By MARK KLAAS
Auburn Reporter Editor
Jun 25 2009, 11:11 PM · UPDATED
Two trial novels fizzled, but a determined Auburn author kept her compelling story alive and delivered a sprawling saga on the third try.
For Irma Fritz, "Irretrievably Broken" was an ambitious project that demanded five years of soul-searching, considerable research and persistence. In the end, the moving story - one of love and understanding, triumph and tragedy - is everything she had hoped it would be.
"It was so joyful, but it was so sad to finish it," Fritz said from her Lea Hill home. "It took me awhile to get these characters out of my head. They were absolutely talking to me. They kept talking to me afterward."
Fritz's personal connection to her characters stemmed from family history and experiences, the basis and inspiration for her recently-released "faction" - part-fact, part-fiction - novel.
Fritz's story is interesting and effective in scope. A cross-country road trip - embarked upon by the protagonist, her mother and her niece - serves as the backdrop for exploring timely and timeless issues of race, class, violence and personal tragedies.
A newspaper clipping from Fritz's hometown in Germany inspired "Irretrievably Broken." A neighboring property had been torn down unearthing a mikvah, a Jewish ritual bath. Experts speculated that a synogogue was most likely situated beneath the foundations of the house Fritz lived in as a child.
"I read the clipping and promptly forgot about it. Or so I thought," Fritz said. "But this discovery must have been burned into my subconscious. After I finished the novel, I rediscovered the clipping and realized how these facts had informed my writing. There, at the heart of a story of adventure and travel, of love and loss, was a Holocaust story, come to light after years of concealment, very much like the mikvah that had been unearthed so many years later under our former neighbor's house in a small German town where no one in post-World War II Germany ever spoke about such things."
The plot evolves around the lives of three characters - German ex-patriots Nora, Ruth and Bettina Adler. The story takes them on a journey across the United States, to the bush country of Canada, and to a cold case murder scene in Germany as this multi-cultural family confronts diversity and racism.
"They take a physical journey across the U.S., but it is also an emotional journey, an odyssey as they say," Fritz said.
Nora is obsessed with the Native American husband she's about to divorce and consumed with guilt over a friend she may have caused harm. Ruth, Nora's mother, a blunt and opinionated woman, witnessed a brutal murder and saved a life during the Holocaust; and 12-year-old Bettina, Ruth's granddaughter and the mixed race child of an African-American and a white German, is devastated by the death of her mother and the neglect of her father.
Each character has deep secrets they have kept for years, secrets that are revealed during the journey. Everybody comes to terms with their own plights. In the end, they come to a better understanding of themselves and each other, dealing with a wide range of issues, connected by family and pain and joy. From the extensive and sometimes bumpy journey, they learn the importance of family, acceptance and forgiveness, Fritz said.
The book provides an interesting and surprising end.
"I hope the book has a very wide readership," Fritz said. "People will read it for the plot. I hope others will read it and discover little nuggets of wisdom ... of love, peace."
Encouraged by her first novel, Fritz is working on a series of short stories and is considering another book about the savings and loan institution based on her insights from working in the industry.
Like "Irretrievably Broken", Fritz promises to deliver a story rich in characters, dialogue and description.
"I just love it," she said of her writing. "You're amazed at your own creation ... your own work published in 500 pages."
Auburn Reporter Editor Mark Klaas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 253-833-0218, ext. 5050
Causes Irma Fritz Supports
Music of Remembrance, Seattle, WA; Compass Center, Seattle, WA; Seattle Opera, Seattle, WA; Seattle Art Museum, Seattle, WA; KCTS 9, Seattle, WA (PBS)