Interview with Author Syr Ruus

Today it is my pleasure to welcome Syr Ruus to my blog to tell us about her brand-spanking new book, Krambambuli , A Memoir published by Inanna.  I met Syr at the launching of A Maritime Christmas back in 2008 and we’ve shared many cups of coffee over the years while talking about writing and the business of publishing.

Syr Ruus was born in Estonia and grew up in the United States, where she earned her MA degree in English, her MS in Education, and taught briefly at Illinois State University. She moved to Crescent Beach, Nova Scotia in 1969, where she taught Grade 3 in the local elementary school while raising her three children before turning her full attention to writing. Her short fiction has appeared in literary journals and anthologies. She has won two first prize awards from the Writers’ Federation of Nova Scotia and has published four books of fiction.  A memoir of her childhood years as a refugee and an immigrant has just been released by Inanna Publications. A novella “Walls of the Cave,” will be published by Quattro Books in 2019.

Here’s a bit about the book:

Krambambuli is a memoir of the author’s childhood experiences during and subsequent to World War II. She documents three stages of displacement due to war: escaping destruction in Estonia, living as a refugee in Germany and Austria, and beginning a new life as an immigrant first in the United States, and later in Canada. Krambambuli is not meant to be a historical account. Rather, it offers a child’s perspective of the situations and people making up her early existence: her handsome and charming father, Isa, who sweeps into her life at intervals but provides no financial support; her disciplinarian mother, Ema, an optimist and extremely competent survivor who uses her creativity to make even a small rudimentary space attractive and homey; the hated Onu Gusti; and the many others who pass through this transitory time dominated by war. The book is a moving account of child’s experience in a camp for displaced persons and of growing up as a displaced child and daughter of a single mother in America. Totsu, the child, is terrorized by the war and the disruption and fears losing her mother’s love to a male lover and the possibility of being displaced by a half-sibling. She endures multiple new school and language situations and the added angst that being a displaced person can add to the life of a teenager. With such different personalities, she and her mother live their lives in both conflict, and in the knowledge that they are all each other has.

 

  1. Could you tell us a bit about yourself, when you first started writing, and what you have published?

I am what might be considered a late bloomer, spending the first half of my life reading rather than writing.  Perhaps this was because English is not my native language and it took that long to become confident enough to even consider that I too could enter that hallowed fellowship of writers. There were the inevitable rejections of course, but also a couple of first prizes for unpublished manuscripts from the Writers’ Federation of Nova Scotia, a few short stories accepted and some positive comments from editors which provided sufficient incentive over the years to keep me going.  My first published book was “Lovesongs of Emmanuel Taggart” (Breakwater, 2009). Subsequently I self-published three regionally- based works of fiction: “Devil’s Hump” (1913), “The Story of Gar” (2014), and “In Pleasantry” (2016).

  1. Your upcoming book is a memoir. Why was it important to tell your story?

People have asked me why I make up stories rather than telling my own.  There are a few reasons for this. First, I still believe that fiction reveals the greater truth (except for genre fiction, which generally follows an established formula), for it gives expression to a writer’s unique vision. Thus I believe all fiction is, in a sense, autobiographical. Memoir writing, on the other hand, reveals selected factual material about the writer’s life, yet we all know that each individual perceives reality differently and there can be bitter arguments about what really occurred, or sometimes if it actually happened  at all.  Another reason I found it difficult to write meaningfully about my past was because World War II has been written about so extensively by so many others.  Millions lost their lives and suffered unbelievable atrocities. Within this context, my experience seemed trivial. Finally, however, I began to approach it in a different way:  not relating my life as a part of history but examining how historical eventsaffected me as an individual growing up—as a refugee and as an immigrant. Unbelievably, there are still wars, refugees, and immigrants.  This book is dedicated to every person who has been displaced by war.

  1. Krambambuli is an unusual title. What is the significance of the title and exactly what does it mean?

Krambambuli is an alcoholic beverage that was popular in Germany in the 18th century.  It was also a drinking song among university students.  My native country, Estonia, was occupied by various foreign powers for hundreds of years. In fact its independence lasted for only 20 years before it was annexed by the Soviet Union in 1941, to be liberated again fifty years later. Before World War I, it  was under Russian rule, but controlled by Germans who owned most of the land and businesses.  The song was translated from the German and sung by Estonians. Although I never tasted the brew, I enjoyed singing about it as a child.

