Conversations with Authors
Thurs., September 9, 2021 • 5:30pm PT • Live • Online
In conversation with Meg Waite Clayton
Born and raised in Milwaukee, Mildred Harnack was twenty-six when she enrolled in a PhD program in Germany and witnessed the meteoric rise of the Nazi party. In 1932, she began holding secret meetings in her apartment--a small band of political activists that by 1940 had grown into the largest underground resistance group in Berlin. She recruited working-class Germans into the resistance, helped Jews escape, plotted acts of sabotage, and collaborated in writing leaflets that denounced Hitler and called for revolution. Her coconspirators circulated through Berlin under the cover of night, slipping the leaflets into mailboxes, public restrooms, phone booths. When the first shots of the Second World War were fired, she became a spy, couriering top-secret intelligence to the Allies. On the eve of her escape to Sweden, she was ambushed by the Gestapo. At a Nazi military court, a panel of five judges sentenced her to six years at a prison camp, but Hitler overruled the decision and ordered her execution. On February 16, 1943, she was strapped to a guillotine and beheaded.
Harnack's great-great-niece Rebecca Donner draws on her extensive archival research in Germany, Russia, England, and the U.S. as well as newly uncovered documents in her family archive to produce this astonishing work of narrative nonfiction. Fusing elements of biography, real-life political thriller, and scholarly detective story, Donner brilliantly interweaves letters, diary entries, notes smuggled out of a Berlin prison, survivors' testimony, and a trove of declassified intelligence documents into a powerful, epic story, reconstructing the moral courage of an enigmatic woman nearly erased by history.
Rebecca Donner's essays, reportage, and reviews have appeared in numerous publications, including the New York Times, Bookforum, Guernica, and The Believer. All the Frequent Troubles of Our Days is her third book; she is also the author of the novel Sunset Terrace and Burnout — a graphic novel about ecoterrorism. She was a 2018-2019 fellow at the Leon Levy Center for Biography, and has been awarded residencies at Yaddo, Ucross Foundation, Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, and Vermont Studio Center. Born in Vancouver, Donner is a graduate of the University of California at Berkeley and Columbia University, and has taught writing at Wesleyan University, Columbia University, and Barnard College.
Meg Waite Clayton is the New York Times bestselling author of eight novels, including The Postmistress of Paris (a Publisher’s Weekly notable book; HarperCollins, Nov. 30, 2021), the National Jewish Book Award finalist and international bestseller The Last Train to London, the Langum Award honoree The Race for Paris, the Bellwether Prize finalist The Language of Light, and The Wednesday Sisters, an Entertainment Weekly 25 Essential Best Friend Novels of all time. Her novels have been published in 23 languages. She has also written more than 100 essays, opinions, and reviews for major newspapers, magazines, and public radio. She mentors in the OpEd Project, and is a member of the National Book Critics Circle and the California bar.
Rebecca Donner photo by Beowulf Sheehan; Meg Waite Clayton photo by Adrienne Defendi