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Women Writing About War via @PatFurstenberg #war #women #writerslife #literature #books

The question I was asked most often after publishing “Silent Heroes” was: why I wrote a book about war?

To me, “Silent Heroes” is a book that asked to be written. The idea behind it began to germinate in my mind long ago. It took over two years of research and assiduous work for this book to see the printing press.

Having lived through a Revolution and the fall of the Eastern Bloc, I can see that the power of historical knowledge is often overlooked. From my point of view, the situation in Afghanistan is of global interest. There are many similar historical hot spots throughout the world. My interest in the War in Afghanistan was stirred on understanding what a major influence the use of military dogs has on the lives of civilians. Most books written on this subject are from a military or political perspective. A retelling of true facts. I wanted to create a work of fiction that will appeal as well as stir emotions, something plausible, yet appealing to a wider category of readers.

We tend to read a book from the perspective of our own experiences. Some books, after reading them, manage to change the way we see our own life – and this is what I tried to achieve with “Silent Heroes”. Find out more about the symbolism behind its pages here.

I would rather have you ask me “why I wrote ‘Silent Heroes’, rather than “why I wrote a book on war”.

Women writers wrote about war many times over. But how many are know?

War is a part of life. As in life, there is fear in war, but there is also resilience and a raw lucidity in it.

War draws in all kinds of people, men and women, children and elderly, rich and poor. War stamps its tattoo on their lives, no questions asked, by killing their loved ones, by forcing them to relocate, to give up the mere life necessities in order to survive. To give up life, as they knew it, in order to stay alive.

Most war literature I came across during my lifetime and while researching for “Silent Heroes” and for “Joyful Trouble” before it was written by men. True accounts of battle and hardship. “War and Peace” by Russian author Leo Tolstoy must be the best known war novel. I have enjoyed Ernest Hemingway’s “For Whom the Bell Tolls” and loved, for its epic descriptions and sensitivity in portraying human beings and raw emotions, Margaret Mitchell’s “Gone With the Wind” in which an entire generation was wiped out by the Civil War.

The question that inevitably rose was:

what is the major difference between a war story written by a woman and one written by a man?

And I don’t mean linguistic differences.

When reading a book written by a woman, I tend to feel closer to the author than when to a male author. I find their writing style more interactive. This aspect does not involve characters, but the overall feeling I get when reading -reading for pleasure.

Male authors tend to focus on conveying information, on the courage of the soldiers, on their super-human acts and vigor and less on the emotions that trigger or haunt them. On the intensity of their pain, the taste of their passion, the gut feeling.

From a sociology-cultural point of view we are a product of our upbringing and of the society we live in. Considering ideological factors and forces, we are a product of our interactions with and of our reactions to society. It is only normal that this will reflect in a writer’s work.

What about the communications style?

Will the fact that men and women have a different communication style reflect in their writing? Much like a piece of art or a music sheet reflect the author’s core structure.

On the other hand, writing is very much a products of our biographical reading. Which brings us back to our upbringing, influencing us in everything we do.

But since we only speak of the war theme here, I think that this difference shows in the type of relationships the characters tend to built with one another.

If you look at a novel as it would be a river, I tend to see a woman’s writing running smoothly, in a fluid movement, while a man’s is almost bubbling in it’s banks. But this is only my own imaginary.

War stories are a two way narrative.

War involves those who actively take part in it and those who are sucked in it, no choice given. Soldiers and civilians. And civilians, too, deserve to be heard. Their emotions should be given a voice, too.

But what if we don’t know if a book was written by a man or a woman? Would we still be able to spot the difference? And how will that knowledge influence our perception of the book?

Again, we only look at war books here.

We are past the women’s rise to prominence during the mid-nineteenth century and past the women’s rights movements.

Do women still need to prove themselves by writing about war?

War is a topic monopolized by men authors throughout the centuries.

Four years ago The Guardian published an interesting article, “Male writers continue to dominate literary criticism, Vida study finds“, VIDA being a group of volunteers interested in drawing attention to gender inequality in the field of book reviewing. The results of the study shows that men appeared 66 percent more often in The New York Times Book Review; three times more often in the London Review of Books; The Times Literary Supplement and others had worse numbers.

If reputable publications involved in book reviewing choose less books by women, will this influence the reader’s / buyer’s choice and view of books written by women?

My view on this subject may be biased as I am both a woman and a woman writer penning stories about war. Yet I feel that little is known about war stories written by women.

