here's a clue:
For the first time, we met in person in September of 2015 on Staten Island. I lived there, he—let me not disclose his name, here, I’ll call him M—traveled about ninety miles from Upstate New York to see me. I instantly liked him, or maybe I was more than prepared after spending hours on the phone with him. He seemed elated too.
In our first phone conversation, I told him I was not a chatterbox and he said he wasn’t either, but when we came together, we just couldn’t stop talking. We discussed music and art, medicine and philosophy, other things, inevitably coming to literature. We both were writers—he as much as accomplishing the first chapter of his future book, I with the manuscript of The Cruel Romance, which was ready to see light. Only, I didn’t know how to make it happen.
“My good friend is a published writer,” M said at some point.
Published writers! They seemed like gods to me, unapproachable, highly revered, envied (in a good meaning of the word). “I can bring you together. He may be helpful,” M added with enthusiasm.
Wow! That meant M wanted to help me make my dream come true! That one fact already caused me to adore my new acquaintance who by that time had swept me off my feet.
“What is his book about?” I could hardly find my voice.
M revealed the title, which was a woman’s name.
The name was familiar, and I’d heard the song. “What? Set in World War II? How unexpected! In my book, one of the main characters, a German officer, listens to her sing this song on the wireless.”
M leaned a bit closer to my ear and sang. He had a wonderful, mild voice, but it didn’t come as a surprise. From his very first phone introduction, I already knew he had been a Broadway singer in his younger years.
After the pleasant and especially delicious dinner—or perhaps it was the presence of my companion who made it delectable—we continued strolling over the boardwalk that stretched for miles along the usually unfriendly Atlantic Ocean. Not that day though; it was so quiet and alluring. Soon, the lanterns were lighted, and we stopped underneath one, leaning on the railings, and I was conscious of where his warm thigh touched mine.
M kept his word. Several days later, he sent me the email of his friend-author with permission to contact him.
By that time, I knew—since all the websites stressed how to approach a literary agent—they appreciated writers contacting them to know their preferences. I decided to deal with my “he’ll help me to publish” person as an agent. The first thing I did was order his book from Amazon and I instantly loved it without yet reading.
Soon, the book arrived. On its cover, a young woman held onto a lamppost. I wanted to wow the future “supporter in my becoming an author” by deep knowledge of his and his co-author’s literary work.
I was immediately engrossed in the reading. The book told the story of a young woman who was waiting for her beloved to return from the front. The narrative provided an intriguing revelation: during WWII, the song of German origin became known on the western front and the singer’s voice, “husky, sensuous, nostalgic” was so compelling it literally united the soldiers of the Axis and Allied troops. It grew to be an iconic love song, a kind of anthem of the war. The soldiers called it a small piece of home; it spoke of what men from opposing armies had in common.
The song didn’t stop the conflict but was crooned in German and English, invisibly connecting the warriors, even bringing solace and rejection of hatred for some moments, their only true joy in the sea of animosity. The German tune, as the authors noted, captured the hearts of fighting men on both sides of the trenches, defied governments, and transcended ideologies.
The war was finished, but the song was not forgotten. An interesting fact intrigued me: the Communist powers of East Germany appropriated the song for their socialist propaganda but in 1964 changed their mind to the diametrically opposite, denouncing the song as imperialistic—too sweet and frivolous, they concluded—and banned it. The same happened in Yugoslavia under the Communist ruler Josip Broz Tito.
Many years after the war, the song continued to live in different languages and in numerous interpretations that mutilated its initial meaning, yet now and again it reappeared in its glory. As I learned from the book, the song became one of the world’s most recorded tunes. As recently as 2005, a 7-CD set including nearly 200 versions of it was released. Not to be forgotten is that this song was performed by some very well-known singers.
What made it widely known at the time of war and what retains its popularity till now? Perhaps the synergy of the lyrics and the melody which evokes and captures the minds and hearts of men pining for their love back home?
I loved the book and . . . I’ve never met its author. No regrets. I was bestowed by a gift of a wonderfully written book. That’s how I consider every good book—“a gift.”
I spent two splendid years with M. It didn’t end well. When I remember him, I still like to hum the sweet melody. As I’m doing now.
© Marina Osipova
Marina Osipova was born in East Germany into a military family and grew up in Russia where she graduated from the Moscow State Institute of History and Archives. She also has a diploma as a German language translator from the Moscow State Institute of Foreign Languages. In Russia, she worked first in a scientific-technical institute as a translator then in a Government Ministry in the office of international relations, later for some Austrian firms. For seventeen years, she lived in the United States where she worked in a law firm. Eventually, she found her home in Austria. She is an award-winning author and a member of the Historical Novel Society.