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Tour: The Amber Crane by Malve von Hassell

Book details:


Author: Malve von Hassell

Publication Date:25th June 2021

Publisher:Odyssey Books

Page Length:268 Pages

@Archaeolibrary, @maryanneyarde, @MvonHassell,

#CoffeePotBookClub, #BlogTour, #HistoricalFiction, #Timeslip, #ThirtyYearsWar, #WWII,

Chafing at the rules of the amber guild, Peter, an apprentice during the waning years of the Thirty Years’ War, finds and keeps a forbidden piece of amber, despite the risk of severe penalties should his secret be discovered.

Little does he know that this amber has hidden powers, transporting him into a future far beyond anything he could imagine. In dreamlike encounters, Peter witnesses the ravages of the final months of World War II in and around his home. He becomes embroiled in the troubles faced by Lioba, a girl he meets who seeks to escape from the oncoming Russian army.

Peter struggles with the consequences of his actions, endangering his family, his amber master’s reputation, and his own future. How much is Peter prepared to sacrifice to right his wrongs?

Trigger Warnings:

References to rape, Holocaust, World War II, violence

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Clare glanced into the opening of the oven to check on the bread and then turned back to face Peter.

“So, how is she?” he asked again. “Should she not be getting over this? It has been four weeks already.”

“Get over this?” Clare put her hands on her hips and glared at him furiously. “You try getting over something like this quickly. And you are not even troubled and frail like she is.”

“Sorry,” Peter said. “I do not know what it must be like.”

“I know that.” Clare no longer looked angry, just tired and sad. “I have cut Effie’s hair, and it is not so ragged anymore. She let me do that, but other than that, I cannot get her to do much of anything. Mostly she just sits in her room, rocking back and forth.” She picked up a linen towel, folding it and unfolding it, her brow wrinkled by her concern. “I will get some lavender for her pillow. That might at least comfort her in the evening. My grandmother swore by amber, but of course, that is impossible to get.”

“Amber?” Peter asked. “What do you mean?”

“You work with this all day long and you do not know what it can do?”

“Like what?”

“It has always been used for healing. Oma said if you wear amber on your skin, it will protect you against jaundice, a sore throat, stomach griping, and all sorts of other illnesses. Some people grind amber into a powder you can take with water or honey. Oma even claimed there is an oil made of amber used for scents and for healing, but I never heard about that anywhere else. Anyway, she swore it made her arthritis better.”

Master Nowak had never talked about this. Peter had heard Mistress Nowak mention something to Anne. But it had not interested him, just as he had no use for all the teas and powders Mistress Nowak had in her cabinet for healing.

“But it is not as if Effie has jaundice or arthritis.”

“No, of course not. Still, it might help. You better get going.” Clare grabbed a few wrinkled winter apples from the pantry and two loaves of bread. “Here, do you have room in your satchel?”

Peter made a quick grab for the satchel to prevent Clare from seeing what was inside. “Let me do that.” He relaxed when he remembered he had put the amber pieces in his pocket earlier. That still seemed the safest place for them. “Sorry,” he added to cover for the awkward moment. “Master Nowak had me fetch something for him, and I do not want it to get squished.”

Clare glanced at him from the side but refrained from commenting. “Wrap the bread in a towel. Take this one and bring it back next time.”

The wind had picked up and it had begun to snow. Peter pulled up his collar and started out. It was a long walk toward Master Nowak’s house.

His thoughts were racing. His father’s business in trouble. Effie raped on top of her general helplessness. Peter thought about what his father had said. Until his brother’s death, his parents had always relied on Lorenz. Peter could not help feeling a twinge of pride that his father appeared to now look to him for support. At the same time, he felt trapped. He would have to be responsible for his sister in the future. A lifetime of making prayer beads. A lifetime of taking care of his sister while tolerating the jeers and snide remarks from others. A lifetime of trying to catch up to his dead brother.

For years, he had dreamed of finishing his apprenticeship. He looked forward to traveling all over the land as a journeyman. Sometimes, he had even pictured his life as a master craftsman with his own shop in Stolpmünde. Now, all he could think of was a heavy door closing on his future—his life defined forever by the rigid rules and regulations of the guild and the demands of his family. If only he could run away. For an instant, he had a vision of himself as a sailor onboard a Hanse merchant ship. Yet, how could he even think of something like this when his family needed his help?

