THE LIONESS of LEIDEN by Robert Loewen - Review and Q&A
There are no shortages of true accounts and novels based on WWII. The Lioness of Leiden (GreenleafBookGroupPress) is a historical novel written from first-hand memories of author, Robert Loewen's mother-in-law, Hetty, along with her roommate, Mimi and 17-year-old, Maria. These ladies took on roles they never could have imagined during WWII in the Netherlands. They became Dutch resistance fighters fighting the Nazi Gestapo in the Netherlands, taking on more and more dangerous assignments.
When the Nazis invade the Netherlands, these three women, at great risk carry documents, secret messages and cash to protect Jews, downed pilots and others in hiding. They're always on edge that they may be turned in to the Nazis by collaborators on the lookout for resistance fighters.
Like most WWII novels, The Lioness of Leiden is not an easy read. Knowing that actual people suffered the consequences to fight fascism is difficult to process. Complicated family relationships, tragedy suffered by all and meaningful female relationships keep The Lioness of Leiden moving forward with energy and insight. It's a courageous example of not knowing what a person is capable of until faced with evil.
Robert shared some of his thoughts about the real Hetty and writing THE LIONESS of LEIDEN
Tell us about Hetty.
RL: Hetty was a smart, thoughtful woman from the Dutch upper class—an early feminist. She was born in Indonesia—then called the Dutch East Indies—her family moved to Holland in 1923. The family’s wealth came from her grandfather, Henry Mathis, whom she never met. Henry was governor of the large island now called Sulawesi, where he raised rubber trees.
Q: Hetty’s boyfriend, Karl, is an important character. Tell us about him.
RL: Karl is Hetty’s love interest in Lioness, but the real Hetty had more than one boyfriend during the war. Karl is a composite of those boyfriends. Before the German invasion of the Netherlands, Hetty was living an ordinary life as a university student. Another Leiden student, Karl was her first serious boyfriend. Hetty wrote a romantic memoir about the first time they were intimate, and that formed the basis for the character in the novel. Then, suddenly Hetty’s country was at war, and that changed everything. You’ll have to read the novel to see what happens.
Q: One of your endorsements notes that your novel is laced with “steamy romance”. Wasn’t it uncomfortable to write about your mother-in-law in those terms?
RL: You had to know Hetty, who was always blunt and uninhibited about topics that others might not mention in polite company. Her views on sex were shaped by the war; according to her, everyone in the resistance was sleeping around. So no, it wasn’t hard to write about Hetty in these terms.
Q: What’s it like to write a first novel?
RL: Lioness is the first fiction I’ve ever written. As an attorney, I had written thousands of pages of legal briefs, but I soon learned that skillset is far different than writing fiction. Mostly, I taught myself about fiction from sources on the internet and writer workshops. I don’t mind telling you that I left A LOT of material on the cutting room floor through trial and error. Then I found the most amazing developmental editor, Julie Gray, a Los Angeles ex pat in Tel Aviv, who published her own book about the holocaust. Julie taught me the basic rules of fiction. One was “start late, leave early,” which means to begin each scene in the middle of the action and quit before resolving the conflicts—keeps readers turning the page.
Q: What are the main messages of Lioness?
RL: We have to make a choice when faced with aggression; we can give up our values, or we can fight for them. Hetty knew where she stood from the outset. Some things are worth dying for—like the invasion of your country. But death is not the biggest risk one takes by resisting. Hetty expected death, but she did not predict the devastation of losing people close to her. Hopefully, Lioness makes the reader turn the page to learn who will survive the war, but for me the most interesting question is how Hetty will react to every setback. It requires intelligence to recognize evil when it presents itself, and it requires enormous courage to do something about it.
The Lioness of Leiden will be published Tuesday.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR Robert Loewen was born in Bakersfield, grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, and raised his three children in Laguna Beach.
A 1970 graduate of Pomona College, Robert served two years in the United States Army, including a tour in Vietnam. His 1972 marriage linked him to Hetty Kraus, his mother-in-law, who told fascinating stories about her experiences in the Dutch resistance during World War II.
After a year serving as a law clerk to Justice Byron White at the United States Supreme Court, Robert returned to California in 1977, where he built a successful litigation practice at an international law firm. Known for his persuasive legal briefs, he has always been a natural storyteller who yearned to write fiction. Now retired, connect with Robert at