This week the gang reads historical fiction. Alisa and Aileen are old pros at this sub-genre while Josie and Lauren are more like dabblers. Ironically, almost all of the picks were in the WW2 category while Josie was the odd duck who traveled back to medieval Europe.
Aileen read Moloka’i by Alan Brennert. She’s been trying for years to read this book but every time she picked it up, she’d put it back down after asking herself, “do I really want to read about a leper colony?” Well, she finally read it and she’s so glad she did. It was uplifting and inspiring and not at all the bummer she imagined it be at the outset. Thanks to her friend Pam for suggesting it!
It took Lauren a moment to spit out the title, but The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Annie Barrows and Mary Ann Schaffer was a huge hit for her. This book took her a beat to get into but once she did, she never wanted it to end. Set during the German occupation of Guernsey during WW2, this epistolary-style book was a great yarn. As always, Lauren doesn’t suggest books unless she loves the characters, and this book she highly recommends.
Alisa found a real gem in The Only Woman in the Room by Heather Terrel. Set mostly during WW2 as well, this story is about Hettie Lamar’s life, loves and her inventions. The gang was just floored to learn about this multi-faceted, self-taught woman whose mind was even more stunning than her famous face. There were some real mind blowers in this one, and the gang was just spellbound by Alisa’s description.
Josie went to the way-way back with Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose. It was murderous monks galore in this runaway bestselling book that was not only inspired by a medieval manuscript, it’s also about one, hidden deep within a library that also a labyrinth. There are so many twists and turns, both metaphorically and in the plot, it will have your head spinning. But don’t let the Latin freak you out. This is a real page turner as well as being a meditation on one of the biggest theological debates in Catholicism. Josie loved it.
The following transcript was translated by an AI so unfortunately, we can’t vouch for its accuracy.
Lauren: [00:00:00] And I believe he wants to get more books for his
Aileen: books and “quotes”.
Lauren: Yeah. Why not? Why don’t we just turn this around a little bit?
Aileen: He wants to Book her.
Lauren: you said it, not me. I’m not going to get in trouble.
Aileen: He wants to get in her pages.
Josie: Hello and welcome to fiction between friends, a podcast, dedicated to books and book lovers like us. I’m Josephine Angelini
Lauren: I’m Lauren Sanchez.
Alisa: I’m Alisa Hillfinger,
Aileen: and Aileen Calderon,
Josie: we’re four childhood friends from the suburbs of Massachusetts.
Lauren: I’ve always loved to read almost as much as we love to talk to each other.
Alisa: We started this podcast as a way to celebrate how a really good book can come into your life and change it.
Aileen: So if you’re looking for fun and engaging conversations about books, stick around.
Josie: This is fiction between friends. And we’re glad you’ve joined us.
Welcome back. This is season two, episode 10. I’m Josephine, Angelini. And joining me are my dear friends. Ayleen Calderon
Josie: Lauren [00:01:00] Sanchez.
Josie: And Alyssa hillfinger.
Josie: So how is everyone doing?
Josie: Oh my God.
Aileen: I people I peopled all weekend. Like I did all the social things all weekend and oh my God, I am so drained.
Alisa: I know I was exhausted reading about your people in
Aileen: I did things Friday night, Saturday during the day, Saturday night and all day today. Like
Josie: was this the chicken and beer or was that like during the week you did like a chicken and beer lunch.
Alisa: the chicken and beer
Aileen: yeah, I did that yet. That was, that was a work lunch. We went for a two hour, um, lunch in Korea town and had fried chicken and beer towers.
Alisa: is that look like? What’s a
Josie: heaven. It looks like heaven, Alyssa.
Aileen: it? It’s the dumbest thing ever. It’s this big plastic contraption with beer inside, but then there’s somehow a smoke machine built in and they’re like flashing lights. So the whole thing like lights up and there’s like smoke
Lauren: Are you freaking kidding me? Like, are
Aileen: No, I kid you not I’ll send you, I’ll send you guys the [00:02:00] video of it.
Alisa: There’s the atrics. Oh my gosh.
Aileen: know what it is, it’s designed so that when like the restaurant is crowded, people look around are like, Ooh, what’s that? I want that thing. It looks like, cause you’ve got like a UFO in the middle of your table and like beer is coming out of it.
Alisa: Where did they put the chicken?
Aileen: Well, the chicken is separate. They’re two, they’re two separate things.
Josie: The chicken brings the beer to the table.
Aileen: that would be amazing. I think we need to invent that. But I’m like, so my, my am I work, we’re all going in like one day a week. And without fail the day after we all come in the next day, everyone’s on slack going, oh my God, I am so tired going to the office and being around people is so exhausting.
Alisa: Yeah, I think we’re just not used to it.
Aileen: we shall be authors like Josie, so we can just kind of, you know,
Josie: I’ve never
Alisa: don’t want,
Aileen: on the day bed.
Alisa: I, oh my gosh. I would not want Josie’s job.
Alisa: And I don’t
Lauren: I would eat all day
Alisa: your job isn’t good, Josie. I just mean I would not be well-suited to what you do.
Aileen: You’re Jew, [00:03:00] but your job is all about being focused. Like you have to, like, you have to sit and focus and do one thing, like for a
Josie: Yeah. But
Aileen: takes a lot of concentration.
Josie: but it’s what I want to think about. It’s my brain. It’s like, I’m watching a movie. And I, I don’t have any problem sitting there and watching it and making sure that I catch every detail for, you know what I mean? Does that, like, it just, it’s playing in my head and I’m sort of I’m there going?
No, I don’t. Yeah. I don’t like that moment. I want this moment to be more this, and then, you know, I don’t know for me, it’s, it’s much, it’s interesting. It’s something that I want to think about. So,
Alisa: So, uh, Yeah.
historical fiction a
Aileen: Yes. Do you guys normally read historical fiction?
Alisa: I love historical fiction.
Josie: Yeah, I thought this was your thing, Alyssa. Like, I really was like, I bet Alyssa does this often.
Aileen: do you love about it?
Alisa: I, I, well, I like the idea that you can take nuggets of facts and then build ideas around it to fill in blanks, [00:04:00] which honestly is a lot of geology. You read the rocks, you find the nuggets of facts, but you have to recreate the story for how things ended up the way they currently are. So, uh, and same with paleontology,
Aileen: I re I actually read a decent amount of historical fiction, but accidentally, because I look for this story first. So if the story looks interesting, I’ll read it. And then I’ll usually be halfway through and be like, oh, this is historical.
