Last week, as part of the festivities for the annual Spring Gala at The Gallery on Main, local author Margrit de Graff did a reading from her latest book And He Came Back Alive!, a story about her father and his return from a Russian prisoner of war camp two years after the end of the Second World War.
De Graff grew up in Germany and was 11-years-old when her father was drafted in the Second World War. She was in her teens throughout the war and was a member of the Hitler Youth.
And He Came Back Alive! tells the story of how her father was captured at the Russian front and returned home after being gone for eight years. It also details how difficult it was for de Graff’s father to re-adjust and how his family, particularly her mother, adapted to his return as well.
De Graff said writing the book was an emotional experience for her but also that it was a story she felt needed to be told. She said she started writing the story for her children, who being born in Canada (all 12 of them) had never learned about the war from the German point of view.
“They’ve only seen this side of these conflicts and I think it’s important to see them from both sides,” said de Graff. She added that being a German-born Canadian, she has a unique perspective on the war. “I have one foot in each corner. I’ve been here since 1951 so I’m very Canadian, but still German too. So I see both sides.”
de Graff has written three books before And He Came Back Alive, all of them self-published. She said she chose this route because having books published and printed through a professional publisher can often take years.
“I don’t have the time to deal with publishers,” said de Graff. “I could be dead by the time it’s over.”
Now working on her fifth book, de Graff said she is starting to consider getting a professional publisher. In addition to her books, de Graff also has a number of short stories that have been included in 10 different anthologies.
Currently, de Graff is writing a book with the working title Start@80 which is about her own experiences of life after 80 years of age. She said the project expanded to include stories of others as well after she competed in the Alberta 55 Plus Summer Games last year and met many more interesting people.
De Graff, now 87, said she has started an entirely new life since turning 80. Just to give one example, she is currently training to compete as a cyclist in the Canada 55 Plus Summer Games this August even though her bronze medal finish at last year’s Alberta 55 Plus Summer Games didn’t technically qualify. However, de Graff was still invited to compete.
“I guess I set a good example that you can do things after 80,” said de Graff. She added that, while she has been a writer all her life, it wasn’t until the age of 80 that she started writing seriously either.
All of de Graff’s books are non-fiction and most are about her own experiences. She said that while she takes a bit of creative liberty with some of her writing, she has too many life stories to share to go about making up others.
“My life has been too long and too full, I don’t have time for fantasies,” said de Graff. She added that she also does a lot of research when writing her books to ensure accuracy and that this is particularly true when writing And He Came Back Alive!
All de Graff’s books are hand-bound as well. After having the pages of her books professionally printed, she binds each copy of the book together herself.