Chrystyna LUCYK-BERGER is the author of the award-winning RESCHEN VALLEY series, and this year released a collection of short WW2 stories based on stories of her relatives from Ukraine, called Souvenirs from Kiev. On May 5th, her new novel, Magda’s Mark will be featured in The Road to Liberation six-author collection of novels dedicated to commemorating the end of WW2. She’s an American ex-pat living in Austria.
To celebrate her new release, Chrystyna was kind enough to grant me an interview! We chatted about her books, her writing process.
Me: What are your novels about and where are they set?
Chrystyna: My stories tend to focus on the things that make my blood boil. My greatest values include fairness, tolerance and justice. Combine that with my love for discovering stories beneath the surface of things, and you’ve got a writer who writes the institutionalized stories: join ‘em, leave ‘em or take ‘em down.
My Reschen Valley series is set in northern Italy, in the province that was once Austria, and is based on the building of a dam. The fascist regime destroyed the entire valley and displaced hundreds of German-speaking families.
Souvenirs from Kiev is based on my relatives’ histories during WWII in Ukraine and takes readers on a perilous journey from the Underground to the DP camps of Germany.
Magda’s Mark, which is releasing with the six-book collection, The Road to Liberation, on May 5th, is based on a true story about my friend’s husband. Her father-in-law was a district SS officer in Moravia. When his son was born, he was returned to the mother circumcised.
Now, can you imagine the repercussions? My first thought was, “Who had the chutzpah to do that—pun intended—and what had pushed that person to take that great of risk?” My next question was, “And when we are pushed that far, are we not just becoming ‘one of ‘em’?”
As soon as I start asking those questions, I know I have a story—or an entire book. Magda’s Mark started off as a short story but when I got invited to take part in The Road to Liberation collection, it expanded into a novel. I’m so glad I tackled that. I loved going to the beginning and to the end of Magda’s story.
Me: What sort of research did Magda’s Mark require?
Chrystyna: I always, always visit the places I write about. I’m grateful to be able to do that. I live in central Europe, so hopping into the car and driving to my locales is hardly a challenge. In January this year I visited Litomerice, Czech Republic with my friend and cover designer. She goes on these research trips with me because she finds them inspiring and enriching. The visit was a pleasant surprise for us both. I had written ahead to some of the libraries and ministries requesting to meet with sources I needed. Litomerice is not a terribly small town, but a number of people knew who we were when we arrived. They’re kind of excited that someone from America is writing about them.
Litomerice is also located just across the river from Theresienstadt concentration camp and that was how I was able to tie in the Holocaust theme. So, I used the location and the situations that happened there and made up all the characters, who are then affected by the actual historical events.
Me: What is it that inspires you to write about WWII?
Chrystyna: I had no intention of being a historical fiction novelist. It just happened that way. In fact, I thought I would be find myself somewhere between Bridget Jones’ Diary (chicklit) and Elif Shafak (literary). I know that’s broad but I definitely thought I’d be writing humorous and poignant women’s fiction. But I undertook a project in my mid-twenties which included recording the events my relatives experienced in WWII Ukraine. After I was done writing what would become an unpublishable piece of work, I drove down to South Tyrol—that area of northern Italy I mentioned above—to recover. I passed Reschen Lake as I always did, haunted by that steeple poking out of the water. But this time the community had set up an exhibit illustrating exactly how the valley had been flooded. I took a walk, and wham! Like spirits rising from the waters, I had a whole cast of characters hovering before me, just above where those villages had once stood. I took a deep breath and thought, another historical? Really? But they all crawled into my Nissan Micra and accompanied me for the next ten years.
I’ve got two more books to go and when I hit the WW2 years with the current WIP, I realized I still have quite a few WWII stories in me. Souvenirs came out in January to rave reviews! Magda’s Mark was written in parallel and releases May 5th. I’ve got at least two more in me that I'll tackle after the current series.
Me: Do you think fiction helps us understand the past?
Chrystyna: I think stories help us to understand the past, the present and the future. We function on narrative as much as we do on air and water. Marsha J Skrypuch, who writes YA hist fic, describes historical fiction as a “vehicle for empathy.” I wholeheartedly agree. I also believe historical fiction and science fiction help us to understand ourselves as a species, and the societies we live in. Surely, we learn historical details from our novels, but these stories are character-driven. They should resonate with the reader.
Me: What’s next for you?
Chrystyna: Souvenirs from Kiev will be published as an audiobook soon (we’ve been seriously delayed due to the COVID-19 situation), as will the first book in the Reschen Valley series. We still have to produce the second book but then the box set will be ready.
I’m finishing up Two Fatherlands, which is the second-to-last book in the series, and Magda’s Mark is going to get a facelift before she becomes a standalone novel next spring (I’ve got some fleshing out on the story to do and advance readers have said they “want more” so I’m going to give them more). Then, I’ve got another two WW2 books in my head, and a 16th-century Ottoman series that’s been roughly plotted out since 2017!
In other words…plenty.
To learn more about Chrystyna, visit her on social media:
Subscribe to her Newsletter: https://www.subscribepage.com/RSV
Reschen Valley Box Set
Souvenirs from Kiev
Road to Liberation (Featuring Magda’s Mark)