Three Sisters Q&A
Want to know a bit more about the story behind Three Sisters? The following questions have been asked of Heather about the book and Magda, Livia and Cibi’s lives in general. Just click the down arrow beside each question to see Heather’s answer.
What is the book about?
Three Sisters is a novel which tells a story of breath-taking power, that I hope will captivate readers all over the world, a testament to the bonds of sisterly love.
Cibi, Magda and Livia were aged 19, 17 and 15 in 1942, when Livia was ordered to leave their home in Slovakia, to ‘work for the Germans’. Cibi insisted on going with Livia, and the two were sent to the hell of Auschwitz while Magda remained in hiding. In 1944, Magda was captured and the three were reunited in Auschwitz, and as the war turned against the Nazis, sent out on the death marches. They had so little, they had suffered such brutality, but they were strong together and found their way home. These determined young women, who had survived so much, emigrated to Israel. There they worked, prospered, found love, had children and grandchildren, always together.
Why did you want to tell this story?
The sisters knew Gita, who was from their hometown in Slovakia, and had been with her and Lale in Auschwitz, and the family reached out to me directly.
Oded Ravek, the son of the youngest sister Livia, picked up a copy of The Tattooist of Auschwitz at an airport and read it on a plane heading from Canada to Israel, where his mother lives. He gave his mother the copy when he landed and she said straight away, “That is Gita’s story. I knew them in Auschwitz – I was at school with Gita.” Oded then contacted me on Facebook, explaining that his mother, alive and in her 90s, wanted to meet me! She and her sister Magda are still alive and well. Their oldest sister, Cibi, died in 2014.
I was promoting Cilka’s Journey in South Africa at the time and instead of returning home to Melbourne, I jumped on a plane to Israel to meet with Livia and Magda and their families. I spent a week with these remarkable women and uncovered a story of survival, of hope and of renewal; precisely the kind of story that I’m drawn to, one that will provide a light of hope to readers in these dark times.
What do the family think?
I was honoured that the family brought me their story directly to reimagine into the novel, Three Sisters. Two of the sisters are alive today, in Israel, surrounded by family and friends.I have spent time with Livia and Magda, and regularly communicate with the wider family about their story. There is video footage of myself, Livia and Magda discussing what happened, some beautiful photos from our time together and further photos from their family albums.
Why write another novel rather than a history book?
I’m a fiction writer, not a historian – that’s the writer I am. I decided to write Lale’s story as fiction, because it allowed me to breathe life into the stories this man, who became my friend, had told me and imagine all that he and Gita and others experienced. With the sisters, I’ve chosen to work in the same way. There are wonderful history books that readers can use to find out more about the Holocaust. I hope my novels will tell something of these times through the perspective of individual characters and I hope that this is a way of bringing these stories to more people.
What research did you do?
The family reached out to me directly and I have spent lots of time speaking to the sisters about their story. I have read extensively on the story of the Slovakian Jewish people, both for this book and my previous novels. I had the Shoah tapes of Cibi and Livia transcribed (Magda didn’t make one), plus that of Samuel Ravek, Livia’s late husband, who was also a survivor.
I am planning to make a trip to Slovakia to view the family records and see the house the sisters grew up in, but if this isn’t possible, I will work with my research team in Slovakia to do this. I have visited the family in Israel and hope to do so again. I have also met with Livia’s son in Canada. The book will also be read by experts in the Holocaust and the story of the birth of Israel and the Jewish diaspora.
Everything in the book is confirmed through the direct testimony of the sisters, their Shoah Testimonies.
Are there any photos of the sisters?
Yes, there are. There are photos of the sisters and me, video footage of us together, as well as further photos from their family album.
What’s next for you?
The Tattooist of Auschwitz has been optioned for film and TV. I also hope to travel the world this year and next, to spread the word about this remarkable story and meet with my wonderful readers, who I have missed dearly.