Q&A: Lynn Austin
The initial idea came when my mother gave me her collection of scrapbooks from the 1940s. Throughout World War II, she had cut out articles about the war that interested her, as well as maps and photographs. I was able to get a very unique perspective on how a young girl, growing up during those devastating war years, might have viewed world events. One of the main characters in the book, twelve-year-old Esther Shaffer, also collects articles and maps about the war from the newspaper.
2. Did you encounter any interesting challenges while writing?
For my Jewish character’s story (Jacob Mendel), I needed to find out when Americans first learned about Hitler’s atrocities and how that news became known. This information was surprisingly hard to find. As I read through my mother’s scrapbooks, I found several early indications of what Hitler was doing, but I don’t think the world really understood the full extent of it. Any news that was smuggled out of Nazi-occupied countries seemed so unbelievable that most people assumed it was exaggerated. I finally located an excellent sourcebook when I visited President Roosevelt’s home in Hyde Park, NY. The book is entitled Saving the Jews: Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Holocaust by Robert N. Rosen.
3. Did While We’re Far Apart involve any other special research?
For me, the most interesting research I did involved learning about everyday life in an Orthodox Jewish community so that I could bring my character, Jacob Mendel, to life. A Jewish family invited me to celebrate the Sabbath and several holidays such as Passover, Hanukkah, and Purim in their home. A Hungarian- Jewish friend told me how the Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg had saved his family, which led me to research that part of the story.
4. What is the underlying theme of the book?
The underlying message of the book turned out to be the importance of family. Because of the war, my main characters experience many disruptions in their families’ lives and are also mourning losses. The search for lost family members becomes very important to Penny, Esther, and Mr. Mendel. But even as they learn to treasure the families that God has given them, they also discover that a true “family” isn’t necessarily made up of blood relatives.
5. What take-away message do you have for your readers?
Throughout the story, there is so much in my characters’ lives that is completely out of their control. They can only trust and believe that God is in control whether they can see Him working or not. I hope that my readers’ faith will be strengthened by this story and that they will learn that they can trust God’s sovereignty in every situation.
6. How does a story that takes place during World War II have relevance for modern readers?
I love to write historical fiction because I believe that the lessons our ancestors learned when facing challenges in the past can be applied to readers’ lives today. When we hear news on TV of tragic world events and unrest, life often seems very frightening and out of control. It must have been the same for families during those terrible war years when no one knew when or how the global war would end. Good friends of ours have a son who is currently fighting in the war in Afghanistan, and I know how difficult it is for them as they wait and worry and pray for his safe return. Many families in America experienced painful separations during WWII, as well. We can learn a great deal from their courage and the sacrifices they made. And we can know that through it all, God is still sovereign, just as He has been throughout history. I want readers to know that God is with them in all of the challenges they face today.