Then he remembered he could not possibly put his name forward. There was no way he could ask his father for the money to purchase the pound of amber a candidate had to provide for the exam.

The sun was already setting. Peter hated how quickly the days grew shorter. He marveled at the glow in the sky, just like a perfectly polished, translucent piece of rose-colored amber.

His thoughts began to wander. His mother had told him an ancient Greek tale of a wondrous bird from India whose tears at the death of one of the Argonauts had turned to amber. His favorite story was the one about the magical amber bear that supposedly brought good luck to its owner. In another story, amber was created when the ancient gods wept and their tears washed into the waves.

“Hardly tears of the gods,” Master Nowak scoffed when Peter had asked him about that tale at the beginning of his apprenticeship. “Amber is the result of resin and sap from trees that have washed into the sea, where it hardened over thousands of years,” he said. “Not all amber comes from the sea. Amber is also found deep in the ground where it is dug up like precious minerals. Of course, some say amber comes from the sperm whale or rather the sperm whale’s excrement.” Master Nowak laughed. “Likely story. Just goes to show you should not believe everything people tell you.”

One day he brought in fresh globs of sap he had picked up in the woods to show his apprentices, proudly displayed on a piece of wood. “See, here it is. It is just beginning to stiffen.”

“It smells nice.” Cune reached out to touch it.

“Watch out,” Master Nowak said. “It is sticky and hard to get off your hands. If you throw this in the ocean, many years from now, you will have a lovely solid piece of amber. That is one of the most remarkable facts about amber. It does not sink.” He had a strangely wistful expression, surprising for someone usually so dry and businesslike. “Some people say amber is restless and that is why it does not stay in the sea but washes up on the shore.”

“Maybe it has a soul,” Anne said, seated on a little stool in the back of the workroom, knitting a woolen cap for a baby cousin. She looked like a miniature Mistress Nowak, so busy and intent on her work. That day, Anne had not yet started formally as an apprentice. She had been too young, but she often sat in the back when her father talked to Peter and Cune about amber.

“That is ridiculous.” Peter laughed. “It is just sap.”

Master Nowak did not comment on this.

Now, with the amber in his pocket preying on his mind, Peter was not sure of anything anymore.

It was snowing more heavily. Peter trudged along and thought of amber floating on top of the waves. He loved the story of the Indian bird. He pictured it with long tail feathers, graceful and elegant, but with sad, glowing eyes out of which the amber tears spilled faster and faster as they rolled toward the sea.

Snow flurries were swirling almost level with the ground. Peter squinted to keep them out of his eyes. Yet, he could not help staring at the glittering flakes, mesmerized by their unrelenting movement toward him.

The houses around him had vanished in billowing swathes of snow. Scrunching up his eyes to keep out the flakes, he continued, stumbling over the uneven bumps and hollows in the road. Fortunately, Master Nowak’s house was just a ten-minute walk from the town square. The snow was blowing into Peter’s collar and he felt a layer settling on his eyebrows. Suddenly, he lost his footing and pitched headlong into a snowdrift.

Malve von Hassell is a freelance writer, researcher, and translator. She holds a Ph.D. in anthropology from the New School for Social Research. Working as an independent scholar, she published The Struggle for Eden: Community Gardens in New York City (Bergin & Garvey 2002) and Homesteading in New York City 1978-1993: The Divided Heart of Loisaida (Bergin & Garvey 1996). She has also edited her grandfather Ulrich von Hassell's memoirs written in prison in 1944, Der Kreis schließt sich - Aufzeichnungen aus der Haft 1944 (Propylaen Verlag 1994). She has taught at Queens College, Baruch College, Pace University, and Suffolk County Community College, while continuing her work as a translator and writer. She has self-published two children’s picture books, Letters from the Tooth Fairy (2012/2020) and Turtle Crossing (2021), and her translation and annotation of a German children’s classic by Tamara Ramsay, Rennefarre: Dott’s Wonderful Travels and Adventures (Two Harbors Press, 2012). The Falconer’s Apprentice (namelos, 2015) was her first historical fiction novel for young adults. She has published Alina: A Song for the Telling (BHC Press, 2020), set in Jerusalem in the time of the crusades, and The Amber Crane (Odyssey Books, 2021), set in Germany in 1645 and 1945. She has completed a biographical work about a woman coming of age in Nazi Germany and is working on a historical fiction trilogy featuring Adela of Normandy.

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Tour hosted by: The Coffee Pot Book Club

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