Reine is born during the chaos of World War I. She grows up in Germany unaware of the political struggles that surround her family. It seems her life is orchestrated by a dark, unseen hand. Repeatedly she struggles with tragedy and an insatiable need for love. In a Yugoslavian town, Stefan is raised among Jews, Muslim, and Orthodox Serbs who happily coexist despite their cultural differences. As he matures into adulthood, Stefan eagerly learns about the world around him, driven by a natural curiosity.
After Reine enters womanhood and becomes a nurse, she lives a cautious life until a Nazi soldier captures her heart amid increasing unrest in the world. Stefan, who is now an optimistic member of the Royal Yugoslav Army, soon finds himself in the midst of an escalating war, his charmed life unraveling as the Germans march almost unhindered into his homeland. As Reine and Stefan face heartache, uncertainty, and the daunting task of rebuilding, each bravely moves forward through travail to rebuild their lives and find a destiny that may just include each other.
In this historical novel based on true events, a Serbian soldier and a German nurse test the resilience of the human spirit, love, forgiveness, and hope for the future as World War II ravages Europe.
|Publisher:||Balboa Press Australia|
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.48(d)|
Read an Excerpt
Based on a True Story: Two Lives Torn Apart by War, Cradled in the Palm of Fate
By Merima Jackson
Balboa PressCopyright © 2015 Merima Jackson
All rights reserved.
Born through Love
* * *
Sitting with a guide on her right side, Reine doodled, fleshing out a plan for an amazing life. Caution cast aside, she wanted it all. Here the little queen played freely. Unencumbered, she created, exploring the multitude of possibilities before her, imagination and ingenuity playmates in the Garden of Eden. Supported by a sense of oneness, she knew that, no matter what transpired, she would be safe. Her essence pondered a being of light, anxiously waiting for incarnation into the place of endless limitations. Would she forget this liberation by experiencing injustice and heartache, and succumbing to unregulated chaotic emotions? In this ethereal zone, that seemed impossible. Insistently, her inner voice summoned her, as she reluctantly focussed and began to finalise the details of her next life.
Like the coming of autumn, sadness fleetingly touched her being. Joy and expectation mingled easily with regret. Soon she would forget this elevated state. Reine allowed it to pass through her, dissipating into the void. Slowing her vibration, thickness permeated her cells. Her essence spiralled purposefully downward. Joining the planetary body of earth, she scanned prospective couples, those wishing to have a child. To her surprise, despite the war in Europe, she found an ample array of prospective parents. Working purely instinctively, her intuition led her to the couple who would provide by their love the route for her incarnation and, by the hand of fate, a fertile ground for growth. From the highest vantage point, she selected to live a life full of experiences, colour, and regret.
Subconsciously she knew her parents already, but as her memories gradually slipped away, she took more time to be near them. Firstly, she concentrated her effort on finding a father, the ideal male aspect—by nature withdrawn, apparently aloof; he remained vigilant, always waiting for something to happen. Watching him, she noticed that he prided himself in being prepared, always in control, a good and dependable man. Everybody liked him, although no one actually understood that they really did not know him at all. Blending well, he barely created a ripple on the pond of life, and yet a certain tension shadowed him like a heavy winter coat, restricting his movement.
Physically he appealed to Reine. Though not conventionally handsome, his conservative clothing and medium height and build created a well-assembled aura. Looking out from the photograph on the hearth, deep-set, mystical eyes regarded the world intently. Unfathomably complex, they reflected a fiercely protective nature, a quality that would ultimately win her mother's heart. Similarly, Paps would gain her complete trust, break her heart, and wound her so deeply that the precious gift of love would unthinkably transmute into a seething hatred. This man, a vassal, offered a multitude of opportunities, chances for her to feel the both agony and ecstasy, diametrically opposed extremes. Hatred and love, so close yet so irreconcilable, two faces of the same coin.