Amazing fiction books on war written by women

  • Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell (for the vivid image of how much the American Civil War changed people’s lives and characters)
  • Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain (an entire generation changed by WW1)
  • The Story of a Brief Marriage by Anuk Arudpragasam (for its hypnotic details of the Sri Lankan Civil War)
  • The Gold Lieutenant by Whitney Terrell (for depicting so truthfully the surviving nature of women during the Iraq War)
  • Suite Française by Irène Némirovsky (filled with the human sensitivity that often escapes WW2 written by an author who, sadly, died in the concentration camp at Auschwitz)
  • Nella Last’s war by Nella Last, an inside view of WW2 from a civilian’s point of view.
  • The People of Forever are Not Afraid by Shani Boianjiu (a touching tale of teenagers’ experiences in the Israeli Defense Forces)
  • The Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Soli (an amazing novel about the Vietnam War).
  • The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank (although an autobiography, is a must-read portrayal of the Holocaust)
  • Transcription by Kate Atkinson (a great spy novel of WW2)
  • The Night Watch by Sarah Waters (a great historical fiction set during WW2 London)
  • Goodnight Mr Tom by Michelle Magorian (an amazing WW2 read for children over the age of 10, especially boys)
  • A Boy in Winter by Rachel Seiffert (set during the WW2 occupation of Ukraine and Longlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction in 2018)
  • Good Evening, Mrs Craven: Wartime Stories by Mollie Panter-Donnes (short stories written during WW2)
  • The Tiger’s Wife by Tea Obrecht (set during in an unnamed Balkan country experiencing a rebirth after the collapse of communism).
  • Can you Hear the Nightbird Call? by Anita Rau Badami how three women survive the rise of the Sikh separatists in India).
  • Sparta by Roxana Robinson (about a war veteran’s battle with PTSD after the Iraq War).
  • Bel Canto by Ann Patchett (for the humanity shared by different cultures when held hostage by terrorists)
  • Silent Heroes by Patricia Furstenberg (on the strong connections between US Marines and the Afghan civilians during the Afghanistan War).
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Symbolism in Silent Heroes, the Story behind it via @PatFurstenberg #symbolism #fiction #history #writerslife

I still remember attending my first lecture on symbolism . My own studies were as far from literature and art as the moon is from the man who occupies it.

I was studying medical dentistry when a friend and I went to the University of History and Art to attend a lecture on symbolism in art. It was late one evening when we opened the massive door leading to a cosmic-size amphitheater packed with excited faces.

Happiness can be found anywhere. Sometimes you just need to search harder or ask for someone to help you discover it. A US Marine, his MWD, military working dog and Afghan boys.
Happiness can be found anywhere. Sometimes you just need to search harder or ask for someone to help you discover it. A US Marine, his MWD, military working dog and Afghan boys.

Used to look at dead bodies laying on an autopsy table, to squint inside them while trying to discern the shriveled femoral nerve from the already gray artery, I was struck by the excitement short-circuiting everyone attending the lecture and the amount of information hidden in plain view, underneath layers of colorful paint.

I was hooked and, although I may not have earned a degree in art, the keen interest in symbolism has sipped into my pores for good.

Symbology - 'In God we Trust'.  (Army Photographic Competition 2012 - Pro Portfolio winner; Photo by SSgt Nesbit RLC/MoD/Mandatory Credit Crown Copyright via Getty Images)
‘In God we Trust’. (Army Photographic Competition 2012 – Pro Portfolio winner; Photo by SSgt Nesbit RLC/MoD/Mandatory Credit Crown Copyright via Getty Images) These include a simple disk with a cross cut out which he wore with his identity (Dog) tags, and an American coin dated 1988, the year of his birth. The soldier who wanted to remain unidentified carried these with him all the time whilst he served in Afghanistan on Operation Herrick 15 for luck.

Was symbolism introduced in “Silent Heroes” intentionally?

On writing “Silent Heroes” I did not plan to include symbolism. It wasn’t a voluntary act, like research had been, or plotting the outline of the story, building my characters. Including symbolical elements was a work of my sly subconscious mind. It’s been the work of my cerebellum, you can say. Anatomy having its own play over art.

I do not expect readers to pick up on the symbolism used or to interpret it in the same way. I think this is very much connected to how our minds are wired. Some of us see things that others don’t, because they are not important to them. I does not mean that the first group hallucinates, or that the second group is inattentive.

The Purple Sunbird, (Cinnyris asiaticus) is found in the dry zone from the Arabian Peninsula into Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan until the dry zone of Rajasthan and Gujarat.
The Purple Sunbird, (Cinnyris asiaticus) is found in the dry zone from the Arabian Peninsula into Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan until the dry zone of Rajasthan and Gujarat.

Has symbolism in “Silent Heroes” been consciously manipulated at any stage during the writing process?

Now, this would imply that, at some stage during the writing of “Silent Heroes“, I picked up on some symbols introduced in the story-line. Which I did. Once I became conscious of the implications these symbolism will have on the narrative, I kept developing that thread. I did not removed it, since it was introduced organically and not voluntarily.

I felt that if I will remove the symbols, the story will be less rich, the characters, at least some of them, will lose their credibility. And myself, as a writer, will lose the passion for the telling of the story of these “Silent Heroes“, passion that had fueled me for over two years.

A book thrown in the dust.
A book thrown in the dust.

Can other symbols be discovered in “Silent Heroes”?

Other symbols, besides the ones my subconscious mind placed and my conscious mind picked up? I believe so, as I trust the reader’s creative minds as well as the connection I hope they will establish this book.

Lady Tulip - Tulipa clusiana From Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan and the western Himalayas
Lady Tulip – Tulipa clusiana From Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan and the western Himalayas

Is symbolism for real?

Is air real? Is the language we speak real? Is the sky blue? Humans have a innate ability and desire for creating things out of nothing. Buildings out of dust, worlds out of words, art out of dreams.

