Themes of opera and war inspired St Albans German-born woman’s first novel

Barbara Landman

Barbara Landman - Credit: Archant

A writer has shared her experiences of growing up in war-torn Germany and watching her mother perform in operas in her recently released novel, A German Madam Butterfly.

Barbara Landman, of Jersey Farm, was inspired to tell her life story when she was taken ill and began talking to a doctor who was caring for her: “He was very interested in the war, so I said ‘if you’re that interested I’ve written a story about Dresden and the night when it was destroyed.”

The former Munich resident sent him the short story she had written about the fateful night during World War II the city was bombed and got a response saying simply “I want to know more.” And so she put pen to paper and found herself with a published book two years later.

“The memories that I have are sharp and others are wishy-washy and blurred, but some are very sharp like that night when Dresden was destroyed,” the 76 year old explained. “I didn’t understand what was going on but I was scared as well.”

While war features heavily in her novel, Barbara is a self-confessed pacifist and the accounts in the book serve more as backdrop to her journey through life and to England.

As her father was away fighting when she was younger, her mother had to find a way to provide for them and ended up becoming a successful opera singer, which became a means for them to escape: “They [her cousin’s family] had a horrible 40 years in the East and I was lucky to be in the freedom of the West.”

The red curtains of theatres and the oscillating vocal notes of opera singers peppered the mother-of-one’s life as she grew up and led her to form a deep bond with music and the drama of the opera.

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When her mother performed as Madam Butterfly she used to take Barbara along: “I cried every time when she killed herself onstage. I was only six or seven, and I knew we were going home afterwards; Puccini’s music is so powerful even to a six or seven year old. I just cried.”

Music has spread down throughout the family tree, with Barbara’s daughter Anja an accomplished pianist and her two granddaughters also trained in various instruments.

Barbara moved to the district in 1970 and she shows no signs of leaving after 43 years: “This is home now, there’s nothing left in Munich.”

A German Madam Butterfly is available to buy at the St Albans branch of Waterstones in St Peter’s Street.