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Maggie Ziegler on The Road to Keringet

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The Road to Keringet by Maggie Ziegler

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About The Road to Keringet

Book Club Buddy: What do you think readers will find most notable about this book?

Maggie Ziegler: Readers tell me that they become very engaged with my mother’s story; they get interested in her and what happens to her. I like hearing this because it means I have brought her to life and also because she became compelling to me in a new way as I wrote the book.  The detail in her writings, including the occasional recorded dialogues enabled me to enter into her story, and the inclusion of her own words in the book (letters, journal entries and other writing) enhances the readers’ relationship to her. I had a great deal of material to work with. In the process of writing she did seem more and more like a fascinating character in a complex drama and I often forgot that she was my mother. The context of her story, a woman born into stoical working class British culture and her aspirations to escape that background says a lot about the choices open to women at that time and of that class.

BCB: Did researching and writing this book teach you anything or influence your thinking in any way?

Maggie Ziegler: My mother was good at what they call in writing classes ‘original detail.’ Her writings enabled me to see the times in which she lived, but I also did a great deal of research. Besides, as you will notice in the book, I was never quite certain if some things she wrote might have been invented or elaborated. One focus for my research was England from the 1930’s through the postwar years. I learned a tremendous amount that helped get the background right, and I gained insight into the hard realities of daily life during this time, which led to deep compassion for those who endured, including my mother and my English relatives. I did come to trust most of what my mother wrote!

Two books in particular were helpful. How we lived then: A history of everyday life during the Second World War, by Norman Longate is a collection of people’s stories and memories that were gathered some years after the war. It’s an utterly fascinating account of challenges such as trying to find out where to get off a train because all signs had been removed, or building a backyard air raid shelter or making the best use of a ration book. The other book, Austerity Britain 1945-1951 by David Kynaston tells the political story of these years, and also highlights individual stories of that time, many of them Mass Observation contributions. Mass Observation was an extraordinary project in which volunteer observers documented the world around them, including the opinions of their fellow citizens on just about everything.

The other area I researched in depth was colonial Kenya. Although I had been influenced by my father’s left analysis of African independence movements, and considered myself politically astute with a good understanding of the colonial project, I was shocked to discover the full extent of Britain’s attempt to suppress the drive to independence in Kenya. Caroline Elkins‘2005 Pulitzer Prize winning book Imperial Reckoning: The untold story of Britain’s gulag in Kenya is brilliantly researched, compellingly written and utterly heart breaking. I read it as I traveled through Kenya, seeking an understanding of my parents’ lives there.

The research enabled me to understand my parents’ lives in a wider social and historical context, and so gave me new ways to look at myself.  That’s in the book!

BCB: What would you most like readers to tell others about this book?

Maggie Ziegler: That’s it’s a good engaging read and of interest to just about anyone!

Related to the part of the book that’s about dementia and nursing homes, I would like readers who know people working in health care, especially elder care or who are looking after aging parents or parents with dementia, to tell them that this book explores these topics in a compassionate manner and that it may help them maneuver the complexities of such difficult situations. Aside from the personal reasons for writing this book, I feel strongly that it is important that both the institutional challenges of care and the family challenges faced by those who cannot carry all the necessary support for sick and aging relatives be witnessed, articulated and addressed with kindness and creativity.

BCB: Can you suggest one question readers might find interesting to discuss, concerning you, your writing in general, or this book?

Maggie Ziegler: There’s a theme in the book about truth and memory. In one section, my mother is narrating the family’s early years in Canada. This is followed by my contemplation of her story and wondering if her story is also mine, and whether my father would agree with any of it. So the question readers might discuss has to do with the role of truth in memoir. Is it possible to tell ‘the truth’ and what is that anyway? Who decides?  In memoir there are always choices about what to put in and what to leave out. Does that affect the truthfulness of the story? What do readers think about the truth I’ve created about my family?  As both a memoirist and a psychotherapist I love discussing this; I’m fascinated by how we create our stories.

BCB: How can readers help you promote this book?

Maggie Ziegler: This is an independently published book and for the time being I’m selling it myself, so anything readers can do is helpful to me. Share information on social media, visit the blog I’ve set up for the book, encourage others to order the book, find a reviewer, and ask your local bookstore to carry it. It all helps!

Author photo of Maggie ZieglerAbout You

BCB: Why do you write?

Maggie Ziegler: Years ago I took a creative non-fiction class at the University of British Columbia, my first writing course. I told myself that I wanted to find out if I had a passion for writing. Maybe that sounds odd, but I think that early impulses to write were somehow squelched and it took me several decades of adult life to find my way to be free with words. I have always written but in a more professional context, perhaps that was more about the craft than the art of writing, and I wanted something freer. I found that freedom in that class.  Now I write for pleasure and I write when there is some story that seems to want to be told. I like to write about what is going on in the world around me. I think it helps keep me sane in our challenging times.

BCB: What is your greatest strength as a writer?

Maggie Ziegler: I think I have a capacity to hold the complexities of a situation, which is really helpful for a non-fiction writer. I like to look at people and events from multiple perspectives, sorting through them until I come to a place that makes some sense to me. I like the process of exploration, which works really well when I can step aside from rigid categorizations. Even apparently not helpful judgments can be a good beginning place for reflection. I enjoy the process of writing through competing views and possibilities to a place of clarity for myself and hopefully others. I do think that’s a good and helpful thing. It did help in writing about my own family.

BCB: What quality do you most value in yourself?

Maggie Ziegler: It’s a difficult question to answer but I think that I would say that I try to lean into the values and the ways of being that matter most to me. Honesty is one place of that leaning, something to which I am deeply committed. By honesty I mean a willingness to see clearly both myself and the world around me. I’m searching to get underneath the surface to what seems genuine and then considering what that means in terms of behaviour, whether that is writing, talking to a friend, speaking up publicly  about something or some other action.

I would also say that kindness is another intention that I have. I am not always kind but when I notice this I search for the path back to a compassionate place.

BCB: In addition to writing, what else are you passionate about?

Maggie Ziegler: My professional career has been as a psychotherapist specializing in the treatment of trauma and I have also always been engaged in initiatives aimed at social and environmental change and the creation of a more just world. These two key passions, for healing our individual selves and healing our world are in fact one because they are inseparable. So I’m passionate about how we can come to deeply understand ourselves as unique people with a unique story while at the same times coming to know that we are in fact part of the whole.

What this means in practice is that my psychological work encouraged reflection on the wider contexts that formed the core experiences of the individual or family, and that my community work always holds the knowledge that individuals bring their own stories and needs and that these need acknowledgement and inclusion.

I’m also passionate about Rwanda, where I have had the great good fortune to live the past two years, working with educational programs seeking to rebuild social cohesion after the still alive trauma of the 1994 genocide.

BCB: Is there any new or established authors whom you feel deserves more attention, and what is it that strikes you about his or her work?

Maggie Ziegler: While in Rwanda, I appreciated learning more about modern African writers.  They deserve far attention from international readers as they are cracking good writers and their stories enable non-Africans to gain refreshing perspectives on the continent, challenging our knowledge and assumptions. The Caine Prize for African Writing is a good place to begin, offering an introduction to writers such as Zimbabwean Noviolet Bulawayo, who won the 2011 award for a story and Nigeria’s Rotimi Babatunde, 2012 winner for ‘Bombay’s Republic”, described by the chair of the judges as having  “soaring, scorching prose exposing the exploitative nature of the colonial project and the psychology of independence.”  I also found that reading African bloggers on the nominees and their stories widened my perspectives and thinking.

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