Monday, April 16, 2018

#Giveaway - Review - Hidden Tapestry: Interview with author Debra Dean

One of my favorite historical novels is The Madonna's of Leningrad a poignant unforgettable WWII tale about Hitler's march into Leningrad in 1941 and author Debra Dean's debut. So when she reached out to me about her upcoming biography, Hidden Tapestry about the life of Tapestry Artist/Photographer Jan Yoors I couldn't wait to see what this incredible storyteller could do with non-fiction. It blew me away!
Debra and her publisher are also sponsoring a giveaway of the print book details below.

ISBN-13: 9780810136830
Publisher: Northwestern University Press
Release Date: 4-15-2018
Length: 312pp
Source: Author/Publisher
Buy It: Amazon/B&N/IndieBound
Hidden Tapestry reveals the unforgettable story of Flemish American artist Jan Yoors—childhood vagabond, wartime Resistance fighter, and polyamorous New York bohemian. At the peak of his fame in the 1970s, Yoors’s photographs and vast tapestries inspired a dedicated following in his adopted Manhattan and earned him international acclaim. Though his intimate friends guessed the rough outline of his colorful life, Hidden Tapestry is first to detail his astonishing secrets.
At twelve, Jan’s life took an extraordinary and unexpected turn when, lured by stories of Gypsies, he wandered off with a group of Roma and continued to live on-and-off with them and with his own family for several years. As an adult in German-occupied France, Yoors joined the Resistance and persuaded his adoptive Roma family to fight alongside him. Defying repeated arrests and torture by the Gestapo, he worked first as a saboteur and later escorted Allied soldiers trapped behind German lines across the Pyrenees to freedom.
After the war, he married childhood friend Annabert van Wettum and embarked on his career as an artist. When a friend of Annabert’s, Marianne Citroen, modeled for Yoors, the two began an affair, which led the three to form a polyamorous family that would last for the rest of their lives. Moving to New York, the trio became part of the bohemian life of Greenwich Village in the 1950s.
Told in arresting detail by Debra Dean, best-selling author of The Madonnas of Leningrad, Yoors’s story is a luminous and inspiring account of resilience, resourcefulness, and love.

Giveaway is for one print copy of
Hidden Tapestry US ONLY

Please use Rafflecopter form to enter
Good Luck!

Interview with Debra Dean

Debra, welcome to The Reading Frenzy
Tell my readers a little about your new book, Hidden Tapestry.

Thanks for inviting me! I’m excited to talk with you about this book. Hidden Tapestry returns to some of the themes that threaded through my first novel, The Madonnas of Leningrad: the heroism of ordinary people in wartime, the mixed blessings of love, and the power of art to save us. I went back again to World War II, but this time the story begins in Holland and follows the lives of the Flemish American artist Jan Yoors and the two women who agreed to share him.

Unlike your other books this is a work of non-fiction.
What made you want to tell Jan Yoors’s story?
Jan Yoors’ life and the lives of Annabert and Marianne Yoors were just so incredible. When he was twelve years old, Yoors ran off with a family of gypsies and traveled around Europe with them, returning home periodically to his biological parents, who were very liberal minded artists. When the war broke out, he was asked by the Allies to enlist the Roma in the Resistance and he became a saboteur. He was in and out of German prisons throughout the war and then guiding people across the French border into Spain. Meanwhile, all these years he kept up a correspondence with a Dutch girl he had met briefly when he was twelve and she was seven years old. After the war, he found her and married her. And he decided to take up his father’s vocation as an artist. You know, I better stop there before I give away the whole story! Let me just say that the bestselling artist biographer Ross King called this one of the most remarkable artistic stories of the twentieth century, which probably isn’t an exaggeration. We often talk about truth being stranger than fiction, and this is one of those cases.

Debra in regards to researching how does preparing to write a biography like this differ from preparing to write fiction, or does it?
My two novels are both historical fictions set in Russia, one during the 18th century and the other during the Siege of Leningrad. I did a lot of research for each book, and they both hew pretty closely to historical events. So moving from fiction to non-fiction with this book was actually a fairly easy transition. The critical difference, of course, is that with non-fiction, when you come up against an unsolvable mystery, you can’t just make something up. Even though I had access to almost more source material than I knew what to do with–thousands of pages of diaries and the surviving widow who talked with me for well over a hundred hours of interviews—there were a few mysteries that I never got to the bottom of.

