Solving My Own Family Mystery … By Chance — Lisa Lieberman
Today I’m happy to welcome author Lisa Lieberman as she shares about her recent novel and its connection to her family history.
One of my writing teachers once said, in regard to plotting, “If you know everything that’s going to happen in advance, what’s the point of writing the story?” I’ve taken his advice to heart, playing fast and loose with outlines, giving the characters of my historical noir mystery series plenty of room to surprise me. Who knew that my lack of discipline would lead me to uncover a lost corner of my own family history?
Cara Walden was seventeen when she set off for London with her older brother Gray, a blacklisted Hollywood screenwriter, in All the Wrong Places, my series debut. By the time she got to the bottom of the unsolved mystery of her mother’s drowning in 1943, she’d seen Queen Elizabeth’s coronation, gone to Sicily on a film shoot, and attended Grace Kelly’s wedding to Prince Rainier III in Monaco (where she ran into Cary Grant), ending up at the 1956 Cannes Film Festival.
The sequel, Burning Cold, is much darker. Cara and Gray venture into Budapest during the 1956 revolution in search of their half-brother Zoltán, the forgotten son of their father’s first marriage. They track him to Mád, a small town in the Tokaj wine region on Hungary’s eastern border—a place I chose simply because of the potential for wordplay. Then I learned the fate of Mád’s once-thriving Jewish community.
Some three hundred men, women, and children were locked in the town’s synagogue when the Germans occupied Hungary in 1944, deprived of food and water for three days, then herded into cattle cars with the help of the Arrow Cross (Hungarian militia). Most perished in Auschwitz.
I visited Mád during a research trip to Hungary in 2015. The desecrated synagogue was only restored in 2004, a lonely memorial to the town’s murdered Jews. As I stood in the sanctuary, I was overwhelmed by sadness.
I set a scene in the ruined sanctuary toward the end of Burning Cold. Cara’s new husband plays the Kol Nidre, a Jewish prayer of mourning, on his violin.
Persecution, exile, and suffering were all woven into the ancient elegy, which penetrated where words could not go, reminding me of every loss I’d ever experienced. When the last note had faded away, Jakub bowed his head over the instrument. He had given us the precious gift of peace, momentary but healing all the same.
My father’s family emigrated to America from this corner of the Austro-Hungarian Empire at the end of the nineteenth century. How remarkable, that my characters’ wanderlust led me to my very own ancestors, allowing me to offer a small tribute to their memory.
Readers, Lisa has a question for you: Have any of you been surprised by what you’ve learned about your own family history?
ABOUT THE BOOK: Burning Cold
Budapest: 1956. Newlywed Cara Walden’s brother Zoltán has disappeared in the middle of the Hungarian revolution, harboring a deadly wartime secret. Will Cara or the Soviets find him first?
The noir film of Graham Greene’s The Third Man inspires Lisa Lieberman’s historical thriller. Burning Cold features a compelling female protagonist who comes to know her own strength in the course of her adventures.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Lisa Lieberman
Lisa Lieberman writes the Cara Walden series of historical mysteries based on old movies and featuring blacklisted Hollywood people in dangerous international locales. Her books hit the sweet spot between Casablanca and John Le Carré. Trained as a modern European historian, she has written extensively on the postwar era. She is Vice President of the New England chapter of Sisters in Crime and a member of Mystery Writers of America.
Here is the link to my website: http://deathlessprose.com
Here is the link to my Facebook Author Page: https://www.facebook.com/LisaLiebermanAuthor/