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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Thursday teaser: Under the Nazi Heel

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Book 2 in the Eastern Front trilogy

By Scott Bury

Chapter 10: The heel grinds

Nastaciv, July 1942

Maurice woke at noon the day after the night raid. Hot air came in through the open window and he felt sticky with sweat. After washing, he found his mother in the sweltering barn, tending her still.

“Bad news from the villages around,” she said when he came in, without looking up at him. She put more fuel into the little furnace, her brow furrowed. A soft gurgle came from somewhere in the still, and she tapped the copper pipe that led to the first collecting barrel.

The heat from the furnace under the still made Maurice dizzy. “Come outside and tell me.” He stepped out and waited for Tekla to finish fussing over her vodka and follow him. Outside, a slight breeze relieved some of the heat of the summer sun.

“What did you hear?” he asked finally, lighting a cigarette.

“Young Yulia Evanyshyn from Yospivka went missing last night. And a man named Yurchik was killed. People buried him here in Nastaciv secretly at night.” As she looked up at him, Maurice felt like her eyes were drilling into his head. “You’re smoking too much lately.”

“Really? I hadn’t noticed.”

“Where were you all night?”

“It’s best if you don’t know that.” Maurice took one more drag, then threw the half-smoked cigarette to the ground and stomped it with his heel.

“They say the Germans in Seredynky are hopping mad,” Tekla said, closing the barn door.

Maurice helped her push it closed. “Who says?

“People.” She latched the door and walked toward her beet field.

“We better go to the village and find out what people are saying.”

“You go. I have work to do here.”

Vasyl was sitting at Komorski’s café as usual, but outside on the step. “Hey, Maurice,” he said as Maurice sat beside him. “Did you hear about Seredynky?”

“Not much. What did you hear?”

“The Germans have burned down five houses and executed three men. They sent their families away, to camps, they say.”

Despite the sun beating on the back of his neck, Maurice felt cold. “Why?” came out like a rasp.

“Partisans attacked last night, they say. They killed five German soldiers at the garrison there, so the commander ordered one house burned for each man killed. He shot the fathers of each house himself. One of them had a pretty, young wife and they say he has her in his quarters now, where he’s using her for his own sick pleasure.” Vasyl spat into the dirt. “Bastards.”

Maurice stood, feeling himself tremble from head to foot. He went into Komorski’s little house and found the café owner sitting at his own table, his head in his hands. A plain bottle of clear liquid sat on the table, beside a shot glass. “Is it true what they’re saying about Seredynky?” Maurice asked.

Komorski looked pale. He smoothed his hair and spoke to the table. “The Germans set the first house on fire at dawn. They didn’t even bother giving the people inside a warning to get out. They shot the father in front of his three children.”

“How do you know this?”

“The brother of one of the men shot came down here a few hours ago. His name was Loboda, and he was my cousin.” With shaking hands, Komorski poured a shot from the bottle, slopping some of the homemade whiskey onto the table. He threw the drink into his mouth and swallowed. He tried to pour another shot, but his hands could not keep the bottle’s mouth over the glass. Maurice took the bottle and poured for him.

“Yurchik was killed and buried secretly last night, too,” Komorski continued. “He lived here, in this village. He was my friend. It won’t take the Germans long to work out the connection.” He looked up, finally, at Maurice. “Are they going to come here, Maurice? How many houses will they burn in Nastaciv? How many men will they shoot? How many girls are they going to rape?”

About Under the Nazi Heel

For Ukrainians in 1942, the occupying Germans were not the only enemy.

Maurice Bury was drafted into the Red Army just in time to be thrown against the invading Germans in 1941. Captured and starved in a POW camp, he escaped and made his way home to western Ukraine, where the Nazi occupiers pursued a policy of starving the locals to make more “living space” for Germans.

To protect his family, Maurice joins the secret resistance. He soon finds the country faces multiple threats. Maurice and his men are up against Soviet spies, the Polish Home Army and enemies even closer to home.

Experience this seldom seen phase of World War 2 through the eyes of a man who fought and survived Under the Nazi Heel.

Get it on Amazon.

About the author

Scott Bury can’t stay in one genre. After a 20-year career in journalism, he turned to writing fiction. “Sam, the Strawb Part,” a children’s story, came out in 2011, with all the proceeds going to an autism charity. Next was a paranormal short story for grown-ups, “Dark Clouds.”

The Bones of the Earth, a historical fantasy, came out in 2012. It was followed in 2013 with One Shade of Red, an erotic romance.

He has written in the Lei Crime (Torn Roots, Palm Trees & Snowflakes, Dead Man Lying, Echoes), Jet (Jet: Stealth) and Sydney Rye (The Wife Line, The Three-Way) Kindle Worlds.

His latest work is the Eastern Front trilogy: Army of Worn Soles, Under the Nazi Heel and Walking Out of War.

Get to know Scott from his:

And follow him on Twitter @ScottTheWriter.

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