Author Interview: ‘The Other Mrs Samson’ by Ralph Webster

About the Book:

Surviving two wars, sharing one husband, searching for answers…

A hidden compartment in a black lacquer cabinet left in an attic reveals the secrets of two incredible women: Hilda, born and raised in one of the wealthiest Jewish families in turn-of-the-century San Francisco, and Katie, whose early life in Germany is marked by tragedy and death. Their lives are forever entwined by their love of the same man, the brilliant and compassionate Dr. Josef Samson.

From the earliest, rough-and-tumble days of San Francisco, through the devastation of the Great War in Berlin and the terrors of Vichy France, and then to a new yet uncertain life in New York City, their stories span the most tumultuous events of the twentieth century. In the end, one of these women will complete the life of the other and make a startling discovery about the husband they share.


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Chapter Thirty-Seven

Ichoose to believe there was one moment when our eyes met, a passing moment, the few seconds it takes for someone to walk through one door and out an- other. The date is certain, and the memory refuses to fade. Even though I was at a young age, I clearly remem- ber the smallest details of all else that occurred on that day.

What remains uncertain is that one single moment. Still blurred, so brief and so sudden, even now I am un- convinced whether it was imagined or actually did oc- cur. Once, when I asked Josef if he recalled the afternoon or could confirm or deny the instance, he gave me no answer. He seemed terribly anguished and was unable to respond. On most matters, Josef would willingly offer opinions. On matters involving Hilda, he remained silent and reflective. I’ve always thought he preferred to for- get.

That moment took place in Berlin. It was in late win- ter of 1915, a little more than six months after the war began. The snow and ice were beginning to thaw, and I

was not much more than five years old the morning I accompanied Mutti and my fifteen-year-old-brother, Fritz, to Am Urban, the old Kreuzberg municipal hospi- tal that sat at the end of the street near where the two roads crossed. It was a short distance, only a few paces from our house on DieffenbachStraße, not far from the Landwehr Canal and close enough for Fritz to walk, even as fatigued and weak as he was.

Fritz had been ill for several days, unable to sleep and suffering from unrelenting coughs and terrible night sweats. We were taking him to meet with the doctor. As we were leaving the house, my other brother, Karl, gen- tly pulled me aside and whispered the frightening words Mutti had told him that morning. Mutti feared that Fritz might have schwindsucht, a word I only knew because it sounded so harsh and was repeated so often. That day, as we walked through the slushy ice and snow, I was much too young. I had only a vague notion of what this word really meant.

War was extracting its toll on Berlin, sapping our en- ergy and already lasting far longer than anyone had ex- pected, certainly much longer than the kaiser had promised. Throughout the city, food was in short supply. There were many days when, after I stood with Mutti, waiting our turn at the markets, there would not be enough to fill our shopping basket. We would return home with less than half of what the stamps on the ration card entitled our family to receive. Soup and potatoes were quickly becoming our everyday meal.

Nearly every family on DieffenbachStraße was suf- fering from the terrible misery that accompanies hunger and the worry that illness would not be far behind. There had been reports of more and more cases of tuberculo- sis, the dreaded disease the doctors were unable to cure, the sickness that resigned those afflicted to spending their lives as outcasts. Even at my young age, I was be- ginning to understand. I had seen the large warning no- tices posted on the front doors of the houses. Others in our neighborhood were already victims.

That day when we walked with Fritz to the hospital, I did not meet the doctor. There was little time and no need for introductions. Our visit was not a social call, and the room was crowded with patients, all waiting their turn to see him. I was told to sit quietly outside the office door and mind my manners while Mutti and Fritz conferred with the doctor.

As we waited for the nurse to call Fritz for his exam- ination, the doctor’s office door opened, and a well- dressed woman close in age to Mutti stepped out. I watched her walk quickly across the small room to the door that led to the hospital corridor. As she passed, she turned her head toward me, and it seemed our eyes met for that one brief instant. Then, as she opened the exit door and disappeared into the hallway, I am almost cer- tain I heard the nurse say, “Auf wiedersehen, Frau Sam- son.”

A short while later, as Mutti and I retraced our steps back up DieffenbachStraße, she explained that Fritz needed to stay behind so he could be seen by other

doctors. I remember the dark circles under Mutti’s eyes and the worried look on her face as she pulled me close and said these words. When I woke the next morning, Mutti told me that Fritz had been sent north of Berlin to the Hohenlychen Sanatorium, where he could be away from the city and get fresh air and recover. Beelitz- Heilstätten, the sixty-building park-like complex to the south of the city, was no longer available for tuberculosis patients. It had been converted into a hospital for the growing number of war casualties sent home from the front.

After we left him, I never saw my brother again. Fritz never recovered from his illness. All I would be left with is this memory, one that I can never forget.

Author Interview:

1: Tell us a little about yourself and what got you in to writing?

Great question because becoming an author was never a career choice or life plan. In school, I was the kid sent to wood shop, never advanced English or literature class. My aptitude was numbers, never words, and most of my career revolved around a small accounting software company I started.

