Sunday, August 29, 2010

I'm Back

Dear CarlaVista readers,

I’m sorry for disappearing on you for a few weeks. I’ve been preoccupied with finishing my novel and also fighting a nasty, somewhat debilitating summer cold. The novel is now complete (apart from the never-ending task of revising) and my cold is almost gone.

I’ve begun querying literary agents, which means sending out tailored proposals, but the competition is fierce and the work of writing a book almost pales next to the work required in finding a literary agent. Many agents receive thousands of submissions a year and only take on one or two new, unpublished authors as clients. Of course, it helps to be plugged into the industry (which I am not), so even getting someone to read my submission is a small triumph. Please keep your fingers crossed for me as I tackle this seemingly hopeless endeavour. And if you have any insights to share or any connections in the publishing industry, please pass them on!

Now that summer is almost over and my book is complete, I will soon be in job search mode, as writing novels isn’t the most lucrative of professions (unless you’re a Stephen King or James Patterson). Any help in the employment realm would also be appreciated (marketing/business communications is my focus).

All that said, I will be resuming my blog writing, but not with the same regularity of the past. Please check in from time-to-time and continue to send me emails ( or leave comments at the end of the post. I’m always interested in what my readers have to say and happy to receive feedback.

On to today’s article:

                                        A Bad Apple

I’m going to share an excerpt from my father’s mother’s memoir, which I am currently editing at my father’s request. This memoir, written in Hungarian just before my grandmother’s death in 1952, was later translated into English by my mother, further enhanced with pictures and comments by my father, and is now being fine-tuned by me.

My paternal grandmother was of Hungarian heritage but born in Slovakia (which was part of Hungary before the First World War). She shares my birthday and was left-handed like me. Her name, Marica, is my middle name, which I’d actually have preferred as my given name. She was an avid reader and enjoyed writing—another commonality. Sadly, I never met her because she was trapped behind the iron curtain and prohibited from leaving the country. My father, having escaped across the border into Austria when he was nineteen years old, never saw or spoke to his beloved mother again.

In her memoir, my grandmother takes the reader through a rich heritage by describing in detail the sprawling estates and ancestral portraits regally displayed in the family’s manor homes. Sadly, few of the portraits and heirlooms survive today, a tiny fraction of which were smuggled out, eventually making it across the ocean and into our homes in Canada. Since her grandchildren would never experience or witness the splendour of her pre-communist life, my grandmother decided, on her deathbed (at the age of forty-five), to take us on a journey of our forebears’ history by means of her remarkable memory and beautiful prose.

There are tales of military conquests, political feats and business accomplishments—in a world where men received great educations and opportunities, while women stood in the background prodding them on (however, these women were no shrinking violets!).

My father took my siblings and me on a family pilgrimage to his homeland back in 1989, soon after the fall of iron curtain, and the images we saw were nothing like those described in my grandmother’s memoir. The lavish homes, confiscated by the communists, had fallen into disrepair, and the lush and fertile farmland that my grandfather had owned and managed had become barren and desolate. Once a thriving agricultural community, set in the beautiful High Tatras (the Alps of Eastern Europe), the natural beauty was tarnished by the surrounding poverty and dilapidation.

An old farmhand, who had once worked for my grandfather, recognized my father in the village and could not contain his excitement. “Are you coming back to reclaim the land and bring us back to prosperity?” he asked. When my father said no, that we were only visiting, the old man shook his head with sadness. “Our lives were ruined after the government took away your father’s land,” he said. “This place is a disaster now, nothing grows here anymore.”

So much for communism.

But I digress. The excerpt from the memoir that I want to share is something that stopped me cold when I read it. My grandmother relays an anecdote about one of the ancestors, a shocking betrayal that I think would make for great fiction. Here it is:

Probstner Andras Sr’s wife died early and soon after the sad event, his son informed him that he would like to marry the lovely Fuchs Johanna. Probstner Andras Sr, who by that time was a rich mine owner and had a great fortune, was not satisfied with his son’s choice because he had ambitious plans for him. To make his son forget his love, he sent him abroad for a year’s study (circa 1815). What a horrendous surprise it must have been for the young man when, upon his return, he saw his great love again…as his father’s wife! (He was 35 years older than her and they had six children together.) Soon after this the son married the younger sister of Johanna, but this marriage was not a happy one.

Can you imagine the scandal that would erupt today if some prominent figure did this to his own flesh and blood? After feeling great sympathy for the emotionally wounded son, who never recovered from the betrayal, I came to the realization that my father happens to be one of the descendants of the guilty couple. If it wasn’t for that union, he wouldn’t have been born, and neither would I for that matter! Well, I still feel sorry for the son.

I shouldn’t dwell on the one bad apple among the large cast of characters in this memoir, because most of my grandmother’s stories speak of valiant and noble deeds performed by upstanding people. But I found this to be an interesting lesson of legacy. This particular ancestor was not highlighted in my grandmother’s memoir for his great achievements, but rather for his immoral and shameful treatment of his son.

I guess there will always be a bad apple in every barrel of good ones.


  1. There are so many real-life tales that would make a great story, aren't there? I'm going to miss your weekly post, but I'm looking forward to reading that book!

  2. Carla, what a gift to have these stories passed down to you and, at times, eye opening! What a full life she lived in her 45 all too short year. Thanks for the blogs. Glad to hear your book is done!

  3. There is nothing like a bit of intrigue in the family tree! Thankfully your great-grandmother had the foresight to have it written down, otherwise this gem of a tale would have been lost in the mists of time. It's been great reading your posts, Carla. I look forward to getting them, if less frequently. And congrats on the book! Quite an achievement.