Seeing him on a Sunday, one could easily mistake him for a man of substance, a banker or a businessman perhaps. Like so many sitting nearby, he worked in one of the lowliest positions—that of a miner. Inside Mother Earth all year round at a steady twelve degrees, he picked away at the coal seams to provide fuel for homes and industry. Dust covered him, making him one with his surroundings, a black chameleon. His eyes observed it all, and his soul absorbed it all, especially the unspoken fear of asphyxiation. But in his suit, he fooled the world of judgement, easily mistaken as a man of means.
Reine watched her mother sitting in the church pew, sunbeams streaming through the stained glass encircling her head. Dust fairies danced innocently overhead, carried whimsically on the breath of hymns, floating upward toward heaven. Mami looked elated as the music carried her spirit to a place untouched by earthly concerns. Reine knew her destiny was about to be played out, observing the magic of the moment when her parents met for the first time. Paps looked up. On seeing Reine's mother, his normal control slipped from his grasp. Mami's outer beauty first caught his attention, but her inner beauty captured his heart. Small in stature, she frequently found people initially mistook her for a child. One look into her eyes revealed the presence of understated power and formidable determination.
Glancing sideways, she smiled at him. The ease of her smile seemed to illuminate the whole church. Caught unawares, he wondered if she could read the thoughts rattling noisily around inside his head. The smile touched him as if she had gently kissed his cheek, leaving him slightly dizzy and off-kilter. It triggered a vision in his mind, exploring incredible possibilities for their future that were his alone, as she remained quite oblivious to his presence. A childlike nymph, she sang, unaware. Reine watched her Paps form his intent, fostering the dream that he would meet Mami, win her heart, and that they would grow old together, still deeply in love. Far away, the minister's voice droned on. Uncertain how to meet her, he prayed for God's help, and on the way out she stood there next him, smiling knowingly.
From that first meeting, love blossomed, and soon they felt only the incredible urge to be together, building a life of joy and promise. Paps felt inadequate at times, knowing that he could only offer her a modest life. Mami just smiled at him, not saying a word, and he knew that she believed in him, had faith in his commitment to her, and loved him from the depth of her being. Now two years into World War I, the effect of the conflict made its presence known. Food became scarce, war came close to them, and Saarland suffered repeated attacks whilst the need for coal increased. Paps watched as his wife's purity, optimism, and laughter leached out of her, glancing at him anxiously each morning as he left for the mine. Looking at her, he knew she reflected his own sense of hopelessness, anger, and mourning at the freedom of youth hemmed in by the restrictions of war. Like the rubble on the ground, their dreams appeared to be thwarted by conflict.
With her by his side, he still dreamed grandiose dreams. Not only on Sundays would he wear a suit, but every day. Maybe he might own two or three, and Mami would be dressed by a French seamstress. The cold, darkness, and exhaustion of the mine would be behind him, appreciated but discarded. He could be that man of means, but the war came snatching that opportunity from his grasp. War was close, the screams from the battlefield merging with the screams of frustration in his head. Working longer hours, feeling the earth shake as bombs landed dangerously close by, he found it hard to get his breath at times, not realising that he held it in the grip of fear. Mami watched him, praying every morning and night that he would return home in his lowly service of the kaiser.
Reine stayed close by, waiting for the doorway to mortality to spring open. At night, after washing the coal dust from his aching body, they lay together, holding each other close, ignoring the grumble of hunger in their stomachs, accompanied by the ever-present hum of trench warfare. Without speaking, they bathed with the rest of humanity in a sea of uncertainty, witnessing the bloodiest loss of life the world had yet seen. On a September night, cool with the arrival of autumn, they made love, an act of comfort that warmed the ever-present chill. His hands slid over her shoulders, rested briefly on her breasts, cradled her stomach, and caressed her increasingly bony hips. A flush of desire warmed him as he slid the nightgown up her body and over her head. She, too, felt aroused by the warmth of his longing and helped him disrobe her in silence. She loved seeing him want her, honour her femininity, and felt a deep connection with him whenever they made love.