While doing research on this book what was the most unexpected thing you learned about Jan?
He was one of the most original figures I’ve ever encountered, so that’s a hard question to answer, but one thing comes immediately to mind. In his memoirs and in countless interviews, he presented the story of his leaving home with the Gypsies as a kind of accidental lark, but in the course of researching we found in his first wife’s diaries one sentence that referred to him having been molested by a priest and the suggestion that this is what he was actually running away from. And this leads me to wonder if his parents might have known about this. Is this why they were so strangely tolerant of his coming and going? Jan is dead, Annabert is dead, it’s one of those unsolvable mysteries that they took to their graves, but it still haunts me.

Debra, the book promo says “Jan Yoors. His two wives. And the war that made them one”.
Was Jan really married to both women?
He was legally married to Annabert and in public Marianne was introduced as Annabert’s sister, but the three of them privately referred to their union as a “threefold cord.” Years later, when Marianne became pregnant, Jan divorced Annabert and married Marianne so that her child would have his name. According to Marianne and Annabert, it didn’t change a thing, but in public Annabert henceforward was referred to as the sister. Surprisingly, people didn’t seem to notice the switcheroo. Or if they did, maybe they just thought they had just been confused before.
Perhaps what’s most unusual here is that they didn’t come from a cultural background of polygamy. A unique set of circumstances allowed them to invent this relationship. Partly, it was the result of emotional dislocation; all three of them came out at the end of the war traumatized and with their homes and families in tatters. Another factor is that by all reports Jan was incredibly charismatic. He wanted both women, but he was also idealistic and didn’t like the idea of cheating on his wife. So he basically invented his own moral code, a private utopia where the three of them would be loyal to each other and work together to make art and beauty from the ashes of war.

In your author's note you said "I am a novelist, but in the end I decided that to fictionalize the Yoors' story would undercut the very thing that first attracted me to it."
How early in the writing process did you decide to switch from fiction to non-fiction.
Even though my previous work was all fiction—I wrote two historical novels, The Madonnas of Leningrad and The Mirrored World prior to this—I decided pretty much from the get go that I couldn’t convert this story into fiction. I had a long talk with the Editor-in-Chief of a big publishing house who tried to convince me I should, and as much as I would have loved for him to publish a novel of mine, I just felt so strongly that this story had to stand as non-fiction. Part of my reasoning was that I didn’t think anyone would accept some of the wilder events if they occurred in a novel. That old adage “Truth is stranger than fiction” is apropos here. When we read fiction, we expect the world of the story to make sense and the events to be probable. But real life is often full of coincidence and craziness and stuff we would never accept in a novel. Just look at yesterday’s news or the day before that. Who would ever believe the insanity we’re witnessing with our own eyes if it was in a novel?

Jan died relatively young at 55.
Do you think his infamy has as much to do with his lasting legacy as his art?
If by infamy, you mean the polygamy, no. That was a fairly well-guarded secret. His memoir The Gypsies made him something of a cult figure and it may be that most people who know his name today know him as the author of that book. However, in his time, he was an acclaimed tapestry artist and photographer. And in just the past few years, his work has been experiencing a resurgence of attention. There have been exhibits featuring his photography in Paris, Barcelona, Belgium, and Madrid and a couple of years back there was a major museum retrospective of his work in this country, the first since his death in 1977. The attention is well-deserved, and I’m so glad more people are getting to see his art. You can go online and find the photos and charcoals, but reproductions don’t entirely do justice to the tapestries—ideally, they should be seen in person. They’re absolutely breathtaking.

Debra, do you think fiction as well as non-fiction fans will enjoy this book?
My first draft was written in a more traditional non-fiction style, with lots of commentary and footnotes. But this is such a wonderful tale, and I wanted readers to have that delicious immersion they get in a good novel. So I went back and rewrote it with that in mind. There are still notes in the back of the book for those who want them, but it’s written as a fast-moving story. The first reviewer in Goodreads actually refers to it as a novel, which I’m taking as a happy indicator.

