This week, Pam Jenoff, the author of six nov­els blogs for The Post­script on writ­ing a pre­quel to her first nov­el, The Kom­man­dan­t’s GirlThe Post­script series is a spe­cial peek behind the scenes” of a book. It’s a juicy lit­tle extra some­thing to add to a book clubs dis­cus­sion and a read­er’s under­stand­ing of how the book came togeth­er. 

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Six years ago, I pub­lished my first nov­el, The Kommandant’s Girl, which told the sto­ry of Emma, a young Jew­ish woman strug­gling to sur­vive in Poland dur­ing the Sec­ond World War, while spy­ing on – and becom­ing involved with — a high rank­ing Nazi offi­cial. Fol­low­ing the pub­li­ca­tion of its sequel, The Diplomat’s Wife, which fol­lowed Emma’s best friend Mar­ta in the after­math of the war, read­ers con­tin­u­ous­ly asked, Will there be anoth­er book?” 

I was not sure how to answer: I had told the sto­ries I want­ed to tell about these two women, and going for­ward in time beyond the 1940’s didn’t feel much like the his­tor­i­cal fic­tion my read­ers love so much. Then I had an idea: why not write a pre­quel to The Kommandant’s Girl? My first nov­el allud­ed to a rich his­to­ry of an ill-fat­ed romance between the Nazi offi­cial Georg and his first wife Mar­got, who was Jew­ish. I dis­cov­ered” that they had met at the Paris Peace Con­fer­ence in 1919, and so began The Ambas­sador’s Daugh­ter.

Writ­ing a pre­quel as not easy. It is always dif­fi­cult when writ­ing his­tor­i­cal fic­tion to bal­ance the need for accu­ra­cy (which savvy read­ers demand) and the cre­ative imper­a­tives of plot, nar­ra­tive arc, ten­sion, etc. Here, this chal­lenge was com­pound­ed by the need to remain con­sis­tent with and true to a future his­to­ry already writ­ten in the sub­se­quent two books. I was also ini­tial­ly wor­ried about keep­ing sus­pense­ful enough a sto­ry whose final chap­ter seemed to have already been told. But there proved to be bound­less mys­ter­ies to explore in the dark years before The Kommandant’s Girl, with twists and turns that con­tin­u­al­ly sur­prised me.

The idea of going back in time proved to be excit­ing. The peri­od just after the First World War is such rich his­tor­i­cal ground for sto­ry­telling, with the whole world being rebuilt. I had some trep­i­da­tion, though, as to whether the many read­ers who love the myr­i­ad nov­els that have been set dur­ing the Sec­ond World War would fol­low me back in time. For­tu­nate­ly, read­ers seem to be dis­cov­er­ing this ear­li­er era, as evi­denced by the pop­u­lar­i­ty of recent nov­els such as The Paris Wife and books about Fitzger­ald and Zelda.

Per­haps my favorite part of The Ambassador’s Daugh­ter is the final third, which fol­lows Georg and Mar­got back to Berlin. It was inspired by some research I had done for an ear­li­er nov­el, The Things We Cher­ished, into the Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty of Weimar Berlin, where Jews were fac­ing impor­tant ques­tions Zion­ism ver­sus assim­i­la­tion, and what their roles were to be in the new order of Ger­many and Europe at large. It is sim­ply fas­ci­nat­ing to explore their per­spec­tive in light of the trag­ic events to come. 

My next nov­el, The Win­ter Guest, will return to the Sec­ond World War and twin Pol­ish sis­ters who find an Amer­i­can para­troop­er downed in the woods. But I’m very grate­ful to have tak­en this detour back in time with The Ambassador’s Daugh­ter to learn the sto­ry behind the story.

Pam Jenoff is the author of sev­er­al books of his­tor­i­cal fic­tion, includ­ing the New York Times best­seller The Orphan’s Tale. She holds a degree in inter­na­tion­al affairs from George Wash­ing­ton Uni­ver­si­ty and a degree in his­to­ry from Cam­bridge, and she received her JD from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Penn­syl­va­nia. Her nov­els are inspired by her expe­ri­ences work­ing at the Pen­ta­gon and as a diplo­mat for the State Depart­ment han­dling Holo­caust issues in Poland. She lives with her hus­band and three chil­dren near Philadel­phia, where she teach­es law.