  1. I love the cover of the book. Explain a bit about the images on the cover?

The cover was designed by Val Fullard.  The photograph depicted is of the author (me) at eight years old, wearing an Estonian national costume that my mother created from whatever she could find in the refugee camp in Augsburg, Germany, where we lived for four years.  It was taken to be sent to America hoping we could find sponsors in order to emigrate. The belt is representative of Estonian design.

  1. Your previous publications were fiction. What were some of the challenges you faced in writing this memoir and how long did it take to write?

The major difficulty with writing a memoir is that you involve the lives of others who undoubtedly have different opinions and views and memories.  I did change the names, which of course doesn’t hide the identity of close family members. I have very few relatives and I did send the first draft of the manuscript to my half-sister to make sure there was nothing there to offend her. Much of the book deals withmy relationship with my parents as affected by the war.  My father died some years ago.  My mother, however, lived to be 102. Although she always read everything I wrote, I did not want to share the memoir with her for it would inevitably provoke some distress and argument.  Thus, although I began writing it about fifteen years ago, I did not send it out for publication until 2016. By that time it was revised numerous times.

  1. What is new on the horizon for author Syr Ruus?

Back to fiction!  A novella “Walls of the Cave,” has been accepted by Quattro Books and will be published in the spring of 2019.  During the long wait between sending out a query to a publisher and when the final product is to be released, I completed another short novel “Sucking Stones,” and am revising (yet again) a novel I’ve worked on for many years entitled “The Grand View.”

  1. Is there anything else we should know about the book?

“Krambambuli” will be launched at the LaHave River Bookstore on Sunday, October 28, at 4 p.m.  This bookstore has been such a wonderful addition to our community.  It is not only a beautiful place to browse among new books, used books, and even a shelf of freebies—it also offers a welcoming place to share thoughts about literature and to meet other people who love to read.  I try to visit as often as possible to refresh my spirit.  Although closed during the weekdays in winter, it will be open every weekend.

Thank you so much, Laura, yet again, for this opportunity to talk about my writing.  There are very few things—perhaps none–that an author finds more gratifying.

Thank you, Syr. I’m looking forward to attending the launch on Sunday. Krambambuli , A Memoir is available at LaHave River Books and Coles in Bridgewater. Also check out Syr’s other books while you’re there. It can also be ordered from Chapters. Ca HERE and Amazon.ca..HERE  

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11 Comments

  1. Angela Wilson

     /  October 24, 2018

    Wow! It sounds like a very interesting read, one that I would really enjoy!!

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
  2. syr ruus

     /  October 24, 2018

    Modest as you are, I notice you did not include one paragraph that I sent along with the interview, so I’ll repeat it here.
    The first time I met Laura Best, we were both wearing Santa hats and promoting “A Maritime Christmas.” The following year, she traveled half way across the province to attend the launch of my first book. This is Laura–always so supportive of other authors. Now, years later, with many short stories in literary magazines and anthologies, three published books (two more forthcoming), and having established a reputation as an award-winning and marvelous author, she still takes time to encourage other writers. As this interview attests.
    THANK YOU, Laura.

    Liked by 2 people

    Reply
  3. Well said, Syr! Best of luck with the book (which must have been therapeutic to write?) and your launch. Maybe Laura will lend me her copy:)

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    • syr ruus

       /  October 25, 2018

      Through reliving it, I discovered that the war and the refugee camp were easier than immigration. I was a child. It would be the opposite for adults,

      Like

      Reply
  4. A wonderful interview with Syr, an author I love and respect. I look forward to reading her latest book and will enjoy reading about her life. Growing up in Europe during WWII must have been terrifying. I also agree with what Syr had to say about you, Laura. Wishing both of you a great time at the launch. Just wish I could be there. xo

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    • syr ruus

       /  October 25, 2018

      Thank you for your kind words, Darlene. I shall be at the launch and look forward to seeing Laura. I hope the book will be there also–although I’m still waiting to see it, and the launch date is now two days away.

      Liked by 1 person

      Reply
  5. Nina Seaman

     /  October 26, 2018

    Best wishes for your book launch! You are an extraordinary writer and I look forward to reading this book. Sorry I won’t be there in person to wish you well. Nina Seaman
    Ps hope you are still Hooking as well as writing!

    Like

    Reply

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