The door opened a crack. The war had taken a great toll on her husband. Now love, concern, and compassion flooded her heart as she tried to comfort him. His kisses bathed her, and she responded in a free, unashamed manner. Speaking her love for him, she caressed him, pulling him closer with an urgency driven by the mutual desire for union. Reine waited and knew that her moment of incarnation lay close at hand. She felt the change from desire to passionate love, escalating upward toward ecstasy. The bliss would last a brief moment, but it merged their souls, henceforth yearning for paradise. At the crescendo, Reine entered incarnation, falling exhausted into the eternal darkness and safety of her mother's womb. While her parents slept, all energy spent, limbs entwined, so did she—a being of light commencing her journey in the world of humanity. Until birth, she marvelled at the outer world from within.
The pregnancy progressed well, and despite the war and the limitations it caused, both parents watched and waited in wondrous anticipation as Reine's belly grew, a precious life nurtured, safe and protected. Paps found it amazing to see the transformation in his wife, the increasing confidence and maturity that accompanied each day. He loved to see her naked and marvel at the life hiding inside her expanding belly. Neighbours shared graciously the little food they had, ensuring Reine's health, the gift of a child rekindling the flicker of hope in their small community. To his surprise, sexual arousal ameliorated, replaced by a more enduring love for his wife and increasing impatience to meet his firstborn child.
One evening in the height of the European summer, Reine responded to an irresistible call—birth. She entered the world at home assisted by two ladies in the neighbourhood, since hospital beds were full to overflowing with wounded soldiers and civilians. Birthing was a purely female domain, excluding Paps. Whilst he waited edgily, listening to his wife's muffled cries; he wondered how long this process would take. All he wanted to do was hold Mami, to comfort her, but clearly his place was in the parlour, just outside the bedroom door. Each time the door opened for fresh water or towels, he hoped for news. Time passed incredibly slowly, each moment stretching into eternity until through the expectant silence came a small cry, the cry of an infant! On his feet, not aware of standing up, he flew to the door. Frustrated, again he had to wait until eventually the door opened and he was invited to enter, finding his wife in a fresh nightgown holding a swaddled child, a girl, his first-born.
Exhaustion shadowed her eyes wider than he had ever seen them before. A mixture of the remembered pain and ecstasy filled them with incredible radiance. The memory of the day he first glanced at his wife's face came flooding back; now he would behold his child. Softly Mami called him and gave the child to him. Faltering, he fumbled the child, so frightened that his work- worn hands would somehow hurt his daughter. Used to holding implements of cold, unyielding steel, the softness of the newborn seemed to melt in his grasp. Nothing would ever hurt this precious life, he vowed. She was so small, helpless, and warm. She smelt like new-mown hay, and her skin felt softer than anything he had touched before. Sitting on the bed, he began to unwrap her, revealing her head and face, acutely aware how rough and calloused his hands were next to his daughter's soft white skin. Light-filled eyes looked at him with unconditional love and trust, triggering tears that flowed silently down his cheeks.
Mami watched him. Never before had she seen such tenderness. Reaching out, she softly touched his hand, basking in the warmth of the flame in his heart.
"She is my queen," he thought. A regal, romantic French name should be given to his daughter. Together they agreed on Reine, meaning "the precious queen." Reine's face shone, round like her mother's, her mouth curled up at the edges, a small smile gracing the rosebud of her mouth. What lay behind that hint of a smile? Was it mirth from her mother, or cynicism from her father? The little button nose that curled up ever-so-slightly at the tip belonged to his wife, but the eyes were soon to become dark and fathomless. They enveloped him until he lay on the bottom of a mossy well, disoriented and confused. These feelings, where did they come from? How could they intrude, dispelling this enchanted state?
Lovingly, her parents watched Reine's growth and development. Reflecting on her early childhood, she had few memories of her younger years. Indiscriminately they flooded in, one of her favourites, going to the park with Mami and her younger brother. There were only two of them back then. They took turns on the swing and the slide, never tiring, not ever bored.
