The Story Behind From Ashes Into Light by Gudrun Mouw

The story behind the book is that I was born during World War II in the former East Prussia. My maternal side of the family was a member of the Seventh Day Adventist religion. We were targeted by the Gestapo (Nazis), then, by the Russians; so we had to flee. I grew up in a household greatly affected by this war.

From Ashes Into LightSome of my personal experiences made it into the book, such as when I first heard English-speaking voices all around me and was afraid. As a ten-year old, when I finally became a fluent speaker and reader of English, I found I loved to read. But I didn’t find stories similar to my own. My friends, throughout childhood and even in college, knew little about the experience of surviving war. I constantly met people who were removed from what was essential to who I was. At some point, I wanted to explore the story of where I came from and share this with others.

I began to research what happened in East Prussia in the 1940s. I spoke with relatives still living in Germany. I spoke with my mother and father. I chose to write in fiction because I had been exposed to the idea that truth is stranger than fiction in my college literature studies, and my actual purpose was to go beyond the horror of war and to portray, most importantly, the transcendence of those experiences.

Something unforeseen happened when I started to write the East Prussian narrative. Two other voices appeared also wanting their stories to be told. And, perhaps against common sense, I allowed the novel to expand, including these very different characters. One voice is that of a young Austrian Jew, the other a Native American who escapes the Spanish invasion.

By writing about several incidents of historical genocide, I was able to more fully explore the universal reverberations of such terrible events and how the strength of the human spirit can overcome trauma. This is what has always mystified me, how we are able to go on, how we can come together and transform even the most atrocious experiences.

About the Author

Gudrun MouwGudrun 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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