Q&A With Madeline Martin
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Behind The Book With Madeline Martin
My latest Behind The Book post will be with New York Times Bestselling author of historical romance and historical fiction novels, Madeline Martin. I was lucky to do a regular Q&A with her last summer and I read her books The Librarian Spy & The Keeper of Hidden Books. So this edition of Behind The Story will be about The Keeper of Hidden Books.
Q: How did you come about a particular part of history with Hitler banning and having his Nazis burn books? Why was writing The Keeper of Hidden Books so important to you?
A: I started my research knowing I really wanted to incorporate something with books. As a reader, books are such a ubiquitous part of my life that I really enjoy incorporating it into my writing. It took a while, but I uncovered details about the librarians of Warsaw’s public library and what they did to try to save books and continue to allow patrons to read despite closures. Their efforts were truly incredible, including building fake walls to hide books behind, keeping secret warehouses of books the Nazis wanted to destroy, even turning the library into something of a fortress during the Warsaw Uprising to not only protect books, but also librarians and their families. Writing this book was so important to illustrate what happened in Poland during WWII, and how hard the Poles fought back to salvage the culture the Nazis were so determined to erase, including books that were being banned and destroyed.
Q: I saw on your Facebook pictures of you in Poland. What was it like seeing Poland and what were your favorite places to see?
A: Going to Poland was such an amazing experience. I usually try to learn a little bit of every language of the places I travel to and definitely found Polish to be one of the hardest. My mother came with me on this research trip, which made it even more special as she reads all of my books.
When the Nazis fled Warsaw, they destroyed over 85% of the city. They drilled holes into important buildings, inserted dynamite, and blew them up. Warsaw has been rebuilt with the rubble left behind, using larger chunks almost like puzzle pieces and building new what could not be salvaged. So even today, you can see where some areas of a building have dark, pock marked stone (from bullets/explosions) framed by lighter, newer stonework around it. It’s pretty incredible.
I think one of my favorite places to visit was the uprising museum. It had so much information that it took me three days to go through! They really did such a wonderful job compiling so much information and in such a compelling way that I found the museum powerful and impactful.
Q: I know you mentioned in your authors note that several of the characters in the book are based off of real people. To clarify Basia Berman, Dr. Bachulksi, Dr. Bykowski, Mayor Starzynksi are real people. Are Zofia and Janina based on anyone or were they characters you created for the story?
A: Zofia and Janina are not real people, but I did use a lot of inspiration from real, firsthand accounts to create their characters and their stories.
Q: Do you think it’s fair to say that The Keeper of Hidden Books is almost relevant now with people either wanting to change the words written in classic books, or banning books altogether? I think the most important lessons we can learn from this book is that we need to learn from history so it isn’t repeated and that if a book is banned or destroyed so is a culture.
A: Sadly, yes, it is incredibly relevant today. When I wrote this book, I wrote it entirely from the Polish perspective during the Nazi occupation. After the book was completed, I was going through my galleys (the final stage of making any last-minute changes before it is sent to print), I was reading through the news (ie: procrastinating) and came across an article about books being banned in schools. Once I started to read the manuscript, I realized how incredibly timely the story really is.
Q: What important lessons do you want readers to take away from reading The Keeper of Hidden Books?
A: Based on conversations I’ve had with others, it is not commonly known what Poland really endured during World War II, nor do many people realize how incredibly brave Polish soldiers and insurgents were as they fought back. I would love for readers to come away with an appreciation for their efforts. I also think the Nazi attack on culture is something to take careful note of – how much culture really impacts society and also why it is so important to protect.