"Higher, higher," she pleaded with her mother, who always reneged, pushing the swing until she soared high into the sky, flying free. Looking down, smiling, Reine observed her brother's blonde head as he tugged urgently at Mami's skirt, barely able to wait for his turn. Reluctantly but obediently, Reine allowed him to have his turn. On the swing, things zoomed in and out of focus. She observed readily that life swayed through her; a mere child, she could not decide what to keep and what to discard.
Paps loved watching his children, especially Reine, a seasoned observer himself; he noted how she actively absorbed her world. It troubled him that at birth she radiated such purity and now she lived in a harsh world, WWI just over, their world about to change radically. Mami noticed the similarity of their eyes, and for a reason she could not quite pin down, the thought disturbed her. Aware of her husband's tendency to despondency, she played a critical role in keeping him buoyant with her optimistic and light-hearted ways. Now that the war had ended and the imminent danger for the skies had ceased, he worked as always, safe under the care of Saint Barbara. Unbeknown to her, his world had not returned to normal.
* * *
In a small country town, the promise of spring mellowed into the duality of summer, when the morning crispness fuelled a productive desire whilst the heat of day evoked the deep ache of laziness in work-weary bones. Spring, so green and juicy, enriched the growth in the corn fields, encouraging the plants to search for nutrients downward and sunlight upward. The rows stood proudly, bladed leaves curling around the golden gift yet to mature from within. A promise of the future glowed just beyond reach, a fragile aura, embracing each leaf. The vegetable garden also showed potential, paprika and tomato plants already thigh-high and flowering prolifically. The orchards, though no longer pink and white with snow-like petals, boasted small green pearls of immature fruit, anticipating preserving or brandy-making.
Stefan's father worked hard, creating a comfortable life for his wife and two children. Living on the land appeared simple, but it took knowledge, planning, and a dash of entrepreneurial flair to ensure the barn and cellar remained full. In Dala at the end of the lane, the border crossing abutted their land. They lived in a remote rural setting, a small town where neighbours kept a casual eye on each other. Jews, Muslims, and Orthodox Serbs coexisted, largely unaffected by the cultural differences between them. Families lived each according to their traditions, and the children played together in the schoolyard. Hungarians crossed the border, moving freely in and out to visit relatives and friends. White stones lay unguarded on the ground, creating a boundary between the countries, Serbia on one side and Hungary on the other. Children came and played here, jumping from one stone to the next, at times stumbling, footfalls sometimes in one country and sometimes in another. Whilst working in the fields, the neighbours would cross over to share a drink, a bite to eat, or simply conversation under a tree. No one heeded the division.
For eons the Slavs longed for a country, a place of unity, a place venerated and glorified. Tata greeted the formation of Yugoslavia—literally translated as "the union of the Slavs"—in 1917 with joy. Although the new country was composed of a variety of ethnic groups, each with their own beliefs and religious practices, here in Dala, distanced from the city, they lived a life of tolerance. Larger centres closer to Belgrade bred discontent, which tarnished the union with all its potential for peace, reconciliation, and development. History's powerful lessons ignored, dissatisfaction took hold. Across Europe, too, the rumblings of an ever-increasing discontent based largely on territorial boundaries arose. Here, however, as the flat plains extended into eternity and blurred in the heat haze, political matters seemed far away. For now, Stefan's family enjoyed the idealistic reality of a unified land.
Excerpted from Schicksal by Merima Jackson. Copyright © 2015 Merima Jackson. Excerpted by permission of Balboa Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Chapter 1: Born through Love, 1,
Chapter 2: The Magic Fades, 15,
Chapter 3: Alone and Vulnerable, 33,
Chapter 4: A Misty Dawn, 49,
Chapter 5: Careers of Convenience, 65,
Chapter 6: A Hand to Hold, 81,
Chapter 7: Reality Check, 97,
Chapter 8: Faith Wavers, 115,
Chapter 9: The Abyss, 132,
Chapter 10: Frozen Hope, 148,
Chapter 11: One Piece at a Time, 165,