Directly I saw him, I knew he had to die.’
Germany, 1945. Klara Janowska and her daughter Alicja have walked for weeks to get to Graufeld Displaced Persons camp. In the cramped, dirty, dangerous conditions they, along with 3,200 others, are the lucky ones. They have survived and will do anything to find a way back home.
But when Klara recognises a man in the camp from her past, a deadly game of cat and mouse begins.
He knows exactly what she did during the war to save her daughter.
She knows his real identity.
What will be the price of silence? And will either make it out of the camp alive?
Kate Furnivall didn’t set out to be a writer. It sort of grabbed her by the throat when she discovered the story of her grandmother – a White Russian refugee who fled from the Bolsheviks down into China. That extraordinary tale inspired her first book, THE RUSSIAN CONCUBINE. From then on, she was hooked.
Kate is the author of ten novels, including THE RUSSIAN CONCUBINE, THE LIBERATION and THE BETRAYAL. Her books have been translated into more than twenty languages and have been on the Sunday Times and New York Times Bestseller lists.
What book from your childhood still has a place in your heart today?
I was one of those kids with my nose always in a book, so I have a mountain of titles that stole my heart. But one stands out. Not only did it steal my heart but it changed the way I thought. It is What Katy Did by Susan Coolidge. Katy is wild and high-spirited, and I fell head over heels in love with her. When her life was suddenly ruined by an accident, I was traumatised. She was in a bad place at first but eventually taught herself to look at life differently, so from Katy I learned that you can choose how you regard life. You can choose happiness. You can be positive, even in extremely bad circumstances. I have valued that teaching all my life.
Which fictional character stayed with you long after you finished the book?
The black slave-girl called Handful in Sue Monk Kidd’s brilliant The Invention of Wings. She is a remarkable creation, fearless in her rebelliousness and heartrending in her helplessness. Her convoluted thoughts are deeply moving, and her strong irrepressible voice is inspirational.
Can you tell us a little about your journey with your new release?
It was the sight on my tv screen of the Syrian refugees arriving in flimsy boats on the shores of Greece, Italy and Turkey. That’s what started it all. It was impossible not to feel their acute distress and desperation and it set me wondering about how Europe had coped with an influx of migrants in the past.
I started digging and discovered that at the end of World War 2 Europe had to deal with the largest mass migration in the history of mankind. Millions of people were in dire need of help. Homeless, starving and desperate, many refugees were fleeing from the Soviet occupation of Eastern Europe. So Displaced Persons camps were set up by the military in Germany in 1945 and, just like today, they were unpleasant and dangerous places. The more I unearthed about life in the camps, the more I wanted to let people know about them and to discover whether we had learned anything in the last seventy years. My grandmother was a refugee who fled from Russia during the First World War, so I felt a powerful emotional connection to this theme.
When my character Klara Janowksa walked into my life with her 10 year-old daughter Alicja, I knew I had found my story. It is an exploration of the love of a mother for her child and how far she will go to protect her in dangerous circumstances.
Do you get an emotional connection to your characters?
Yes, I am always extremely emotionally involved with my characters, to the point where the boundaries between us blur. It was particularly true of Klara because I wrote her in the first-person – I wrote her narrative as ‘I’. I viewed the world through her eyes, clouded by her emotions and by her past experiences in Poland during the war. And I knew exactly what she would think of our modern refugee camps! It was extremely painful to write her story at times when she was ill-treated or fearful, but I derived great pleasure from exploring her growth and understanding as a person. When I finished the book it came as a blow to leave her behind.
Can you please, share a photo with us that tells a story?
This is a powerful image from 1945 of refugees waiting hour after hour to be transported to somewhere that would provide a roof over their heads and put bread in their hand. Their resignation and despair is evident on their faces, a deeply emotional photograph that distresses me each time I look at it. I see an emptiness in their expressions that I tried to capture in my portrayal of the camp in The Survivors. I find myself searching for Klara among them.
What was your favourite read of 2017?
At First Light by Vanessa Lafaye. I was riveted by this beautiful and heart-breaking story of love and revenge. Lafaye’s writing is spellbinding and I found myself savouring every page.
If your book came with a theme song what would it be?
My theme song for The Survivors would be I’m Still Standing by Elton John. It expresses perfectly Klara’s fierce determination to survive with her daughter despite all the hardships that life throws at her.
“Don’t you know I’m still standing better than I ever did?
Looking like a true survivor, feeling like a little kid
I’m still standing after all this time
Picking up the pieces of my life without you on my mind”
Is the genre you write your favourite to read?
I read across most genres, but I am always drawn to a strong historical novel about a time and place I am unfamiliar with – such as the works of Philippa Gregory and Dinah Jefferies. I like to learn something new from a book and historical novels satisfy that hunger. But I also love a rollicking good psychological thriller that scares the pants off me. This year I particularly enjoyed Louise Candlish’s Our House. So deliciously clever.
If you could ask your readers anything, what would you want to know?
I would love to sit down with my readers over a glass of wine and ask them what books have kept them reading well into the night and what it was about those books and their characters that grabbed them by the throat and wouldn’t let go.
What are you working on now?
I am very excited about my new project. My next book is set in 1953 and it may be during the Cold War but it’s a hot setting! It takes place in the Camargue in the South of France. The daughter of one of the bull farmers is caught up in a web of secrets and lies as Soviet spies work to infiltrate the nearby American nuclear airbase. White horses and nuclear threat collide in a tense and dangerous ride.
This feature was delayed due to illness. I am so sorry to the author, publisher and marketing team.
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Thanks to the publisher for my free copy of the book, given in exchange for participation in the book blog tour and for an honest review.