Sunday, February 6, 2011

Patricia Friedberg at Davis-Kidd with '21 Aldgate'

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By Rosemary Nelms,

Friedberg.jpgPatricia Friedberg's "21 Aldgate" is a book for the movie-goers who sat in Memphis theaters recently and applauded at the end of "The King's Speech." (I know from my own experience and from friends that there are many of you.)

In writing "21 Aldgate" (Rainbow Books, $27.95),  Friedberg has drawn on her own and her family's experiences in London in the period leading up to and during World War II. The climax of "The King's Speech" is Britain's declaration of war on Germany on Sept. 3, 1939, and that event occurs about three quarters of the way through Friedberg's novel. Like the movie, the book features Winston Churchill in an important subsidiary role.

Friedberg's sister, Gillian Endress, lives in Memphis and Friedberg, who currently has a home in Florida, will be here signing books at Davis-Kidd Booksellers in Laurelwood on  Feb. 5, at 1 p.m. She'll also speak to book clubs during her visit.

At the center of her novel is a young woman enmeshed in a conflict between love and duty, who manages to thrive in two vastly different environments through intelligence and fortitude.
Clara Simon lives with her parents, siblings and husband in a flat over the Half Moon Pub in London's East End. The neighborhood is chaotic, crowded, noisy and smelly, but as lovingly described by Friedberg, it is also vibrant and alive with the interaction of close-knit families.

Clara's husband is a cutter in his family's fur coat factory, and he's not pleased when Clara enters a different echelon of society by taking a job with a French painter, Paul Maze, in his posh home in Chelsea. Maze hires Clara to help him write a memoir of his experiences as a field artist doing reconnaissance for the British in World War I.

"And yes," Friedberg explains in a telephone interview, "Paul Maze was a real person." You can see images of him and his art on the Internet. When she speaks to book groups, Friedberg often shows the inscription that the artist wrote inside her mother's copy of Maze's book, "A Frenchman in Khaki," (Heinemann, London, 1934). And it's true that Clara and her life are based on her mother's experiences.

"My mother lived to be almost 100," says Friedberg, "and up until the end still had her wits about her.

"She had wonderful stories to tell. Although she spoke little about her romantic relationship with Maze, she told my sister, Gillian, that she had a secret she would take to her grave."
Maze's book includes a forward by Winston Churchill who was a frequent visitor in the Chelsea house. Clara becomes accustomed to his setting up his easel next to Maze, who comments, "Winston became an artist before politics took hold of his life, and we lost him to the government. He loves to paint, finds it relaxing."

It's Churchill who involves Clara and Maze, before war begins, in a spot of spying, sending them to an elegant party in Belgravia to report back on British Nazi sympathizers. The couple travel to Munich on a mission that involves smuggling secret messages in artwork, as well as searching for Clara's Jewish aunt who has disappeared, perhaps into the labor camp at Dachau.

Suspenseful scenes like these seem ideal for cinematic treatment, and Friedberg's agent reveals that the project is in development in the UK to become a major feature film. Friedberg has written the screenplay, but if it follows the book, a movie director may want to ratchet up the romance level. Clara and Paul's love affair in the novel is portrayed with refreshingly old-fashioned restraint.

A version of Friedberg herself appears near the end as Clara's daughter, Victoria, 4 years old when the Germans begin bombing London heavily. "More than half of London's children were evacuated to the countryside," and Victoria is sent to a farm in Derbyshire for a short time. One of the most affecting moments in the book occurs when Nelly, Clara's mother, returns to 21 Aldgate after a devastating bomb attack and begins straightaway to clean up amidst the rubble.

"The East End was completely annihilated by bombs," says Friedberg, and she explains that one reason she wrote the book was to show her admiration for the courage of Londoners who lost everything and showed neither fear nor defeat in front of their children.

"The enemy could destroy bricks and mortar, they could kill innocent people, but those who escaped could take their memories with them and pass their stories on to their children. This was what history was about, recording what happened, how it happened and perhaps why it happened."

A former journalist and writer of documentaries, Friedberg, 76, traveled extensively with her husband, a professor of cardiology. She has four children (each born in a different country), eight grandchildren, and one great-grandson.

Davis-Kidd Booksellers is at 387 Perkins Ext. Call 683-9801, or visit


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