Okay. It’s based in some sort
Alisa: Right. Well, and that’s the classic truth is, is crazier than fiction. like you can’t make this stuff up. It’s real.
Aileen: Yeah. And it’s forcing you to learn stuff. So I always feel extra good about myself when I read historical fiction.
so my, my book, um, was not at world war II occurs during it, but it’s not, that’s not the main chapter of history. I read Molokai by Alan Brenard. it’s about a leper colony in Hawaii in the late 18 hundreds.
Josie: Which I heard about when I was younger, I heard that there was this leper colony, and it lasted for a really [00:05:00] long time too. It was like the whole island in Hawaii was a leper colony. And I couldn’t believe it.
Aileen: Yeah, up until the, I think like 1969 or something, so my friend, Pam, hi Pam, she recommended it and actually bought it for me on Amazon so that I would read it because she
Josie: What a good friend
Aileen: I know. I was like, all right. Um, it’s a really good book. It’s really interesting. I have to say I started and stopped it a couple of times.
Cause I started and I was like, I don’t really feel like reading about lepers. You know? like, it’s just, I don’t know people with their limbs falling off, being disfigured, being isolated from civilization. I’m like, this sounds terrible. Like, but
Alisa: a pandemic, little too close to home.
Aileen: I was like, can I emotionally handle this? but I read it and I’m so glad I did because also when you think of leper colonies, I don’t know about you, but I think about like, Mother Teresa, like visiting people who are like crawling in the dirt and don’t have feet.
And like just [00:06:00] these weird, awful images. Like they almost don’t they’re so dehumanized. They don’t even seem like real people. So this is the story of Rachel who who’s growing up on Honolulu with her family in the late 18 hundreds. And at that time, um, leprosy was a thing. So they would, they had inspectors who would go around and if they believe that you might have leprosy, then they would come and inspect you.
And if you did, you were basically taken from your family and shipped off to this island. So when she was six, they discovered she had it and she was taken away from her family and brought to this leper colony. and it was. It was a sign of like, there was such a negative stigma with it. So like her family didn’t come to visit her.
You know, they were kind of ostracized cause nobody wanted anything to do with somebody who had a leper in their family, because everyone was terrified about how contagious it was. Um, so then it follows her on her journey. As she goes to this island, she goes to Molokai to the leper colony and she just tells her full life story.
Like she lives this really full [00:07:00] rich life. And obviously being a leper is a huge part of it. But you know, initially her uncle is there. So she has a family member. She goes to, um, the nuns run a home for girls. So she goes and lives in this home. And we kind of learned a little bit about the nuns too, who are actually.
there they’re full people, too, you know, you learn about their stories and you know, how they ended up there and their relationships with these girls and just being surrounded by, you know, death and disease all the time. so it just follows her whole story from, you know, growing up in this, you know, kind of orphans home, I guess, to finally falling in love and getting married, having a
daughter, which is heartbreaking because she can’t keep her child. Like as soon as she finds out that she’s pregnant, it’s just this devastating thing because she doesn’t want to give her daughter leprosy. So they immediately take her daughter from her and send her off. so it’s just, it’s, it’s telling it’s like a coming of age story. It’s telling her life story, but you know, in this time period where it’s.
There’s leprosy, you know, and she’s a leopard, she’s technically in a leper colony, [00:08:00] but the leper colony is filled with these people who they all have this thing in common, it bonds them and they, you know, they work, they have full lives, they have activities there’s, you know, controversy and chaos and gossip and all of that stuff.
Um, so it was interesting. Cause I feel like I was learning about something I had never really given much thought to before. I will say I can’t imagine it ever being made into a movie or TV show because I feel like seeing people who have these awful disfigurements would be really disturbing. but it made for a really interesting story and she was an interesting character and she does grow up, you know, it starts in. 1890 1900 or whatever. And then, you know, world war II happens a bombing of Pearl Harbor, like she’s in Hawaii. So it’s talking about that. How suddenly, you know, they don’t, they have to turn off their lights every single night and they’re living in constant fear of being attacked and all that. So, uh, yeah, it was a really, it was a really interesting story.
It was much better than I expected it to be. Once I got past the fact that I was going to be reading about a leper colony, which is just instantly sounds depressing. I was just filled with lots of really interesting [00:09:00] characters and you got to learn about their stories. So I definitely recommend it.
Lauren: a question.
Aileen: Yes. Lauren,
Lauren: What, what do we do today? Like people who have leprosy, like are their medications
Aileen: it’s been cured it’s um, yeah.
Lauren: I had no idea,
Alisa: that’s what I was going to ask the same thing. Like what do we do
Aileen: yeah, that was actually one of the things that I learned. So she, towards the end of the story it’s oh God, I guess maybe it’s like the fifties sixties. I don’t remember. But basically this whole time they’ve been trying all these like wacky treatments for people with leprosy, like injecting them with crazy stuff, giving them pills and trying all these things that don’t work.
And then finally they have like, they, they discover a medication that charism, so she is released. They, what they do is basically they cut off parts of your skin and like test it. And if it tests negative, if you get, if it happens six times and your. You’re you’re sort of in remission and you’re allowed to have a temporary pass to leave the island, because up until that point, you haven’t been able to leave the island.
[00:10:00] then they stopped calling it leprosy.
They started calling it, um, it was Hahn’s disease or something. They gave it a different name, but yeah, it’s basically not a threat anymore. Yay science.
Josie: know. Right. Yay science. Is it written first person, third person?
Aileen: I guess third person I would say. And yeah, it follows, um, chronologically, it mainly stays with Rachel. Well, it kinda jumps around a little bit. It’s mainly Rachel story told from her point of view, occasionally, um, their sister, Catherine, who’s one of the nuns at the home that she’s at. And we kind of hear her story from her perspective every now and then.
So occasionally you hear different POV’s, but it’s mainly about Rachel and her, just her life growing up with this disease and how, you know, history is happening around her and all these different things are happening. And she’s, she’s learning how to like, live a really full enriching life, even though, you know, she’s living with this.
Josie: It’s like the original outcast was the leper. Like the eye, even the word kind of means outcast. So you’re
Aileen: And we, we still, we still think that too, like the stigma has not [00:11:00] left.
