Books and memory

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Over the next few weeks, BestSelling Reads authors will explore how their own memories inform their writing. In this installment, Scott Bury describes how the memory of his father-in-law and the subject of his Eastern Front trilogy meshed with a childhood recollection of his wife, and how it all fit into one of his books.

Going through some old papers and memoriabilia of my wife’s parents, we found a picture from World War II—it’s 78 years old. It’s a picture that my wife said she remembered seeing when she was a little . It’s also a picture that Maurice Bury told me about before he passed away: a picture taken in a small town in western Ukraine as it suffered under the Nazi occupation.

I wish I had found this photo years ago, before I published the first edition of Army of Worn Soles. You can bet it will be in the next edition.

It’s a photograph of my father-in-law, Maurice Bury, on the day he returned to his village of Nastaciv, Ukraine, after escaping from the German POW camp in late 1941. The woman beside him is his cousin, Tekla, who was named after her aunt, Maurice’s mother. Tekla was the first family member who met Maurice on his return home.

Here’s the story as told by Maurice, years ago

Even though it was wartime, the market bustled as farmers sold the last of their harvests: corn, wheat, parsley, apples, pears, onions and beets. Townspeople pressed through the stalls, haggling over vegetables, chickens and animal feed. Behind a stall selling eggs stood a slim woman whose dark brown hair threatened to burst the knot in her kerchief.

Maurice tapped her on the shoulder. “Hello, Tekla.”

The woman spun to face him, expecting trouble. She glared at him for several seconds before her eyes widened. “Maurice? My god, I cannot believe it.” She wrapped her arms around him and squeezed tight. She had to lean over her table of eggs, but she held on. Maurice hugged back, wary of knocking eggs down. When she let him go, she looked at him as if she were afraid he was about to vanish again. “What are you doing here?”

Tekla was his cousin, daughter of Myhailo Kuritsa, his mother’s brother. She had been named after her aunt.

“I’m coming home. Can you give me a ride?” he asked.

She threw her arms around him again. “Of course, Maurice, of course. Oh, I can’t believe it. We heard you’d been…been killed.” She held him at arm’s length. “You’re so thin. You must have been starving.” She called to the woman in the stand next to hers, who had been staring at them. “Hanyah, please, sell the eggs for me.”

“Of course, dear. Take the young man home and give him something to eat. Right away,” Hanyah said. She was older than Maurice’s mother, and Maurice did not know her, but she smiled at him as if he were a grandchild she had not seen for a year.

Tekla re-tied her scarf and pulled on her gloves, took Maurice by the hand and led him out of the market. “My wagon is over here,” she said, then stopped. “You know what we should do, Maurice? Let’s get a picture together.”

“Can’t we…”

Army of Worn Soles cover

But Tekla interrupted, took his hand and led him through the market to a small shop, where she paid a few rubles for a picture. The photographer had Maurice sit on a stool in front of a cloth draped against the wall, and posed Tekla standing next to him. Tekla could not stop smiling, nor babbling.

“I can’t wait to see Auntie’s face when she sees you standing on her doorstep. Oh, and my father, too. It’s too bad your father is not here, Maurice. He would be so relieved, so happy to know you’re home safe. Are you sure this is my better side?” She asked the photographer as he adjusted the camera. He smiled, nodded and calmly pressed the shutter.

“The print will be ready on Thursday,” the photographer said and handed Tekla a ticket. “Welcome back, friend,” he said to Maurice.

How it got here

The print was promised for that Thursday in 1941, 78 years ago. It’s suffered a little over the years, and it will appear in a new edition of Army of Worn Soles as well as the single-volume edition of the Eastern Front trilogy.

What about you readers? Have you ever read a book that meshed with your own personal memories?

Scott Bury

Scott Bury’s military biography trilogy comprises Army of Worn Soles, Under the Nazi Heel and Walking Out of War. It’s the true story of a Canadian-born man drafted into the Soviet Red Army in World War II.

Scott Bury has also published two Hawaiian Storm mysteries, Torn Roots and Palm Trees & Snowflakes. Another mystery, Wildfire, is set in California during the wine country wildfires of 2017.

His first published novel is a historical fantasy, The Bones of the Earth.

Learn more about Scott on his:

Website   |   Blog    |  Facebook    |   Twitter

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Win-a-Book Wednesday: Army of Worn Soles, by Scott Bury

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Army of Worn Soles cover

 

Scott Bury will give away a free e-copy of this memoir in novel form to anyone who correctly answers this question:

What does Maurice ask his best friend to do in Chapter 1?

Leave your answers in the Comments section, below.

About the book

1941: Their retreat across Ukraine wore their boots out—and they kept going.

