Colorado Springs grad’s new WWII novel inspired by German family history | Lumberjack Edition

L. Annette Bender had 20 pages in her World War II novel “The Vanishing Sky” when she found her father’s old photo.

He stood there in 1944, aged 13 or 14, wearing the recognizable Hitler Youth uniform and looking her in the eye. She was shocked. He had never mentioned this part of her life in the 16 years she had been with him before she died of lung cancer.

“I recognized him by his eyes,” says Bender, a former Colorado Springs resident. “All the photos in the album showed him as a playful, happy little boy. In this one, there was a sad look on his face.

At this time, her father became the inspiration for one of the main characters in her book about a German family during the war. Etta is the mother of two sons, both serving their country. His eldest, Max, returns from the Eastern Front, clearly affected by where he’s been and what he’s seen. Georg, the character based on his father, is in a school for the Hitler Youth, until he decides to drop out of his class and go home.

Before he started writing, Bender had the character of the mother in mind. Etta is based on her own immigrant mother, whom she describes as “incredibly devoted”. But the story didn’t come to fruition until she saw her dad’s photo.

“He’s the biggest mystery to me,” Bender says from his home in New Hampshire. “I regret not having asked him questions. Four months passed between his diagnosis and his death. All the times I sat with him, I never thought to ask him something like that. He served in the US Army and went to Vietnam. I had to figure things out afterwards. He took all his stories with him.

His mother became the sole source of information about his father. They spent hours talking, during which Bender heard the stories he had shared with his wife, including the story of how he ran away from his position in the Hitler Youth towards the end of the war, which became part of Georg’s trajectory in his novel. .

“She was really sharing and I cherish those hours we had,” says Bender, a 1985 Mitchell High School graduate. “She’s older now and her memory isn’t what it used to be.”

The novel, Binder’s first, was released in July and has already received praise from around the world, including a mention as a New York Times Book Review summer reading selection. She’s also the author of “Rise,” a 2012 collection of short stories set in the springtime of the ’70s and ’80s. It won the Mary McCarthy Award for Short Literature.

“An empathetic portrayal of the human cost of war…Binder’s etched prose, reluctance to whitewash complicity, and focus on Etta, a mother trying to hold her family together as madness and horror descend , offers a truly tragic vision,” the Sydney Morning Herald wrote of “The Vanishing Sky.”

Bender, who was born in Frankfurt, Germany, moved with her parents to Springs when she was 5 years old. After graduating from high school, she went to the University of Massachusetts, where she studied classics.

Eventually, she attended law school, worked as a lawyer, and took up the novel.

The first draft took eight years, then she put it away, quit practicing law, had a daughter, and wrote her award-winning collection of short stories. Eight long years later, she finally heard the long-abandoned manuscript calling her name.

“Writing, for better or for worse, is lonely, but not lonely,” she says. “You have the characters to keep you company. I never felt alone. Even though it (the setting) was dark, I had an overwhelming affection for the characters and wanted to see what happened to them. They were struggling with terrible things.

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