Talk about Katharina’s character at the beginning of the book, the impressions she makes. How does she change? What are the external forces that make her that way: cultural, traditional, gender expectations, self-inflicted, etc.
Conundrum – I wanted a feisty, spirited and strong protagonist when I set out to write Katharina. I know it sounds really esoteric or odd when I say things like, “the characters write themselves”. But both Katharina and Angelo, are strong-willed characters and they tend to fight me about the directions I would like to take things. And sometimes I just have to roll with it.
Katharina’s case in this first book was exactly this: the more I got into her world, the more I realized that her circumstances and her nature—most importantly—were going to be her big internal conflict. She just was not going to forgive herself for what she had done, which is mostly, blowing her chances at becoming a landowner when she gets pregnant out of wedlock. Sure, Florian comes and saves the day, but then she’s got her shame to battle with, and a new conflict within herself: she feels beholden to Florian and it takes her awhile to discern her real feelings for a guy who, let’s be honest, is a pretty darned good catch anyway. These internal conflicts change Katharina. She reigns in her more risk-taking, “I don’t care what people think” side. In fact, she almost wants to blend into the community’s landscape. Their expectations, rituals and traditions.
In other words, she begins losing herself. And who hasn’t experienced that before?
When Angelo Grimani is in the Reschen Valley, he is there to do a job. He is interested in doing this job right. What is it about his character that stands in the way of executing his plans successfully, of leading him astray? Who is/are his antagonist(s)?
Angelo. Oh, Angelo! He’s my most imperfect character.
His journey of personal self-development is a long one. This is one guy who is being bounced about between two interest groups—mainly his wife’s and her family’s, and his father’s and Angelo’s family. And Angelo tries to do right by them all, which is impossible. On the one hand, he wants to support Chiara’s political causes but not at the cost of winning power for himself in his position at the ministry. And when that requires him to join the Fascist party, well… the only one who approves—indeed forces him into it—is the Colonel. And that’s Angelo’s greatest wish: to just have his father’s recognition and respect. Problem is, Angelo’s dealing with a passionate antagonist.
The Colonel might come across as a con artist, but his ambitions to help Italy win the industrial race is real. It’s what he wants for his country and he gets a kick out of having the power to steer things in that direction. Even if it means trampling on his own son, or manipulating him. Angelo’s antagonist is his father—but only in so far as Angelo’s selfish pursuit for recognition is concerned.
Yes, they are on two different playing fields trying to attain the same thing, but what Angelo’s really up against is the system, and when that system turns into a fascist-ruled one, he’s smaller than David against Goliath, which is why he cannot win. Not yet. Give Angelo some time. He has a lot to learn, but in Part 2, he makes quite some headway. The problem is, he’s easily distracted and diverted by women in power… whether it is his wife, Katharina’s later on, or Gina Conti—who is one of my absolute favourite characters to write now.
In Chapter 14, when Katharina and Florian get married, a new threat rears its head. What is beginning to happen within the community? Why?
I aimed to write about a tight-knit community that depends on one another for its survival in the harsh environment of the alpine valley.
After the Great War, the Reschen Valley is reeling from its losses and the economic hardships they face with inflation and loss of workers. Anyone familiar with the Treaty of St Germaine is familiar with how the conditions of that treaty affected the losing sides and eventually led to WW2. That’s where we have Katharina. Then comes the annexation by Italy.
And the Italian authorities are beginning a program of systematic oppression on the German-speaking population. The threat of taking away their land is one of the most frightening of all.
This is naturally going to cause resentment, bitterness, and even talk about revolt. Our first peek at this is how Florian—who is also an outsider—gets treated by the locals. It’s really subtle at first, beginning with Toni Ritsch, the Thalers and Steinhauser’s neighbor. He makes fun of Florian, calling him something of a “softie” for not drinking with the boys during Florian and Katharina’s wedding.
Then it becomes less subtle when Dr Hanny comes in drunk, obviously upset about something. Namely, Jutta’s husband, Fritz, has somehow reappeared. Just before she can win the inn for herself, and thus some security.
And then there is Dr Hanny’s knowledge of what is going to happen with the bank and the mortgages, namely that the Italians would put such demands on the locals in debt, that taking their land would be like taking candy from a baby. These are the first fissures and cracks we see in this otherwise supportive community. Slowly, but surely, we also see that some of the neighbors are collaborating with the Italians, are taking advantage of what they have to offer if they submit to Italian rule and law. Whilst, on the other side, we know that people like Jutta Hanny and Toni Ritsch are nursing their resentment, fear and hate of the Italians, and will criticize anyone who shows any sympathies to the “other” side.
Talk about how shame impacts Jutta, Angelo and Katharina in this novel.
Shame is crippling and that is what keeps my characters in this first part of the story from really making a lot of headway.
Jutta is crippled by her shame about her deserter husband, her son, whom she loves but hinders her with his disability. She is ashamed of the fact that she is still beholden to a man who has left her high and dry. In the next book, her insecurities really come to the top and it’s going to cause new conflicts for her.
Katharina’s shame solely comes from what she did with Angelo and how she lost her chances at a new kind of life, in a time when women were—though not so much in her valley—looking to emancipate themselves. She could have had a small part in that. Instead, she is punishing herself by going back to the traditional ways and expectations. She has yet a lot to learn from Florian, though, and she will do so quickly. He’s really good for her.
Angelo feels inadequate, thanks to his father’s strong hand in belittling all that he does. Angelo has also set out to live a life more modern and with gender equality when he married the strong-willed, activist Chiara. We get the feeling that they are equals, but slowly, as Angelo wrestles with his feelings of guilt and shame for having lied to Chiara, he also realizes that he not all that unlike his father. Both will do anything to win what they believe in, and both—as has been alluded to the Colonel—have shown tendencies toward infidelity. So, now he’s wrestling with the whole idea that he’s not at all unlike his father as he would like to believe.
Jutta, Angelo and Katharina are all struggling with the rapid changes taking place in the throes of the world’s industrial and political revolutions. What are their different strategies in handling those changes, and how successful are they?
Jutta can come across as being pretty confrontational, and therefore, pretty emotional. She puts a lot of value on power and access to information. One of her symbols is the key chain. Having all those keys in her possession, gives her a sense of security and importance. But what would happen if one of those keys were taken away from her? You’d find that out soon enough if you keep reading. Then we see a different kind of Jutta; one who can quickly stick her head in the sand and wait until the danger has passed.
Angelo’s aim is to do the right thing. By everyone. And when that’s not working, his strategy is to lie to himself: he lies about what he has done, he lies about what he really wants, he lies about his abilities to keep up with those changes, he even lies about the motivations for his actions. That does not mean he does not try, but the system is moving much faster than he can react. In the face of failure, he’s quick to lie and/or flee the scene.
Katharina on the other hand is trying terribly hard to juggle everything by urging harmony within the environment around her. She wants to make sure that everyone is okay, and tends to lose sight of her needs and desires in the process. She values a calm, peaceful approach to confrontations and conflicts and does not understand when someone does not want to approach opposing issues in the same manner as she. She is quick to retreat in the face of violence especially outside of her own immediate circle. She’s a nurturer, seeks a way to find resolutions in a peaceful manner.