And humans also need to communicate. Writers communicate through their books. Language itself is a symbolic form of communication. Symbols used by artists, and therefore by writers, are placed – subconsciously or not – to help channel the results of their work. The end product. Much like a painter creating a portrait, an architect, a building that lasts, writers stir their stories using symbols, where appropriate.

The journey a writer takes when creating a book is anchored in his dreams and imagination, but it is stirred by the hidden symbolism which is also a product of his own mind.

A gardener and his garden in Afghanistan. Afghans are avid garners.
A gardener and his garden in Afghanistan. Afghans are avid garners.

Images of symbolism in “Silent Heroes” *****SPOILER ALERT*****

Without spoiling the plot, I will list a few of the symbols I unconsciously introduced in my latest work of fiction “Silent Heroes, When Love and Values Are Worth Fighting for”.

An Afghan butterfly on a soldier's sleeve.
An Afghan butterfly on a soldier’s sleeve.

You do not have to read past this point if you have not read “Silent Heroes” yet. You can have a sneak peek here.

You could skip the very short, last paragraph, and return to it after reading “Silent Heroes”.

Silent Heroes, When Love and Faith Are Worth Fighting for
Silent Heroes, When Love and Faith Are Worth Fighting for

Some of the symbols found in “Silent Heroes” are:

Qala-e-Bost Fortress, Afghanistan
Qala-e-Bost, Afghansitan

The blue bird.

The book in the dust.

Qala-e-Bost Fortress.

Poppy flowers.

The Afghan garden.

What do they symbolize?

I suggest you don’t go past this point if you haven’t read “Silent Heroes” yet. First read the book, then return and see if your thoughts and mine converge.

Symbolism in Silent Heroes
Symbolism in Silent Heroes

To me, the blue bird symbolizes the spirit of Emma’s mother, as well as hope in another chance for happiness. A reminder that hope exists, no matter what situation we find ourselves in.

The book in the dust symbolizes the disrespect for human life and human wrights. Books are a well of wisdom and the product of hard, assiduous work. They don’t belong in the dirt, just like human life does not.

Qala-e-Bost Fortress symbolizes the upright spirit of the Afghan people, still standing after centuries of wars and oppression. And just like the people of Afghanistan, through its architecture, it is deeply rooted in its land, drawing strength from it.

Poppy flowers are both a symbol of the blood spilled in Afghanistan and of the never-ending struggle for survival of the Afghan people. Poppies are extremely resilient, they can grow under harsh weather conditions, although they look so fragile. But poppies are also deadly plants in the sense that farming them caught so many innocent souls in the loop of poverty and addiction.

The Afghan Garden symbolizes Heaven and hope in a land devastated by wars. Just as Heaven transcends all spirits and gods, being present in all religions, all people, no matter of their religion, sex or skin color, are equal in the eyes of God.

Have you discovered other symbols after reading “Silent Heroes“? Tell me about them, I’d love to hear from you.

Silent Heroes by Patricia Furstenberg
Silent Heroes by Patricia Furstenberg

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Silent Heroes, coming soon – Military Working Dogs of Afghanistan and the Marines who stood by them, #silentheroes, #MWD, #comingsoon #holidayread #newbook #dogs #war #Afghanistan #HistFic via @Patfurstenberg

My new book “Silent Heroes, When Love and Values Are Worth Fighting For”, a work of fiction two years in the making and inspired by the lives of the brave US Marines fighting in Afghanistan, of their faithful Military Working Dogs and the lives of the unbelievable Afghan people, will be released very soon.

COVER REVEAL coming soon. Watch this space!

Here is a very short sample of my thoughts on war, dogs, life and love. The passages below might or might not be included in the book.

“The Marine’s chest was a vacuum, as if no oxygen was left for him. Leaning over the dog’s warm neck he allowed the clouds that loomed all day to seal away any reasoning left and he let it all out, failure, anger, fear, the dog’s body shivering with his own.”

“In a life threatening war situation, a dog handler cannot just stop caring for his dog. He cannot remove his heart from his chest just like the dog cannot stop looking at his human friend without love shining through his eyes. Trust is their bond. “

Credit: Reunite Joe & Tess, Facebook

War memories linger past the healing of a scar or the mending of a bone. They creep from the depths of your sleep with the roar of a gun or the face of a departed friend. Only his dog understood him, she’d been there too. “

” When a dog watches you, your suit or hairstyle don’t matter, but the smile on your face and the love in your heart. A soldier sharing his food with stray dogs in Afghanistan. “

Dogs need so little to be happy: food, water, good shelter, love. Humans too.”

“Feeding him was a mess, his eager tail and paws ending just as dirty as his mouth, half his food spilled. But he was worth his weight in gold, the puppy was. For he was a bundle of love and giggles and bedtime bliss that overshadowed the dad lost at war.”

” The great fortress of Bost, Qala-e-Bost, overlooked with pride the Helmand River for centuries. Able to resist a sun spitting yellow venom, it yielded to a war-cursed history.”

You will find “Silent Heroes” available soon through my Amazon author page here.

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