Monday, February 21, 2011

Interview with Author Kitty Gogins

Kitty Gogins has been fascinated from an early age with her parents’ journey to become Americans. As a school board director for her local school district, Kitty has long been intrigued by her parents’ efforts to shed the prejudicial upbringing of their childhood and believes their journey is relevant to our changing times.

Olga Wagner and Tibor Zoltai were teenagers in Hungary near the end of World War II. Homeland destroyed, they each fled Hungary carrying only a rucksack.”

Hello Kitty. I really love the title of your book. It takes place during World War II and is about your own parents’ escape from Hungary. Tell us about their story.

My Flag Grew Stars: World War II Refugees’ Journey to America is the story of Olga and Tibor and how they adapted to life-altering changes. Their world destroyed in World War II, they fled Hungary as teenagers. Olga just minutes ahead of advancing Russian troops and Tibor conscripted into the German Army almost died as an American POW. Their experiences on the losing side provide a unique perspective of war, the actions of Americans, and the daily fight of refugees to survive. Immigrating as indentured agricultural servants, they united and embarked on a cultural journey to become Americans. Through perseverance and creativity, they learned how to thrive, Tibor as a world-renowned professor and Olga counseling refugees, earning the title “area immigrants’ patron saint.”

My Flag Grew Stars looks to history to provide an inspiring story on adapting to major upheaval, something many of us face in these challenging economic times. 

After arriving in America, was the transition difficult for your parents?

Olga and Tibor came to North America via Canada as indentured agricultural servants. Hoeing sugar beets was backbreaking work, but they considered the opportunity a godsend. It provided a country to call home, a land away from war-torn Europe where food and jobs were scarce, and another war was expected to erupt anytime.

While delighted to be in a new world, they found everything foreign ― the culture, the language, the buildings, the land, and even the food. They knew everyone would speak a different language, but didn’t expect to live in flat, treeless countryside with distances vast beyond their imagination; for buildings to be constructed of flimsy wood, not brick and plaster; for even women to wear trousers, something Olga had never seen before.

Over time, Olga and Tibor began to understand and adjust to deeper differences, like Americans need more personal space, less touch. One difference that particularly impressed them was the U.S. founding principle of ‘all men are created equal.’ Coming from a society that discriminated against Jews and others who were different, this was a new and powerful concept.

This is the first time I’ve interviewed someone who has written their own parents’ biography and I’m so excited about what you have done. This book will be a treasure to your children and grandchildren yet to come. How much research did you do for your book?

My book, while it reads like a novel, bringing history to life, is non-fiction. I spent over a thousand hours on research. I was lucky to have lots of original material: Tibor’s diary, a thousand pages of love letters, and multitudes of official documents and pictures. I supplemented these with dozens of interviews and digging into historical events, so I could recreate their lives ― the events, the atmosphere, the feeling, the tone of conversations.

All events really occurred: Olga’s family crossed the Alps with no supplies, steps ahead of Russian troops; Tibor almost perished from starvation; Olga scared away a car hijacker in Minnesota by yelling at him in her native tongue.
Wow! When I was writing my parents’ biography, I had many love letters written between them and also letters that he wrote to his parents as a missionary. I also had his autobiography so I was able to write their story in story form like you have done. Those letters made his story come to life. I’m impressed with what you have done. Since this story is about your parents, what does your family think about your novel?

My family has been very supportive, contributing documents and memories. They too have been fascinated by the story and want it captured. My father, Tibor, passed away before I began writing, however he would have been ecstatic to see his story published. My mother, Olga, while honored and delighted to help with research, is a little uncomfortable with having her life so public.

What a wonderful legacy! This book is a treasure. Okay, now it’s time to tell us something about the real you that we’ll never forget.

I’m always game for visiting a new place, eating new food ― even if it can still stare up at me ― or trying a new activity. When I turned forty-five, I knew just how to celebrate. I jumped out of an airplane. Granted I did it tandem, strapped to the front of an expert like a baby kangaroo, but I got to feel the air rushing by, the freedom of zigzagging through the clouds, the sensation of dropping at racing speeds. After two weeks of saying, “Could you please repeat that,” since my ears were still plugged from the dive, I acknowledged that I wasn’t likely to do it again. But it was worth it. 

Oh my gosh! Now we know the real you! The audacious and daring author who will try new things, including jumping out of a plane and becoming an author! By the way, it seems like nothing could be scarier than being a first time author.


Cheryl said...

This sounds like a wonderful book. My stepmother's grandparents were both in concentration camps during the war. Thankfully God protected them and they lived long lives afterwards and also came to America.

I would love to win a copy of this book.



Cheryl said...

I shared this post with my readers.


Jason James said...

I love the title of this book. I think it is a wonderful work that was done to preserve the memory and stories of your family members. It is exciting to be able to publish something so close to your heart.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like an interesting book. I think my husband would like to read this.


Jonita said...

All posted for you over at "Win a Book"!

Linda Kish said...

I would love to read this book.

lkish77123 at gmail dot com

Margie said...

It is interesting to read how they acclimated to the American culture, and had such a positive influence here. The immigrant path is always an interesting read.
mtakala1 AT yahoo DOT com

Carol N Wong said...

This sounds like a wonderful book. My father was in the Army Air core and helped to liberate a concentration camp. I still have his letters about it.


apple blossom said...

sounds like an interesting book thanks

ABreading4fun [at] gmail [dot] com

Marjorie said...

This book sounds like an amazing read and I would love to have a chance to read it.

cenya2 at hotmail dot com

Mozi Esmé said...

I'd love to read this and add to my library..

janemaritz at yahoo dot com

nicolesender said...

Interesting review; I would love to read this book.

Clenna said...

What a wonderful interview. Count me in.


clenna at aol dot com

karenk said...

a fabulous interview...please count me in your giveaway...thanks :)

kmkuka at yahoo dot com

My Hyer Space said...

I enjoyed your interview. Sounds like a great book. What a legacy to leave for your family. I would love to read it. Thanks for sharing


Anonymous said...

This truly sounds like an amazing story! I would be honored to read this. Thank you for my being considered!

Margaret (goodreads)

Linda said...

I love WWII books. Especially when they are personal like yours. Please enter me.

desertrose5173 at gmail dot com

Maureen said...

I would love to read this book. My Uncle was in a Concentration camp...they were down to their last potato when they were liberated.


traveler said...

This compelling story resounds with me greatly. Thanks for this wonderful giveaway. saubleb(at)gmail(dot)com

petite said...

This interview was wonderful and fascinating to learn about this difficult experience. I enjoy World War 11 stories and memoirs. This one is beautiful. I am Jewish and originally from Can. rojosho(at)hotmail(dot)com

Teddy Rose said...

This book sounds right up my alley! I love reading WWII related books and the immigrant experience. I remember my Grandmother telling me about the first time she saw women wear trousers, like Olga.

teddyr66 at yahoo dot com

Linda Weaver Clarke said...

Congratulations, Teddy Rose. You are the winner of this most awesome book. I know you'll enjoy it very much. True stories are very touching. Thanks everyone for participating in this giveaway.