the last American child to leave Bulgaria in 1942 after the Nazi occupation of the Balkans. It seemed important to document that fact, as well as the lives of Americans at ACS, the American College in Sofia.

The novel consists of four parts: Sofia, Istanbul, the Middle East and America.

Writing Transgression it was a catharsis. I wanted to show readers how to erase dox,that is, prefabricated values ​​and beliefs transmitted by family, school and church, especially when the doxa interferes with the maturation and well-being of an adolescent.

Transgression is part of a trilogy: the eye of the needle (Viking Books, 1967) and valley of roses (Trafford Publishing, 2003) are set in Bulgaria during World War II. They narrate similar themes. like virginia laolf Waves, film montage in the eye of the needle frames the world through a person’s mind’s eye.

What scene in the book was the most emotionally impactful for you to write?

There was four scenes: a. Archangel leading the child’s soul on a wild journey through the Himalayas, floating it on the Ganges River to and over the Indian Ocean, up the Nile, west through the Mediterranean Sea and south through the Sahara Desert past Ouagadougou to the jungle in central Africa. He wanted to communicate the “emotional damage” that Archangel and Satan were inflicting on the boy.

b. The love scene of the narrator and Mireille after the reading of Baudelaire Flowers of

Evil; especially the poem “To whom is too cheerful”. There are two parts to love.

scene: one scene describes what happened and the other describes what the child

imagined it would happen; both scenes were written with words. it was one more real

than the other, and if so, which one?

c. The night after the baptismal scene, when the boy walks along the shore of the Sea of ​​Galilee, he looks at the stars in the sky, locates Orion the hunter, who also walked on the waters, listens to the lapping of the waves and feels a unity with the creation.

d. The Eureka moment when the narrator realizes that he is not going to hell because his soul is all around him, going everywhere and nowhere.

What were some themes that were important for you to explore in this book?

My answers above explore and explain four themes that were important to me. A fifth theme was structural foreshadowing: Describing the wind in the trees outside of Sofia, the snapping of palm leaves in Beirut, and the wind in the trees on the farm in Germany Hill, New York; these and others like them are part of the child’s experience. Throughout the novel I wanted events and images that echo each other, from beginning to end.

flowers are also an important presaging theme, based on the narrator’s botanical collection and the language of flowers as metaphors for Mirka’s seduction. Then Baudelaire Flowers of evil play an important role in the boy’s relationship with Mireille; they echo Mirka’s earlier seduction.

Fear is a theme: fear of internment by the Germans, fear of going to hell, fear of a submarine attack in the Mediterranean Sea by a German submarine, and fear of the battleship Tirpitz attacking the fifty-ship convoy crossing the Ocean Atlantic. The Bermuda Triangle works like a deceptive fear.

books and writing They are important issues. From the first part of Transgression to the end, novels, plays and poetry by American, British, French, German, Greek and Russian authors help the child navigate through mazes of dox. The Bible is invoked frequently.

nightingales are another matter: the birds sing in the forest outside the boy’s house in Bulgaria; they sing all night during their parents’ honeymoon in Shiraz, Iran; they trill in the foothills of Mount Sannine north of Beirut; and the narrator writes a paper for his English teacher entitled Nightingales in literature. He even builds a birdhouse, hoping to attract a nightingale.

oriental rugs and the symbolic colors in their patterns are another matter. They appear in Istanbul, Aleppo, Beirut, and at a friend’s house by the Sea of ​​Galilee. A lots of presaging images and metaphors are woven into the plot and fabric of the writing process. They are the figure on the carpet, the golden thread.

Music is a theme, starting with lily marlene, a nostalgic song for the girl left behind. It was popular with German and Allied soldiers who sang it in German and English; also, the very popular and ubiquitous “sleep” songs like Dream, I dream of you, buy the dream, Y My dreams are all getting better time-Big Band songs that were heard in Europe, the Middle East and America.

Capturing the sounds and colors of an open-air food market in Istanbul was a challenge. I tried to use the connotations of words and the rhythms of language to capture the aural and visual impact of vendors peddling their food in high, melodious voices.

Another challenge was to describe the song of a nightingale: its joyous trill and trill in Sofia and Beirut that wake up the child in the middle of the night.

all kinds of sounds echo Each other. Also the colors.

stars, particularly Orion, play an important role. You see them in the night sky over the Sea of ​​Galilee, over the pyramids of Giza, and in many other places.

Hitler Y war They are constant themes. Transgression it begins with Hitler’s invasion of Poland in 1939 and ends with the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki; the fight scenes in Europe and North Africa are objective correlates of the boy’s private battles with Archangel and Satan. Descriptions of the 1916 Turkish genocide of Armenians predate Hitler’s death camps, where Jews, Roma and other “undesirables” were killed.

Uses of Flaubert presaging images that anticipate the future in mrs bovary and also Hemingway in Farewell to arms.

What is the next book you are working on and when will it be available?

I am working on a book called Low: The Puma Drinks the New Moon. It’s a collaborative venture with Judith Palmer, my artist wife. Pen and ink drawings of her and photogravures of her accompany my 70 haiku and illustrate our travels over the years, up and down the Baja California peninsula. They embellish the topography, flora and fauna of the region. The book will likely come out sometime in 2023.

Author Links: Amazon | good reads

A fourteen-year-old American boy and his parents escape from the Nazi-occupied Balkans during World War II. They travel from Bulgaria through Turkey and the Middle East to America, but danger follows them in the Mediterranean and the Atlantic when their ship is attacked by a German submarine and threatened by the battleship. Tirpitz.

With compelling prose, Stoltzfus brings each character to life: Mirka, a gypsy, the family maid who seduces the boy, Mireille, a precocious French girl who introduces him to Sade. Philosophy in the boudoirhis devoted father, a pacifist, Archangel and Satan fighting over the boy’s soul, which he thinks is going in one direction but, since the soul is all around him, it goes everywhere and nowhere.

Despite Transgression describes war and seduction, it is also a journey through international literature. At all times, the wind, the flowers, the nightingales and the symbolic colors of the oriental rugs presage things to come. Hitler’s rants, poetry, and dreams appear as recurring tropes, images that are woven into the plot and fabric of the writing process. They are the golden thread. Subtly honed with distinctive precision and keen insight, Transgression exemplifies storytelling at its best.

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