Three months after drafting him, the Soviet Red Army throws Maurice Bury, along with millions of other under-trained men, against the juggernaut of Nazi Germany’s Operation Barbarossa, the assault on the USSR.

Army of Worn Soles tells the true story of a Canadian who had to find in himself a way to keep himself alive—and the men who followed him.

For more information about the book, the launch blog tour and a contest to win an autographed paperback copy, visit Scott Bury‘s blog.

About the author

Scott2011Scott Bury is a journalist, editor and novelist based in Ottawa, Canada. He has written for magazines in Canada, the US, the UK and Australia.

In addition to Army of Worn Soles, he is author of The Bones of the Earth, a fantasy set in the real time and place of eastern Europe of the sixth century; One Shade of Red, a humorous erotic romance; a children’s short story, Sam, the Strawb Part (proceeds of which are donated to an autism charity), and other stories.

Scott Bury lives in Ottawa with his lovely, supportive and long-suffering wife, two mighty sons and two pesky cats.

He can be found online at www.writtenword.ca, on his blog, Written Words, onAmazon, on Twitter @ScottTheWriter, and on Facebook.

Visit his BestSelling Reads Author page.

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Focus Friday: The upcoming Army of Worn Soles

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Captured Red Army soliders

The German army captured over 600,000 soldiers of the Red Army in the first few months of its invasion in 1941.

This week’s Focus Friday is a little different: it features an excerpt from the soon-to-be-but-not-quite-yet-published new novel by Scott Bury, Army of Worn Soles.

This is the true story of Maurice Bury, Scott’s father-in-law, a Canadian citizen living in Ukraine who was drafted into the Soviet Red Army in 1941 just in time for the German invasion called Operation Barbarossa.

Chapter 1: Prisoner of War

Kharkiv, October 1941

Maurice sat on the ground, put the bottle beside him and took off his shirt. Spreading his officer’s uniform on the smoothest piece of ground he could find, he lay the bottle near the collar then pushed down and rolled it over the shirt. The lice cracked under the glass. He rolled the bottle back and forth, feeling a dull satisfaction at his first pathetic victory in more than half a year.

Crunch, crunch.

The effort was exhausting. He stopped. His stomach ached and his throat burned with thirst.

He slumped back until he leaned against the barracks. Men in grey uniforms stood or walked across the cobbled courtyard of the ancient castle. One came toward him, a slim man with light brown hair and hazel eyes. He stopped in front of Maurice and leaned down.

“Maurice? Is it you?” he said.

Breathing required effort. So did looking up. Maurice had not eaten in days, but he still trusted his sight. He knew the man with the light-brown hair and hazel eyes, even in a Wehrmacht uniform.

“Maurice?” the young man said again. “What are you doing here?”

He couldn’t swallow. His mouth held no moisture. “Dying. I’m starving to death, Bohdan.” Maurice closed his eyes and hung his head.

Bohdan crouched beside him. “You got drafted?”

Maurice made the effort to look up again at his old friend. “The Red Army made me a lieutenant. What the hell are you doing here in a German uniform, Bohdan?”

“The Germans kicked the Russians out, something we couldn’t do. Why shouldn’t I join the winning side? And it’s ‘Daniel’ now, not Bohdan.” He looked around to make sure no one noticed him, a Wehrmacht officer, talking to a prisoner of war. “I’m glad you survived, that you were captured instead of killed. The Germans killed a lot of Red soldiers.”

“I know. I was there.”

Bohdan looked around again to make sure no officers were watching him talk with a prisoner. “How did you get here?”

“Like you said, we were captured, the whole army, outside Kharkiv. They brought us here.”

Bohdan shook his head. “Are you all right? I’ll see if I can bring you anything, but I have to be careful.”

Maurice looked into his friend’s eyes. “Get me out of here.”

“Set a prisoner free? Are you crazy?”

“Bohdan—sorry, Daniel, you’re my best friend. Or you were. If I ever meant anything to you, get me out.”

Daniel—Bohdan, looked left and right again. “I cannot let Red soldiers go,” he whispered.

Maurice took a dry breath. His strength was almost gone. “Daniel, you’re an officer in a victorious army. You have the power. You can get me out, me and my boys. You have the power to get us out of here.”

Daniel shook his head and stood. “Stalin’s going to surrender within six months, and then all the prisoners will be freed. Hitler has promised freedom for all nations. We’ll all be free. Ukraine will be free.”

Maurice looked at the ground between his splayed legs. He could no longer lift his head. “I can’t wait six months. I can’t wait two days. If you wait, you’ll find a corpse. We’ll all be dead. You have to get us out now.”

Army of Worn Soles will be available in June. In the meantime, visit Scott’s

and follow him on Twitter @ScottTheWriter.

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