Interview with Gudrun Mouw, author of ‘From Ashes Into Light’
Gudrun Mouw was born in East Prussia (formerly part of Germany) in 1944. At the age of 7, she arrived in the United States as a displaced person. Mouw moved many times in the US before ending up in California in the 60s. There she studied at San Jose State University, receiving her Master’s Degree in English Literature in 1969. Mouw has worked as a college English teacher, a Stanford librarian, a columnist, a California poet-in-the-school, as well as a yoga and meditation teacher. She lives in Santa Barbara County, California and has for over thirty years.
Mouw wrote From Ashes Into Light beginning with a research trip to various locations in Eastern Europe, Germany, Austria and Switzerland (in the 1990s). Her research took her places like Dachau, the concentration camp, a Jewish graveyard in Prague, and the streets of Salzburg.
Mouw is a prolific and award-winning poet and her poems have appeared in literary journals such as Praire Schooner, Practical Mystic, The Chariton Review and others. Her collection of poetry called Wife of the House was published in April 2014. Mouw won first place in a short fiction contest at the Santa Barbara Writer’s Conference in 1992. From Ashes into Light will be her first published novel.
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About the Book:
Title: From Ashes Into Light
Author: Gudrun Mouw
Genre: Literary/Visionary Fiction
Publisher: Raincloud Press
From Ashes into Light is a transpersonal tale of epic tragedy, spirituality, family, and personal redemption. It is told through three distinct voices: the haunting story of Ruth, a Jewish adolescent during Kristallnacht in World War II Austria, Saqapaya, a stalwart Native American from coastal California during the time of the Spanish conquest, and Friede Mai.
Friede is born during WW II to a Bavarian soldier and an East-Prussian mother. As those around her struggle with the inevitable chaos and paradox of war, young Friede opens her heart to gruesome enemies, at times helping her family members escape atrocities.
With war behind them, the Mai family immigrates to the US, where Friede, her veteran father and ex-refugee mother, struggle with reverberations of trauma, suspicion and prejudice. Upon leaving home, Friede meets her spiritual guide and confidant in her fiancé’s Rabbi, who helps her see that the voices from her past are teachers and the horrors of history also contain beacons of light.
For More Information
- From Ashes Into Light is available at Amazon.
- Discuss this book at PUYB Virtual Book Club at Goodreads.
Q: Thank you so much for this interview, Gudrun! Can you tell us where you are from?
I was born in the former East Prussia in my maternal grandparents’ home. My grandparents lived on a farm near a small town. We lived in unstable times during World War II. My grandfather received deportation papers to Auschwitz, and the the family went on the road and into hiding.
Q: How did you come up with your title?
The title came out of brainstorming sessions between myself, the publisher and an advance reader.
Q: They say you can judge a book by its cover. Can you tell us a little about your cover and who designed it?
The publisher with the help of a designer found a World War II era picture of a city in Europe. Then they transformed this into a dappled purple and blue cityscape. The publisher, who has a designer background, added ash falling down in the foreground. I like the mysterious quality of the images, and feel like it conveys just enough context for the narrative.
Q: Can you tell us something about your book that would make me run out and buy it?
One advance reader has described the book as The Diary of Anna Frank meets Bastard out of Carolina meets Ishi: The Last of His Tribe. The book tells the story of three very different lives in different countries and historical times. They are connected by a narrator whose awareness of acknowledged and unacknowledged genocide serves to reveal the human potential for transcendence, transformation and hope.
Q: Are there any messages in this book that you want the reader to know about?
For me, the message of tolerance is important. I wanted the reader to see that three very different characters had familiar hopes, dreams and concerns. I was interested in bringing forth compassion towards all kinds of suffering humanity.
Q: What was your most favorite chapter to write and why?
I remember Chapter 16, because it seemed to write itself, almost like a prose poem. In this chapter, the Jewish character is loaded on to a train by German soldiers. I could see it all happening in my mind’s eye, powerfully, and it showed me how this particular character’s capacity for transcendence would help to shape the rest of the book.
Q: Why did you feel you had to write this book?
The deep impulse to write, which comes from I’m-not-sure-where, sometimes coincides with a story that demands to be told. For me, this book was that type of experience.
Q: Now, some fun questions – What deep dark secret would you like to share with us?
As a young girl I wanted to be an artist like my father. He said I had no talent in this area. I turned to reading, and from that, a love of writing emerged. Ironically, as an adult, my father often asked my opinion about his paintings in terms of composition, color, even how he should sign his signature. I never became an artist per se, but I do enjoy coloring.
Q: If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would it be and why?
I would love to return to Lake Constance, a lake described in From Ashes Into Light, which borders three countries–Switzerland, Austria and Germany. I have fond memories of its beauty.
Q: Are you a morning person or a night person?
I am a morning person. I love that early quiet and the day’s slowly emerging light.
Q: Are there any members in your family who also like to write?
My daughter is an excellent writer. I recently read the first part of a children’s chapter book that she’s writing. I’m waiting for the next installment.
Q: As a child, were you a dreamer?
I was a child who dreamt about and visualized what I was reading. This inspired me, I believe, to write creatively as well.
Q: Last but not least, the magic genie has granted you one wish. What would that be?
I would love for this book to play a part in increasing kindness between all peoples.
Q: Do you have any final words?
I enjoyed this. Your questions were presented in a manner which made it easy for me to reveal the writing process in unexpected ways.