Josie: Well, people were so terrified of it. I mean, can you think of, I mean, that’s just such a horrible way to go. Like you were saying, like you had this, these horrifying images in your head
and it is kind of like a contact disease.
So it’s one of those things where people, it’s almost like we’re all here because an ancestor of ours was like, don’t touch that person. You know what I mean? Cause there was a long time there in the dark ages where leper colonies were huge.
Like a lot of people have leprosy, so. You know, there’s, there is that ingrained stigma and it’s horrible because it really is.
This it’s the complete outsiders point of view. Because up until there was a cure, it was like, you had it until you died. You know, it’s not like pneumonia, where if you live through it, you can get over it. Or even the black death. Like if you had bubonic plague, you could get over it. There were people who survived it and then they wouldn’t transmit it to someone else.
But leprosy, once you have
it, you have it forever. I mean, just like, talk about the ultimate metaphor for that person kicked out of society.
Alisa: Yeah, I think it’s [00:12:00] interesting that, you know, there’ve been these cases. I think they did that with Typhoid too. Wasn’t there an island off of New York that they sent
Josie: Typhoid Mary. Yeah.
They locked her up. Yeah. What is the name of that? It’s not, if there’s a, for some reason, all I could think of is like Rikers island, but I know that’s not, it there’s like there is this island it’s like w you know, statue of Liberty there, all these little islands off there. And there was one that was that asylum that was like, uh, the typhoid
And when they opened it back up and they took all these
pictures of it, I remember there was like a whole, like a photographic exhibit that was put up of when they
reopened the island. Finally. Cause typhoid was, they were so terrified of it. There was like it literally looked like the dark ages.
And I know I have the dark ages on the brain because that’s the book that I was reading, but that they made people live in those conditions is just incredible
Aileen: And now we live in the time of COVID and we’re isolated too, but at home with wifi and as many TV shows on a watch and
Aileen: everything and delivery.
Alisa: we still feel
Aileen: [00:13:00] Yeah.
Alisa: Hmm. All right. So uplifting book then. Great.
Aileen: Yeah. So it’s, it sounds really
depressing. It wasn’t as depressing as it sounds because.
Like, she has a lot of like really great moments in her life. And she’s just
a really likable character. She’s kind of spunky sounds like such a demeaning word, but
she’s kind of like spunky and like has a lot of personality and resilient.
And, you know, she finds a way to like make a life for herself and kind of forget about her. Her father comes and visits her, her mother
kind of disappears and she has a brother and sister who also she never hears from, but also is back in the time where like,
they’re, it’s not like there were phones and anyone could pick up a phone and call you.
So you’ve no idea what’s what’s going on. But she had to
sort of forget she had a family and make a new one and she does. yeah, it’s not, it’s not, uh, it seems like it should be a depressing book. It’s not, it’s, filled with hope because she,
just builds like a beautiful life and has all these amazing connections with the people around her.
So, yeah, it’s not as like depressing as it sounds like it, it would be,
a really nice story.
Alisa: Okay. Well, who was it? Who was your [00:14:00] friend?
Aileen: Pam you
Alisa: Oh, yes.
Aileen: And there’s actually, I think there’s an, I think there’s a SQL too. So
Josie: uh, sequel
Aileen: it’s I think it’s actually the story of her daughter,
so yeah. I mean, this book is from 2004, 2011 it’s from a while ago, but
it was popular when it came out. Lauren, what did you do?
Lauren: So I read the, um, I always say this th this title wrong. I read the Guernsey literary and potato peel pie society. So I’ve read that. Um,
Aileen: can you say that title one more time? That’s amazing.
Lauren: Yeah. Give me a minute. It took a while before the Guernsey, literary and potato peel pie society by, uh, Anne Schafer. Let I want to read it already. I have no idea what that title
you haven’t read that book,
Alisa: Oh, it’s good.
Aileen: What what’s what’s it about? Give us, give us this.
Lauren: it’s by, uh, it’s by Marianne Shaffer. let me just preface this by saying the first time I read it, I really had a hard time getting into it, but I had to read it for a book group and I, I did [00:15:00] get through it and then I didn’t want it to be over because I fell in love with the characters.
Um, and then I read it again and I loved it again. Um, there have been some negative reviews about it, like, uh,
Josie: always. Are can’t you don’t read the
Lauren: yeah, right. Don’t read. Don’t even read the reviews, just read the book. So it’s an, it’s an epistolary style, meaning it’s all in letters. It’s in a letter form. So, um, there’s correspondence between the main character and, these people on the ground on Guernsey, which is an island, the, it’s the channel islands
Alisa: Yeah. off of England.
Josie: show or movie made out of this? Was there a movie?
Lauren: yeah, on Netflix. There was, I believe. And Um, Juliette, Ashton is a 32 year old writer. she wrote a co she writes a column and basically what happens is.
Juliette, uh, this guy named Dazi Adams, who’s a farmer in Guernsey writes to Juliet because somehow he’s in possession of a book that he got from a used book sale, or I [00:16:00] don’t know, in her name and address is in there. Anyway. So they’re in touch. They start a correspondence. She learned all about this, basically this literary society. Potato peel pie thing. So I guess another character just there had to be food involved. So potato pies, society got included in that title, but through this correspondence, she also, she also corresponds with other members of this literary society and she learns all about the occupation of that island during world war II and the story really centers around a woman named Elizabeth who’s very courageous, who is eventually arrested for, um, hiding a Polish slave worker who was a slave on the island for, I don’t know what they were doing there, but he was a slave and he, and she was arrested for that and deported and put in a concentration camp, but she ultimately dies.
Um, but she leaves behind a daughter that she had had with a German doctor who also had died during the war. Um, Juliet is decides to go out to the island, meets all the [00:17:00] people that she’d been corresponding with. The characters are so well done. You know, you have the, the gossipy kind of very upright personality.
You have sort of an, a centric, female character, some quiet farmers, you know, and they all, they all have their favorite authors. Like, uh, one loves the Bronte Bronte sisters and others decide realizes how much he loves poetry. And he uses it to we a widow and they get together. uh, but the, the, the story really does center around Elizabeth.
Like that’s kinda what gels everybody together. That’s why they come together.
Aileen: And this is, this is all told through letters that people are writing to each other. Is it, is it hard to track the story or do they do, does the author do a good.
Lauren: She does an amazing job. Um, one thing about the author, she actually died before she finished the final edits of this book
or the final part of the book and, um, her niece named Annie Barrows. Who’s the author of the Ivy and bean books, the
Alisa: yeah. Ivy and bean is.
