Interview with Melanie
What’s the true story behind your novel?
When I married my husband and took his last name “Levensohn”, I became the namesake of his cousin. Melanie Levensohn lived in France as a student and was deported to Auschwitz in 1943. No one knows for sure if she survived the concentration camp or not.
My husband found out about this part of his family history when Melanie’s half-sister, Jacobina Löwensohn, mentioned her in passing in 2005. Jacobina’s father had told her about Melanie only on his death bed. He made her promise to search for Melanie and Jacobina spent ten years trying to find the half-sister she never knew. She contacted Holocaust organizations, experts and researchers around the world. All traces ended in Auschwitz. Jacobina kept the letters and historical documents she compiled during those years in a binder, entitled “Melanie Levensohn”. A few years ago, I found it in my husband’s office and immersed myself in her fate.
What happened then?
This coincidence that another Melanie Levensohn from Germany joined the family exactly seventy years after the previous Melanie had disappeared, and the fact that I studied in France like my namesake, caused an emotional upheaval in our family. Melanie’s fate and our identical name captivated me completely. I felt an urgent need to create a special memorial for her. That’s what inspired me to write this book. Yet, it isn’t a biography. Although the book is based on real facts and lives, my characters are all fictitious.
What is your favorite part of the novel?
The first chapter, which stands on its own, almost like a separate story. It paints a gloomy and paralyzing picture. We see father and daughter, two very unhappy people, unable to forgive each other for their entire lives. Only when the father is about to die can they find peace and forgiveness in an emotional reconciliation. The dark atmosphere lingers, but it also creates a calming tenderness.
What do you want to tell your readers with this novel?
Never give up on your dreams! The main character, Béatrice, is a modern woman, successful and independent. But she feels dissatisfied and lonely. As the story progresses, she evolves from a self-centered person to someone who cares deeply about others. This transformation is key to her happiness. Another message I would like to convey can be found in the Hebrew “Tikkun Olam.” It means “to repair the world” and is defined by performing acts of kindness. In daily life it means helping others and setting goals together. The search for the lost sister, as well as the growing friendship between Béatrice and Jacobina, are examples of “Tikkun Olam.”
When and where do you prefer to write?
Fortunately, I’m able to write almost anywhere. In a café, on a train, even while waiting for my daughter at her school. But I prefer to write in the early morning hours, before anybody else gets up. My most creative time is between 4:30 am and 7:00 am.
You have lived in many places around the world. What brought you to California and where did you stop on your life’s journey before getting here?
I studied literature and international relations in Cologne, Paris, and Santiago de Chile. From 1999-2001 I worked for the World Bank in Washington D.C. Then I moved to Geneva, Switzerland, and became a spokesperson for the World Health Organization, reporting from many developing countries around the world. In 2006 I returned to D.C. and the World Bank. Seven years ago, I met my husband. We got married and since then have been living in the Napa Valley.
You have a vineyard and make your own wine. Do you sell it?
We have about five acres of land on which we grow Cabernet Sauvignon grapes. We made wine under the Levensohn label until 2017 and now enjoy a special named designation as part of Realm Cellars. The Levensohn wine label was our first project together as a married couple. We started modestly and have since built a sizeable following. Working with a well-known winemaker from Bordeaux, the Levensohn wines have consistently been awarded superb reviews and point ratings by the world’s top critics. The production and marketing of our wine is a passion for us. Our wine can be found in select wine shops in Los Angeles, the Napa Valley, France, Germany, the UK, and Switzerland.