When did you write Mountains of Hope?
I was sixteen years old, and we were living in a cabin in Pine Mountain, GA. The writing isn’t as good as in some of my other works for the simple reason that I was young and still maturing as an author. Still, I believe strongly in this book.
You’ve mentioned that the writing of this book was powerful in your life. Can you explain that?
When I wrote the book, I saw and felt very disturbing things. I believe they were demonic spirits. That’s a powerful claim. But I know what I saw in that room, and felt, and I have never felt it at any other time. This book is on a subject that needs to be told and discussed. It is a powerful time in history, one from which we should learn many, many lessons.
The Holocaust has impacted you deeply.
Very. It was very encouraging to me as a teenager. The survivors of that time are truly heroes, even though I recognize they probably don’t feel like it.
Do you think that Alexi is too young a heroine to have managed to hide for and care for soldiers?
This has been a complaint about the book from publishers. However, I have refused to alter Alexi’s age. People consistently underestimate adolescents, especially ones who have to grow up in less than ideal situations. Alexi came from wealth–she had a tutor–but she was neglected by her aunt and uncle and this, in turn, led to greater maturity. This is realistic. Besides, look at John Grisham and his young hero in The Client. What about the movie Home Alone? Could an actual kid have pulled off the things that he did? Even more importantly look at actual holocaust victims, like Anne Frank and her diary. There’s a book called Go Ask Alice which is a diary of a teenager with a tragic life. Heroes don’t have to be adults. Youth are heroes in real life, and they can be in fiction, too.
How did you research this book?
My education in the holocaust time period began when I was very young, not even in high school, and I read Martin Gilbert’s The Holocaust, which should be required college reading. There were other numerous books on the subject, including ones about Hitler and the principal figures of the camps. I also visited the Holocaust Museum in DC and I have been fortunate to meet an actual survivor of the period. I wasn’t there, however, and I make no claim that the book is the way that things actually were. There are many other books, fictional ones that probably re-create the camps more realistically than this one does. However, Mountains of Hope serves a different purpose than those books. Its purpose is to expose the terror and guilt and shame that the victims underwent. Alexi lost her youth, her innocence. This is what the book is really about, not how many beds were in a bunker or how many victims shared a bed. My goal was to tap into what they might have experienced emotionally, though, since I was not there, this book serves as my best educated guess alone. Ultimately, I hope this book inspires others to do their own research into the time period, with the aids of non-fictional materials like Gilbert’s book.