Lauren: Um, she, she finished the book,
Alisa: [00:18:00] So if it’s been years since I read this book, but the part of what I remember is that the the people in Guernsey were under watch. They were by Germans. And so,
Lauren: they were living in a deprived life. I mean, they were struggling to feed themselves,
Alisa: and every move was being tracked. And this book club was not only a source of comfort where the people got together. Um, and they, if I’m remember, cause anything that has to do with food, um, I’m interested in. And so they literally would make pies out of potato peels because they were saving all scraps and the book club, then I think at some points, didn’t, it almost become a cover for a little bit of, of conspiracy of the island residents to try and and I remember it being very character-driven and,
Elizabeth, just being so likable.
Lauren: Elizabeth was the, um, like I said, she was the courageous one. She’s the, she was the glue that held everybody together. And when she was [00:19:00] arrested, without her, they would never have formed this kind of community. Um, and they were very loyal to her.
Josie: How much fact, isn’t it like how much world war II? Because like sometimes people will set something in an era and that’s really just the backdrop and the story is elsewhere. And then there are other times when people use historical fiction to, uh, not only humanized specific events that happened, but also teach you a little bit more about that period in history, like which end of the spectrum would you say it is world war II, just the backdrop.
And it really could have been sort of any war or was it
don’t think I could have been just anywhere because it was the German occupation of that island. And there were the concentration camps and persecution of Jewish people. One of the, um, there was a caretaker on the island for a manner and the residents of the Manor fled the island and this caretaker had, uh, had Jewish heritage.
And Elizabeth was the one that convinced him to just lie and not register himself with, uh, with the Nazis. [00:20:00] Cause I guess you had to do that
Aileen: I mean, I feel like, like we were talking about before, that’s just how there’s so much world war II, historical fiction. Like there is like, there are clear, good guys. There are clear bad guys, so right away that’s intriguing. But then there was this huge ripple effect that impacted the entire world. And there are so many stories that haven’t been told in so many situations you could think of and speculate about and wonder like, how did this impact these people’s
Alisa: You mean like,
the only woman in the room? My
Alyssa, should we move on to you?
What a segue.
Josie: look at
Alisa: Um, so, the only woman in the room, a novel by Marie Benedict, Ilene,
Aileen: we can all relate to.
Alisa: I know you recommended this for me.
Alisa: Yeah. There was, um,
there Was some publisher list or something that we all were looking at for possible book recommendations and you were scrolling through it and you were like, Lisa, I think you should read this book.
It’s on this list. It sounds like it’s right? up your alley.
Aileen: Was I right?
Alisa: You picked a Stephen [00:21:00] King while you sort of picked a Stephen King book? I might like, but I found a Stephen King book because you recommended one.
Lauren: That’s right.
Aileen: I was close.
Alisa: so all right, Marie Benedict the author, I will first tell you is a lawyer trained in Boston and she has written three or four books along the line of this one.
she graduated Magna cum loud of Boston college with a focus on history. So she’s a lawyer has practiced law for 10 years, but her background is history and she has chosen different women in history and Hettie Lamar. her name originally was Hedwig, Keisler. She changed her name to Hettie Lamar when she moved to the United States and became, an actress and she then was, I’m going to call her Hiti Lamar. My sister-in-law’s name is spelled the same way. So it’s pronounced Hiti.
Alisa: My sister-in-law is not a Hedwig.
She’s just a Hiti. So I don’t know if this actress who I’m reading [00:22:00] about is a heady or Hiti, but, I apologize if I’m pronouncing it wrong, but I’m going to call her hoodie. So Hiti
Lamar. Well, I’m going to do what I know. she ultimately came to the United States and was an actress, but she was married to her First of six, husbands was,
Aileen: wait, and this is a real
Alisa: there’s a real person,
Josie: I don’t think I’ve had six pets in my life.
Alisa: she was married to the man who ultimately sold the arms to Hitler. so this book is about this woman who is a peripheral character in world war II, very closely tied to Hitler, but the author Marie Benedict, this is her style of writing.
She’s written the other Einstein about Einstein’s wife. She’s written, Carnegie’s made about, a woman who was a maid in the Carnegie household of, you know, the Carnegie dynasty, um, lady Clementine, who was married to Winston Churchill. So she looks at history through the lens of all these people who history [00:23:00] never would have recorded and noticed
Aileen: but she’s, she’s, chosen to write fictitious accounts of what she imagined their lives to be and not
Alisa: so I also was wondering. Why these women and I mean, Hiti Lamar, she has an, an auto, well, some people say it’s an autobiography. Some people say it was just a salacious book under the guise of an autobiography written by ghost writers who really, she ultimately sued them and said, this isn’t real. How dare you say these things about me?
but there have been several books written by and about Hiti Lamar. Um, I she’s she’s supposedly I think has her personal name attached to two books. Plus there is a decent amount Of literature associated with her because she filed a patent that was approved and held secret by the U S war department, because she ultimately came up with a scientific system of alternating frequencies.
That our current wifi is based on like this woman was a brilliant inventor and [00:24:00] nobody ever gave her credit for anything. And nobody ever assumed she had any brains because she was so stunningly. Beautiful. there is this one passage in the book. Um, so she and her, co-inventor who was a musician and a composer.
And it was a combination of, of her realizing that his composing style and working with pianos and to program pianos would help with this alternating frequency system. So she ropes in this guy, George, she and George go to Washington DC She’s trying to convince the war department that her patent for this technology that could be used with torpedoes to make them impenetrable by the enemy And more accurate was worth investing in. And they she’s meeting with a panel of men and they say to her, one of the men in particular said, I’m a big fan of your work.
And I speak for all of us here in saying, we appreciate the incredible [00:25:00] efforts you and Mr. Anthony have undertaken here. But my advice to you is this stick to your films. They helped lift people’s spirits.
Lauren: That’s amazing. He’s basically telling her to stay in her lane.
Alisa: oh, a hundred percent. So, and then further down it says no matter the misogyny that I knew, well, permeated the very fiber of my world.
I couldn’t believe his words. These men were rejecting a system that would enable a plane or a ship to steer a whole fleet of torpedoes against enemy vessels with perfect accuracy, without any capacity on the enemies part to jam the necessary radio signals. How could the military allow their soldiers and sailors to lose on the seas to be killed in bass numbers?
