#29 Michelle Barker
December 07th, 2015
LOCATION: Bielkowo (formerly the German village of Beelkow), within Koszalin County, West Pomeranian Voivodeship, north-western Poland, near the Baltic Sea.
DIRECTIONS: 151 km (94 mi) north-east of the regional capital Szczecin. 54° 18″ 51′ N, 16° 18″ 16′ E
Written from the perspective of seven-year-old Gerda, A Year of Borrowed Men (Pajama Press 2015) is the true story of survival after Hitler’s army had “borrowed” all the men in her family for warfare. Gerda can’t fully grasp why three French prisoners-of-war who have been sent to work on their family farm as labourers cannot be invited inside from the barn for just one meal.
Kindness overcomes suspicion as Gabriel, Fermaine and Albert gradually gain the trust of the little girl.
With family photos and an author’s historical note, A Year of Borrowed Men suggests to young readers that it’s not a stretch to change the German word Feinde (enemies) to the German word Freunde (friends). The book is illustrated by Renné Benoit.
Following World War II, all native Germans were expelled from the area and their properties were taken by Poles.
“My mother’s family had to flee the farm in the spring of 1945,” says Barker, “and they never returned. They headed southwest, ending up in a town called Ermsleben, in what became East Germany. My mother escaped in 1953, and immigrated to Canada in 1958 to join one of her sisters who was already living in Nanaimo. My grandfather and my uncle did not survive the war.
“I don’t know if the farm still exists but I hope to go and find out. My mother told me that her eldest sister did go back once, after the Germans were allowed to travel there. It was still a farm at that point but was quite rundown. That would have been a long time ago.”
Michelle Barker was born in Vancouver, BC, and lives in Penticton, where she has worked as an editor and story coach, as well as led workshops in creative writing and taken UBC’s optional-residency program in creative writing (MFA). Married with four children, she is the winner of a gold National Magazine Award in personal journalism (2002).
In her fantasy novel for young adults, The Beggar King, Jordan Elliott has a gift. He can disappear…but at what price? Jordan discovers that everything has an underside: even magic, even him. “I have long been intrigued by the notion that what we see around us is not the whole story,” she says. “Why not fashion a world where it is possible to disappear behind the wallpaper – the trees and homes, even the air – and discover the truth about the forces that move behind our walls?”
Old Growth, Clear-Cut: Poems of Haida Gwaii – a poetry chapbook (Leaf Press, 2012)
The Beggar King (Thistledown Press, 2013) 978-1-927068-37-3 $15.95
A Year of Borrowed Men (Pajama Press 2015)
978-1-927485-83-5 $21.95 Illustrated by Renné Benoit
[INFORMATION POSTED JANUARY 1, 2016]