Writing books became my passion only after I retired and tried a variety of other retirement hats — becoming an emergency medical technician, driving the fire trucks and ambulances, spending hours on the beach searching for treasure with my metal detector, guiding a historical preservation project, raising funds for our local hospice organization, trying to learn how to speak Spanish, understanding how to write apps for Androids, taking calculus courses online.

I was drawn to writing through my first book, A Smile in One Eye: A Tear in the Other. I wanted my family to know my father’s story. He was a holocaust survivor, not a hero, simply an ordinary man who walked through life one step at a time, with grace and dignity, even in the most horrific and extraordinary circumstances. When I began to write I had no idea that readers would select this book as a 2016 Goodreads Choice Awards nominee for best memoir/autobiography.

2: Do you have a favourite time and place where you write?

I do — at my chair and desk. When I am working on a book, I write from early morning until late in the afternoon when it’s time for Scrabble and martinis. For me, writing a book (and finishing) is a very intense undertaking, filled with long days and restless nights, an all or nothing proposition. I try to avoid distractions because I know I can be easily tempted. The only sound I want to hear is the tapping of my fingers on the keyboard.

3: Where do your ideas come from?

From the people I know, the stories I have heard, and the riddles I want to solve. And, when I am completely honest with myself, I write because I have things to say that I want others to hear.

4: Do you have a plan in your head of where the story is going before you start writing or do you let it carry you along as you go?

I want to know where I am going before I start, whether for a paragraph, a chapter, or the entire book. Organized would not be the word to describe my process but winging it would not be a good description either. I try not to wander around aimlessly. I’m purpose driven. Of course there are times I get lost in the weeds. An internet search sometimes does that, but, before I start writing, I need to know how the story will begin and end. Then I try to connect these two extremes. I prepare for each chapter and know what I want it to do before I write it. This keeps me disciplined — and it gives me a certain sense of satisfaction. Completing a chapter becomes a manageable goal I can reach.

For me nothing is more frustrating than working for days and days on something only to cut it. The pain is unbearable. Obviously if something does not belong, it has to be cut. And, just because I wrote it, it doesn’t make it wonderful and important. I just try to be efficient and have a pretty good idea of what I am trying to accomplish. That doesn’t mean I don’t rewrite what I have written. I rewrite and edit things over and over again until I am satisfied. You could say that I have a love/hate relationship with my word processor.

5: What genre are your books and what drew you to that genre?

I think readers who will enjoy my latest book will be those who enjoy twentieth century historical fiction, 1850s through World War II. The Other Mrs. Samson is certainly not a romance novel but neither is it a war story. I would argue that it is a memorable love story. And the thing about love, as most of us know, is that it can be complicated. I think that makes this book curious, compelling, and emotional.

6: What dream cast would you like to see playing the characters in your latest book?

That’s a question I have never considered. Two of the three main characters in The Other Mrs. Samson are female. I would want those characters to come across as intelligent, independent, and genuine. I would love to hear from my readers who they would cast.

7: Do you read much and if so who are your favourite authors?

I do enjoy reading, something I usually do on the treadmill. But, I lose all interest in reading when I am working on a book. I am sure my ego intrudes. I don’t want to compare my style of writing with the way others write. I suppose I am afraid to see my weaknesses. 

8: What book/s are you reading at present?

Churchill, Working with Destiny by Andrew Roberts.

9: What is your favourite book and why?

As far as reading goes, I tend to enjoy serious books that have a well written story, books that genuinely develop the characters so you feel you intimately know the personalities. My interests are wide — biographies, historical, political, and stories with a good plot. Two authors who always come to mind are Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Carlos Ruiz Zafrόn. Both paint amazing pictures with their words. I thought the Shadow of the Wind was an absolutely wonderful book and recommend it. I like authors who make the story authentic and write to entertain, inform, and excite the reader. I enjoy books with a good ending.

10: What advice would you give for someone thinking about becoming a writer?

Passion, persistence, perfection, perseverance, and patience in any order you choose. There are no shortcuts, only hard work, much self-flagellation, and always uncertainty. Writing can be a lonely enterprise. I believe one must remember that writing begins with the reader. Listen to the readers. Put your ego in check. Be humble and have a thick skin.

11: What are the best Social Media Sites for people to find out about you and your work?

Without question Goodreads is best. There you can see my entire portfolio and the readers are honest and forthcoming with their reviews. And, if you wish to purchase the book it is available on Amazon and the audio version is available at Audible. Some may find my website interesting, It has lots of information. As for other sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram…they are more self-promotional and not all that useful. I think most authors would agree. Reading serious reviews is the best way to learn about books.



About the Author:

Award winning author Ralph Webster received worldwide acclaim for his first book, A SmileOne Eye: A Tear in the Other, which tells the story of his father’s flight from the Holocaust. Voted by readers as a Goodreads 2016 Choice Awards Nominee for Best Memoir/Autobiography, A Smile in One Eye: A Tear in the Other, his second book, One More Moon, and now his third book, The Other Mrs. Samson, are proven book club selections for thought-provoking and engaging discussions. Whether in person or online, Ralph welcomes and values his exchanges with readers and makes every effort to participate in conversations about his books.

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