Because they wouldn’t use a weapon system designed by a woman.
Aileen: totally believable.
Aileen: Of course.
Alisa: the book starts May 8th. Every chapter is a date and location. So the book starts May 17th, 1933, Vienna, Austria. [00:26:00] She’s a Jewish Austrian resident. And as you get to know, you see that she has a really deep connection with her dad he was a banker involved in finance industry, so they were pretty wealthy, lived in upscale neighborhood, but he would talk to her about everything. They would listen to the radio together. They would read the newspaper together. They would, and they would read the entire newspaper together. And then he would explain the backstories for the finance articles, the political articles, the science articles.
So even though she in the early 1930s, You know, twenties and thirties was being schooled as, you know, a typical girl, none of the focus was on trying to develop her brain. They were trying to develop her homemaking skills. her father taught her everything and really fostered her love of learning.
and she just was very intelligent. I mean, she, she realized that she was smart and she was only 19 when, the [00:27:00] guy who ultimately became her husband, he, he was, uh, a big deal. And Mr. Mendell, he basically started sending flowers to her at this big breakout performance she was doing. And she had no say in it, like he went to her parents and said, I want to marry your daughter.
Okay. The parents couldn’t say no. And at this point he had such close political ties to various things that the parent, like everybody knew she had no choice in this matter. She was going to be married to him if he wanted to marry her. And he was older, he was divorced. And at first she was really taken with him.
He wooed her, she fell in love with him. Um, and then, and he groomed her to be, you know, like the trophy wife, you know, he would, he would bring her out at parties and she would literally be the only woman in the room when he would start having these business meetings. He met with Mussolini, he met with Hitler.
He met with all of the big name, people in world war II on the [00:28:00] German side.
And she started taking notes and, and a couple of the times it references. Because she was so adapt. And, and so she was in theater. She was a beauty doesn’t even to say she was beautiful, like downplays this asset about her. And unfortunately that is, is what most people only saw. But because of that, she was in theater, she had made a film. and she would say that she used her skills that she had learned, acting in order to memorize these conversations that you overheard. And then she would go back and write them down. And she overheard all of the conversations about the types of munitions that were being built and the strengths and weaknesses of each of them.
And in particular, she realized years later after she escaped, literally escape, like puts on a costume and a disguise drugs, her made so that her made. You know, is, is out of commission dresses as her made to escape her castle, literally a castle that she lives
in, [00:29:00] um, in order to get out from under her abusive husband.
But she remembers specifically all of the torpedo based information about how their torpedoes work and the communication systems between the torpedoes and either the ships or the planes that are running them
Aileen: Wait, so she’s self-taught she didn’t go to college or, wow.
Alisa: taking out all
Josie: She’s a spy. She stole all that information. What a bad-ass where’s that movie about her?
Aileen: I seriously.
Alisa: there, I think there was, I, I looked up, because my big question with the way the book is written, there are so many dinnertime conversations that. You see, played out with all of these people. And so I wondered if she had written an autobiography or there were letters somewhere that chronicled these events.
and the only thing I could find, I think there was a movie made that, you know, kind of got mediocre reviews. Everybody’s still plays up the actress and the fact that she was married six times and [00:30:00] had a little bit of a salacious life. And in the sixties, the autobiography that was written about her basically is just her sexcapades and Nothing redeeming about who she is.
Aileen: So I just looked her up on Wikipedia. so I just looking, um, like she was an actress and all of that, although she was, had no formal training, it was primarily self-taught. She worked in her spare time of various hobbies and inventions, which included an improved traffic, stoplight, and a tablet that would dissolve in water to create a carbonated drink.
among the few who knew her and men inventiveness was aviation tycoon, Howard Hughes. She suggested he changed the rather square design of his airplanes, which he thought looked too slow to a more streamlined shape based on pictures of the fastest birds and fish. She could find
she was just brilliant
and like made observations and wow.
Alisa: Yeah. So, this book covers, as I
Josie: but it doesn’t matter because she was a slut. You guys, it doesn’t matter how smart she was. Cause she was a slut
and [00:31:00] the, you know,
Aileen: she was too pretty to be smart.
Aileen: She was very pretty.
Alisa: And then it goes up to Oh, wait, sorry. I’m looking at the end of the book and there’s excerpts from the other books that are in there. So I, and all of the books seem to be modeled the same way with each chapter is a date and a place. Um,
so I do very much like the consistency between the books that this author takes. It’s kind of like, you know,
reading ahead a little bit. She has her style
Aileen: Did you read the end first? I
Alisa: I didn’t, I didn’t,
Josie: Yay, Alyssa.
She’s coming along.
Alisa: this goes up to September 4th, 1942. So it’s 1933 to 1942 is, the time span of the book. And she died in 2000, I think.
Aileen: So Alyssa, what is the main focus of that time period? Is it talking about her relationship, her and mentions her career? Like what, w what is the main focus?
Alisa: it’s all of that. It’s like it’s, it very much is [00:32:00] almost like sort of a factual bullet point list of this happened. This happened, this happened, this happened, but then fleshed out with conversations that are imaginary, to be able to explain how that might’ve happened.
it is all about her relationships and all about the people she was involved with. and then also the decisions that she was making to move herself from being in an abusive marriage to one of Hitler’s henchmen, to then escaping to London, to then a little bit about who she had to avoid having to sleep with in order to get into Hollywood.
Josie: The Harvey Weinstein,
Alisa: and then, uh, the, the movies that she was making, but it’s it’s lists like, so for example, when she was working with, uh, George and I, I think the last name is a N T H E I L and P L. She was spending a lot of time with this George, the composer, and they were designing this, torpedo navigation guidance. system.
And George, his wife had been [00:33:00] traveling on the east coast and had been gone for several months. And then the wife comes back storms into Hades bungalow, and accuses them of having an affair. And so Hiti is trying to. Assure her that absolutely nothing is happening. And she says, Mrs. Anthiel I assure you that nothing untoured has happened between your husband and myself.
I didn’t want to explain that. I thought of George’s a brother, never mind. The past that he had made only a week earlier, George did actually try to kiss her, but it was stupid. They both agreed it was, they moved on. Um, or that in the time George and I had been collaborating, I divorced gene Markey and dated the actor, John Howard, Playboy jock, Whitney, and the business tycoon Howard Hughes who’d lent me a pair of his chemists in a lab to assist in my non-military invention ideas.
