By EVAN HAMLIN
Hyde Park author Annette Gendler’s memoir “Jumping Over Shadows” is in the running for the Chicago Writers Association’s Book of the Year award.
Gendler’s debut memoir follows parallel love stories: one between the author and her husband in postwar Germany, the other between her great aunt and uncle in Czechoslovakia in the years leading up to World War II.
“It’s the true story of a German-Jewish love that overcame the burdens of the Holocaust, and that constellation also happened twice in my family,” Gendler said.
Both of these journeys are set in tumultuous times. According to the author, it was rare for Jews like her husband to stay in Germany following the war. Similarly, her great aunt’s relationship with a Jewish man was strained by tensions in Czechoslovakia during the war and the postwar period. Both relationships wrestled with identities shaped by one of the most turbulent periods in modern history.
In different ways, both relationships suffered from the ethnic nationalism that gripped Europe in the middle of the 20th century. Gendler’sher grandparents were exiled from Czechoslovakia in 1946.
She noted how history weighed heavy on her husband’s family, and secrecy was a hallmark of their relationship until they could create a sustainable future.
Gendler, who converted to Judaism after meeting her husband, dug deep into her family’s history for the book. She utilized memoirs her grandfather wrote in the 1950s, but acknowledged that “memories are very personal and can be shifty. I did a lot of research to basically verify my great aunt’s story.”
To verify what she gleaned from her grandfather’s writings, she traveled to Europe to explore archives in Munich and the town where her great aunt used to live.
“I did some internet research too, but with old stuff that can be limited,” she said. “I did that to verify if my grandfather was a reliable narrator, and it turns out he was. When you’re trying to tell the story you always come up against certain blanks. That’s where the research comes in. I personally love that stuff, I love digging into information and researching and archiving.”
Gendler’s memoir is up for the award in CWA’s indie nonfiction category.
“It’s always gratifying to have your work recognized,” she said. “For me particularly, it’s gratifying that it’s a local award.”
Gendler said she values Chicago’s literary community, especially in Hyde Park. A University of Chicago alumni, she’s long been a part of the local literary scene.
“Every time I go to a literary event, I always discover there’s way more out there,” she said. “I just love the opportunity this gives me of having my work recognized locally, I think it’s fabulous.”
In addition to writing, Gendler also teaches memoir writing at StoryStudio Chicago, and manages communications for her children’s former school. She currently has a children’s book on the way, this one exploring a different part of her family history in the same time period. The forthcoming work, targeted at a younger audience, tells the story of her mother-in-law who was hidden in the French countryside during the war.
According to Gendler, the winner of the award should be picked sometime in early December. More information about the book can be found on the author’s website, http://annettegendler.com.