Tim Murgatroyd explains what inspired his haunting new time-shift novel set in wartime Holland and contemporary New York.

Categories: Blog

Why I wrote The Nazi’s Daughter . . .

All books begin with a seed and sprout or wither in the long process of writing. This story was no exception. The seed was a Dutch couple long dead, friends of my wife’s oldest relatives, who hid a dozen Jews in their attic during the war at terrible risk to themselves. They were keen folk dancers and a surviving letter from them related how Dutch Nazis had falsified traditional Dutch dances to suggest a racial link to Germany. From those scant sparks, little more than rumours really, this novel found its dancing feet.

Other motives for writing presented themselves as I got to know the book’s four main characters, especially the beautiful yet tragic ballerina, Elise Van Thooft-Noman. But soon it wasn’t just Elise I cared about. Her ‘loser’ granddaughter, Jenni, felt very real in my imagination despite her fairy tale inheritance, a bequest of secrets from the past that gives her a chance to turn her life around. And, of course, there were the two men whose destiny interlocks with Elise and Jenni’s as the story gathers pace.

Maybe I was inspired by a challenge humanity always faces. Namely, how to react to the injustices of this world that never seem to fade. The barely known tale of the NSB in Holland (Nationaal-Socialistische Beweging in Nederland) and their brutal, hapless collaboration with the German invaders between May 1940 and May 1945 seemed a parable for the ease with which power attracts those longing for power and hatred draws those drawn to hate.

I’m sure the rise of fascistic movements and parties in Europe and North America today partly inspired me – a warning from history we’d be fools to ignore.

But at heart this is a novel about love and lovers in difficult times. The true story of humanity that transcends every injustice and gives each generation the opportunity to start afresh.