Like the bullion type cubes that could turn water into a soda pop similar to Coca-Cola. So like right there, you’re told of this huge part of her life [00:34:00] of these big name men that she was interacting with. But. That’s all you get of it. And that’s what this whole book is like, you know, she’ll have a dinner and it’ll be, oh Yeah. Mussolini is at this table.
And I could tell that Mussolini really wanted, you know, to pursue me more than just as a business partner’s wife and I needed to make sure to never meet with him again. So I was never alone with him again. And like, that’s the whole story of Mussolini. it’s really interesting, but it’s not detail oriented.
Josie: Right, but she doesn’t take liberties with how this person felt or what, like whether right. She doesn’t, the author is very careful to stick as close as she can to the facts without over inventing feelings, life situations, conversations, um, what she wanted in that moment. I think that’s, I think that’s a very genuine way of going about it, you know?
Aileen: That seems like it must be, it must be the challenging thing about historical fiction, because there are certain facts that everyone knows, and it seems like you cannot change that you cannot deviate that. [00:35:00] Like you’re just coloring in between the lines, like the blurry area that no one is quite sure of, but I don’t know if it’s like, what are the rules of historical fiction?
Like how many liberties can you take with the past?
Josie: Well, if you call it fiction, you can kind of say, I don’t think, you know, all of a sudden leprechauns are all running around and fighting for Hitler. I don’t know. You know what I mean? Like you really can do whatever you want with fiction, Okay, Josie, let’s talk about your
Josie: Okay. So I did something I’m I guess I’m the only one who didn’t pick a world war II book. And I know that you guys did it on accident. I did Umberto echoes. First of all, Umberto eco what a name I did in the name of the rose. Well, just the name of the rose. I did that book because I heard Barbara talking about Foucault pendulum last week.
And I was like, dang. Yeah, I remember that book. And I was like, I should reread the name of the rose. Cause I haven’t read it in like a million years and I forgot how much Latin there is in this book. That’s like a lot of Latin. So the name of, oh yeah, there’s a lot of Latin in it. The name of the rose is the [00:36:00] story of, ad.
So of milk, who is a monk, a Benedictine monk, who is the. Sort of the protege of William, of Baskerville, who is also a Franciscan monk. And this is at a very specific time in history when the Roman Catholic church was, going into all of these monkish factions. And there was this huge fight with the Pope, John, um, at the time, because the Franciscans were insisting that Christ was poor and that in order to follow Christ, one had to give up all of their earthly possessions, Pope didn’t like that crap.
You know why Pope liked his gold was very red and the Catholic church was extremely wealthy at this point and the Franciscan order and the Dominican order, um, where basically they wanted to assert the fact that Christ was poor and that the church really shouldn’t own as much stuff as it does. And for that, a heck of a lot of monks got burnt at the stake.
Like they were just [00:37:00] rounding people up and torturing them and burning them and calling them heretics. And there were a lot of groups that were super heretic they were calling themselves part of a Franciscan splinter groups that were saying all kinds of crazy stuff.
Free love and women can be apostles and we shouldn’t own anything. No one should own anything. and you know, people should be able to sleep with whoever they wanted and marriage wasn’t important and
Alisa: what time period is this again?
Josie: So this, this, the book takes place in I believe it’s 13, 18, and this is all based on a manuscript that Umberto eco, who was a college professor in Italy and Milan.
And he was, um, He was a professor of semiotics at the university of bologna and semiotics is symbols. So like that whole
Alisa: The DaVinci code stuff.
Josie: the DaVinci codes and he says, he’s the symbologist, that’s not the word for it. It’s the word is semiotics.
Alisa: we know symbologist, [00:38:00] we don’t know
Josie: Semiotics. And that’s actually what , that was his job. He was basically the guy from the DaVinci code and he’s written a ton of scholarly works, um, up to that point. he was also a linguist. He did a lot of translations and he came across this old manuscript by a supposed monk named ad, so of milk.
he came across it in 1969 and the book. All about this Monk’s life. And he thought it was fake because he could never find any copies of references of it. But then he had this huge problem because he was in Prague when he was reading this book and then the Soviets invaded and took over Prague.
And I guy or girl, his traveling companion. I don’t know if he was gay or straight. I can’t find any information on that, but, um, they had a horrible falling out and his traveling companion broke his heart and ran off with the book. So ran off with this manuscript. And that was in 1968. Um, echo wrote this book and it came out in 1980 in, [00:39:00] Italy.
And then it came out in 83 here in the U S translated. Oh no, 81. And then the movie came out in 83, but he never got the manuscript back and it sort of haunted him for what, 68, 69 70. So for like 12 years, and this was the first, uh, Fiction book that Umberto eco ever wrote after having written many scholarly books on this time period, these manuscripts the book is basically a murder mystery, but it’s a murder mystery about the controlling of information, because it all takes place at a monastery with the greatest library in the mid, the medieval world.
And, the library, the obviously information nobody’s allowed actually in the library, only the librarian, you had to request a book and then the librarian would decide whether or not you were worthy of having the book. And yeah, I know
Alisa: librarians had so much power.
Josie: much power. Oh my God. And um, so all
Aileen: were like the Elan Musk.
Josie: Yeah.[00:40:00] So all these monks start dying and. Um, William of Baskerville, who’s the monk ad. So his, his he’s just, um, he’s basically like a scribe and an assistant at this point, and he’s not a full monk and he’s add, so is telling this whole story. And, um, William is there at this monastery that he’s never been at before with this huge scriptorium, which is where people used to copy stuff in, right.
And make those illuminated manuscripts in this amazing library was supposed to be. And, they were going to have a meeting there that was supposed to bring together two factions, the Pope and the Franciscan order. so that basically the Pope would quit calling people heretics and burning them at the stake.
Of course it goes terribly. And, w a bunch of other people get burnt. It’s like horrible what
Alisa: of death in this book.
Josie: There’s a lot of death in this book and there’s, There’s a lot of, arguing about the controlling of information and about whether, uh, not [00:41:00] all these schisms, all these different parts of the church, if they were really wrong, if they were evil or if having money was evil, it would basically the same argument that was going on with all of these, you know, like the Soviet union had invaded Prague.
So there was like this communist idea that the set establishment was terribly afraid of. Like, they were very afraid of people saying we don’t need money, money should, you know,
Anyway, there are a lot of parallels with what he went through in Prague and with what was going on in the turn of the century, the 13th, 14th century.