His memoir “The Gypsies” published in 1967 is still considered groundbreaking work about his time with the gypsy tribe he ran off with at 12 and his work with the allies during WWII to keep Gypsies all over Europe from being totally annihilated by the Nazis.
Do you think the climate of the US in the 60s added to this book becoming an instant classic?
Boy, I wish I knew what makes a book hit when it does! But, yes, I would imagine that the story of a boy wandering freely around Europe with a tribe of gypsies would have an extra appeal for readers in the late sixties. Part of that appeal is that Jan did something extraordinary–because he was a child, he was able to infiltrate the closed community of the Roma, and so could tell from an insider’s point of view the story of a people that have mostly been documented, often wrongly, by outsiders.

Debra it’s been twelve years since your debut, The Madonnas of Leningrad was published.
If you could go back and give advice to your younger self what would it be?
I was a late bloomer. The Madonnas of Leningrad came out when I was 48 years old. Having a first success in mid-life means that you don’t take it for granted. I understood at the time what a rare and lucky thing it is to have so many people read and appreciate what you’ve written. That said, if I could speak to 48-year-old Debra I might tell her to worry a little less. I’m still telling myself that, not that I listen. You know, just enjoy the ride.

Thank you so much for answering my questions, good luck with the new book.
Will you be attending any author events where fans can meet you?
Absolutely! We’re still adding tour dates, so people should keep checking back at my website,, or follow me on Facebook to get updates.

My Review of Hidden Tapestry
Hidden Tapestry
Jan Yoors • His Two Wives • And The War That Made Them One
Debra Dean

Hidden Tapestry by Debra Dean is a brilliantly detailed research rich docu-drama about the life and loves of tapestry artist, photographer, humanitarian and WWII war hero Jan Yoors. She digs deep into his colorful history from his childhood in Belgium, the son of a social reformer mother and an artist father - to his time with the Romani Gypsies - his clandestine participation in the WWII Resistance much of which isn’t documented because of the sensitive nature of the information and lack of documentation - to his post war immigration to NYC - the multiple women he loved and their Bohemian and at the same time urbane lifestyle in the artists dream location of Greenwich Village - to his health struggles and his untimely death in 1977 at the much too early age of fifty-five - and finally what the women in his life did to continue celebrating his life posthumously. He was exceptional yet flawed, complicated yet understandable, he was unconventional to some and immoral to others but first and foremost he was a man who loved life. 

This is a non-fictional account yet it’s fantastically fluent, following a comprehensive chronological timeline and reads more like a fictionalized story even with a lot of critical and crucial information. It will definitely raise some eyebrows, there will be some surprises and lovers of both fiction and non-fiction, memoirs and individualistic characters will love it.

Other works by Debra Dean

Works by Jan Yoors

Connect with the author - Website - Facebook

Meet Debra:
Debra Dean is the bestselling author of four critically acclaimed books that have been published in twenty-one languages. Her debut, The Madonnas of Leningrad, was a New York Times Editors’ Choice novel, a #1 Booksense Pick, a Booklist Top Ten Novel, and an American Library Association Notable Book of the Year. It was long listed for the IMPAC International Dublin Literary Award. Confessions of a Falling Woman, a collection of short fiction, won the Paterson Fiction Prize and a Florida Book Award.

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  1. Thanks so much for the giveaway and interview Debbie!

  2. This is the type of book which I enjoy the most. Profound, real and fascinating especially due to the era and the characters. Thanks. Hidden Tapestry sounds memorable and unforgettable. I read this author's first novel.

    1. I also fell in love with Debra's debut. Good luck

  3. It sounds like it would be an interesting read for sure. Thanks for sharing the interview and your thoughts on it too.

  4. Life is definitely as exciting as fiction. Jan's story sounds amazing and I love that Debra is telling it.

  5. Love the interview. Unfortunately, I am unable to participate in the giveaway. :(

  6. Great interview and this sounds really interesting.

  7. This sounds fascinating and of course you also have me curious about her earlier works.

    1. Oh oh oh, Kim you would LOVE The Madonnas of Leningrad. Beautiful

  8. Woe that guy was well wild! Run away at 12 and his parents did not even mind, huh

    1. well there's some backstory Blodeuedd, couldn't give it all away. But yeah he came by his Bohemianism naturally

  9. Thanks for the interview, I enjoyed reading about the author and great review!

  10. Sounds like a fascinating life, so many ordinary people showed such courage in the war and I totally get how the 3 way relationship somehow helped them all deal with what had gone on during that time.

    1. I know Kathryn it's my favorite period to read about