So 13 hundreds. So it’s a really dense book. It’s really complicated. I’m not going to go into all of it. There’s a really great mystery in it too. And this book was a runaway success and it’s absolutely amazing to me. Like when I say that there is a lot of literally every page, there’s some form of Latin on it.
Like I just opened up to here and it’s like S dominance is terrorist, Clara. resultant. Like there’s a lot of stuff in this that is really erudite. And it just amazes me that [00:42:00] this book sold over 10 million copies.
Alisa: Did they give the
translations to it at all? Or? No?
Josie: at some point you kind of get what they’re talking about.
Like, so one of the big arguments that goes on in the book, is whether or not Christ laugh. I know that sounds ridiculous. Whether or not he actually laughed. And there’s no saying in the Bible that he did talk about how, how dry and horrible these people’s lives. So there’s this one monk who’s like, laughter is what the devil does.
Like laughter is the devil Christ never laughed. Monks are never supposed to laugh. Can you imagine how horrible
Alisa: that is
Aileen: that’s terrible.
Josie: like, there’s literally no joy in their lives.
Alisa: Okay. all I have to say is, as soon as you’re told you, can’t laugh, you will immediately have a laughing, giggle fit like tears. And
Josie: especially in church, right? Like how many times have I been in trouble? Cause I started laughing in church and I couldn’t stop
Alisa: So these dudes were then burned at the stake. If they left.
Josie: No, no, no. It wouldn’t be that bad. It’s just, they were admonished. The people who were [00:43:00] burned at the stake were always the poor people. It was like. There’s a girl in it. She’s
Alisa: I don’t want to hear about some poor girl.
Josie: of being a witch. I know. So she’s just, she’s coming to the Abbey because she’s been Lord in of course, like the monks aren’t celibate, they say they are, but they’re not, they’re either sleeping with each other, which is like a huge part of this book.
It was like, they’re all screwing each other to get this book that’s been banned from them. Like seriously, like this
Aileen: there there’s monk on monkey.
Josie: Yeah. There are like, and they’re like using it as this collateral anyway. So one of them, the seller he’s like, there’s this beautiful village girl. She’s like 16, 17 or something. obviously she’s starving.
They’re all hungry. She gets Lord up into the monastery and adds, oh, like while he’s like running around, trying to get information about these murders that he comes across her and he’s like, she’s scared of him. And he’s like, no, no, no. And he’s nice to her. So she sleeps with him. Of course, as one does.
And he doesn’t even know what’s happening until he’s like having sex with her. And he’s like, oh, this is probably, I’m probably gonna go to hell for this. And then you [00:44:00] feel bad for him. You’re like, dude, just enjoy it. Like be in the
Aileen: Just don’t just, don’t laugh while you’re doing it. And
Josie: don’t laugh
while you’re doing it. Like as seriously, Jorge, this old monk, who’s literally joyless.
He’s the devil. Um, uh, like their lives are that terrible. And of course she gets accused of being a witch and William who’s ads had those like begging for her life. And William is like, oh, she’s burnt flesh. Like she got accused of being. There’s nothing we can do to save this girl. Like literally nothing we can do to save her.
All somebody had to do is look at a girl and go, which, and she was done for
like most horrible life. And constantly they’re saying about how women are basically just a vessel of the devil, And it’s sort of like accepted. They’re like, oh, well I know women are the vessel of the devil.
Yeah, of course. Yeah.
Aileen: So it was a happy, uplifting
Alisa: right. This sounds.
Josie: fascinating though. It’s absolutely fascinating. There are just, there’s so many descriptions of torture in it and like, which normally I’m not into, but for some [00:45:00] reason, it, this puts you, this book puts you into this Gothic frame of mind and it really does bring you into the mindset of the people at this time.
And just like in our time, there are people who are good and there are people who are bad. They’re just people, but they have this idea that they should be holy because they’re monks and they genuinely believe that they’re delivering the word of God to people. it’s just such an interesting, weird mindset that I so different from my own.
So different from the way that I look at myself in the way that I look at the world. But the book really brings you into it in this series of arguments at the same time, it’s not completely dry, theology, It has this really juicy murder mystery that’s going on in the back of it. And there there’s this, the library’s like a labyrinth and they get lost in the labyrinth for a little while.
and I, I don’t want to give
Lauren 2: sounds good. That sounds like the best
part of the book right there.
Getting lost in the labyrinth of
Josie: yeah, it’s really cool. And it’s like peppered throughout the book. So. It’s really well paced. You go between these, [00:46:00] theologians, arguing with each other about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin on one side. And then on the other side of it, it’s like they’re running around in the middle of the night with these candles and finding all these manuscripts, these illuminated manuscripts and tricks with mirrors and herbs that they’re burning to give you like weird hallucinatory vision.
So you think you’re seeing the devil and you run away scared. Some really cool stuff is happening in it. And at the same time, it gives you like a really good glimpse, uh, what this time period must have been like for a lot of people, you know, um, an ad so’s just hit, it’s all narrated from him. And he’s just like such a lovable movie.
Like, I don’t know what it is about this guy is just, he’s so human and he’s, he really. Uh, like even characters that you’re supposed to hate. He’s like, I’m worried he’s going to get, he’s going to be killed. And you’re like, add. So don’t worry of whether or not that guy dies. We want that guy to die, but he does.
He like, he’s a genuinely good person. And of course he gets. Sort of lost in this, you know, he gets, he’s a lesser character that gets shunted to the side. And then they’re all of [00:47:00] these great names who are willing to do all these horrible things. And they’re the ones that history is remembered. And that sort of milk is just like this little byline and one little manuscript that got lost in Prague and it’s, it’s kind of cool.
anyway, I don’t want to give away the end. I don’t want to say who did it. It’s just, I don’t want to say why they did it. There’s like just a series of murders that are happening at this Abbey and it feels like you’re there when you’re reading it. And, it’s a terrifying place. It really is the 1300 area.
Just, they call it the dark ages for a reason. You’re just sitting there going. I cannot believe these people hated anything that even remotely resembled joy so much that like they would hide a book. Aristotle’s poetics is hidden because it talks about laughter. Just
Aileen: What a miserable time Josie, would you, have you ever considered writing historical fiction?
Josie: in my star cross series, I use a lot of Greek mythology and I use a lot of characters in a very true to what I’ve read of Homer and [00:48:00] what I’ve read in Ovid and Virgil and the translations that I’ve read Homer Virgin a little bit.
Cause I don’t read Greek, but I try to bring a lot of that, but that’s all made up history. Like it not like Bailey ad isn’t real. Like that was Homer was a historian, but he made it all up.
I don’t know if I could ever trust myself as a scholar enough to, understand. Uh, mindset, the way that Umberto eco has, like the way that he’s written about this, you feel like you’re inside the mind of these people.
And I don’t know if I have that enough learning in any historical era to be able to do it. And not that I would ever try to write a book like this, but I don’t know. I always say I’ll never write a book like that and then dang it. I end up writing a book. Like
Alisa: Well, I wonder
Aileen: there, is there one, is there one time period that intrigues you, that you haven’t explored, that you maybe would be tempted to?
Josie: well, right now this one does, it’s like, I’m always, I’m always in love with the book that I’m reading at the moment. Like if I read a great book, like the name of the rose, I’m so fascinated with [00:49:00] that, whatever that book was about that I have to look into it even more. So right now it’s this and there’s something I did grow up Catholic.
I grew up, my mom would always take us to go see. The inside of whole churches. My mother was an, or is an organist. And I spent a lot of time in some really scary Gothic churches and
learning about the monks and learning about the music and the chance that they used to sing. Like, my mom was super into Gregorian chant for a while.
And I actually learned how to do chant in Latin and like, I don’t know, it fascinates me. It’s a very strange, weird, almost alien world to the one that we live in today. and it does interest me, but I dunno, I dunno if there’s any particular sliver of history that I could throw my lot in with like that.
Alisa: Well, in my question is how old does it have to be, to be considered historical fiction, as opposed to just fiction? Like a lot of fiction I think is based on nuggets of reality. And then you, you build a story around it. And so. You know, like even even the, um, what was it, girls, girls on sticks. The [00:50:00] book I read about,
Josie: Oh, yeah.
Alisa: you know,
Josie: the, the,
Alisa: right, the 1989 field hockey team you know, is that historical fiction?
I mean, the author, it was about her graduating high school class. It, her actual field hockey coach was in it. Um, you know, everything about that book was true to the area. The time period is that historical fiction. Is that like, what, I guess I’d be curious to know
Lauren 2: Oh, are we
Alisa: trying to claim that we’re old,
Josie: no, but I think what it is is that, so this is centered around. The almost a schism in the Roman Catholic church, there was a huge schism that happened right after this. So there were two Pope’s that were elected and one of the Pope’s actually went to the other Pope at the end of it, with a rope around his neck to be hanged.
I think it has to be about instances, things that are happening in the world that are big, like world war two, or, you know, the, the Franciscan schism from the church. I mean, that was a huge thing. A lot of people [00:51:00] died like a lot of people.
Josie: And I think that writing about this time period and using those markers using actual like Pope John, we know who he was and there was a William of Baskerville and there was Uber Tino.
Who’s this guy, another character who very St like, but he sounds like a crazy man through all of this. Uh, William basketball was supposedly like a student of Aquinas or Thomas bacon or something like that. So they’re using these historical figures. They’re using this very specific time in history. and that’s what I think makes it historical fiction.
Not just that it happened once. It has to affect a lot of people.
Alisa: Well, I
Josie: At least. That’s my definition.
Alisa: I also like this idea, I think I’m drawn to this idea of writing a book and telling a story about a character that is mentioned, you know, somewhere, once, but then never elaborated on, you know, so
the book, the
red tent, right, exactly. you know, but the red tent. is considered a historical. Fictionalized book about, you know, uh, a woman who is [00:52:00] named, she only is named once in the Bible, but then this book is written about her and the entire story is her life and her interactions with all these other people that you do know about in the Bible. I mean, I don’t know. I th I think the category of historical fiction is rather broad.
Josie: I think so too. And I think that’s why so many people write in it. It’s just, like if you really understand that period in history and you have something to say about it, something that you hope will echo into our present time and say something cool. I definitely write that book, you know?
Right. Use it to show humanity, use it, to highlight something about us or,
I think that’s when it’s done best. I think this was interesting because it was such a personal story for him.
he lost a dang book. Like he really wanted to find that book. He wanted that book back and he lost it because the Soviets took over Prague, you know?
And that was something that affected his life personally. I don’t know if that, if something like that would have ever happened to me. And I felt like there was a mirror in history for something that I personally [00:53:00] experienced. And I said, I’m, I need to tell my story by going back into history and mining this one particular time
period. And that way I could tell my story, then I’d write that
book. But I haven’t, I haven’t come across that yet.
Aileen: Do you have a time?
Josie: I don’t know. Probably every time I say, nah, that’s not me. I could never write that book. I’d be like, oh, I had an idea.
Anyway, so this was so much fun. I don’t know. I almost never read historical fiction. yeah. I don’t know why, but it’s just not one of those things that I usually pick up, but
Alisa: a lot of scifi isn’t based on historical fiction.
Josie: No, but I love scifi in speaking of Saifai. Oh my gosh. We have a guest coming on again next week, Beth Revis, who is I think she’s a great scifi writer and she’s a good friend of mine. She’s the New York times bestselling author of across the universe. And she has a new book coming out in August, the princess and the scoundrel, which is set in the star wars universe and takes place around the wedding of lay or Ghana and Han solo.
Alisa: Is that really her name? Leah or Ghana? She’s not just princess
Leia. She has a [00:54:00] last name.
Josie: Yeah, you got to watch the first three movies.
Alisa: I did watch the. first three movies, but that was a long time ago.
Josie: It was a long time ago, but you know, actually, but next week with Beth, we’re going to mostly be talking about her Kindle Vella novel museum of magic, which takes place in a small town near Salem, Massachusetts, you guys. So I can’t wait to talk about this. she’s a fantastic scifi writer. I’ve loved across the universe.
I love that series. Um, I can’t wait to have her on, so thanks you guys.
Aileen: Thank you ladies.
Josie: We’ll talk
Lauren 2: you guys.
Josie: You’ve been listening to fiction between friends to find the show notes for this episode, or to subscribe and get new episodes delivered automatically. Visit fiction between friends.com. Also, if you happen to have a moment and you’ve liked what you’ve heard, please help support our podcast by leaving a review on apple podcasts.
We would be immensely grateful. Thank you for [00:55:00] listening.