Author Tags: Fiction, War
Born in Vancouver on February 27, 1962, inspirational speaker and self-publisher Carla Marlene Rieger describes herself as a creativity and innovation catalyst. She is the director of The Artistry of Change, a consulting firm, and she has been an actor, playwright and artistic director of theatre troupes. She has written and performed two one-woman shows, Dancing Between Worlds and My Cleopatra. Her origins are British, German and Gypsy.
The Change Artist, Carla Rieger's first novel, was written after her father's death when she discovered a box of his photos, documents and memories indicating he had been a Nazi. In this novel a young accountant named Fran similarly discovers her father's connections to Nazi Germany as well as his dual occupation as a carnival entertainer in a roving troupe. This self-published novel is a journey of personal healing for its author, while she attempts to tell an entertaining and dramatic story.
The Heart of Presenting: The Essential Presenter's Toolkit (Trafford Publishing, 2006)
A Change Artist (Anand Publishing, 2009)
[BCBW 2009] "Fiction"
The Change Artist
Fran, 29, lived her whole life in the shadow of George Freeman, her wealthy, eccentric father. Working long hours in his accounting firm, Freeman & Wilson, and sharing his mausoleum of a home in West Vancouver’s prestigious British Properties, she was his only companion. This was especially true in his last days as an ailing 350-pound man suffering from dementia and tormented by nameless fears.
After his death, Fran discovers a hidden box of documents, photos and memorabilia. After a house break-in some of the photos disappear and the next day the newspaper headlines say, “Freeman & Wilson Founder – Nazi War Criminal?” As appalling and shocking as this is, George’s war record wasn’t the only thing he kept from his daughter. Secret by secret, Fran’s life begins to fall apart and so does the person she believed herself to be. If that isn’t enough, her multi-million dollar inheritance is under threat by her father’s unscrupulous business associate.
A friend gets Fran to summon all of her courage and face her personal and professional demons. With conviction and more than a little fear, Fran picks herself back up and takes the journey of a lifetime to clear her father’s name and find out his true identity.
Instructed by her father’s ailing lawyer to go to Vienna, Fran must find a half-sister she never knew existed living on the border of Austria and Slovakia. While traveling on a train there, Fran loses her identification and valuables. A mysterious and intriguing musician named Jasper offers to let her stay at his father’s home in a small village called Olino across the border in Slovakia. There she meets a rag-tag commune of artists and musicians living off the grid, one of whom is a ninety-five year old Gypsy palm reader with no hands.
Jasper takes Fran to find her long lost half-sister, Helena, who is just as shocked to discover she has a sibling, and to also find out her father never died when she was a child. Helena’s adult son has a menacing presence, making Fran and Jasper choose to return to the commune. A growing attraction between Fran and Jasper arouses jealousy in another woman, causing Fran to leave the community late at night without a word to anyone. Rescued by a band of thieves, she ironically finds all her stolen items in their possession. Taking what is rightfully hers from their loot, she then makes her way back to Helena’s.
The half-sisters then begin to piece together parts of their father’s life. The story goes back in time to 1943 when their father, George Freeman, was called Jorg Frei and was about to marry Helena’s pregnant mother. He seems desperate to escape war-torn Europe and manages to get transferred to Northern Africa to fly as a gunner for the German air force. There his plane goes down in the Sahara due to a sandstorm. Jorg and the co-pilot barely make it out alive. Jorg tells his heart-breaking secrets to the co-pilot, Klaus, who vows to help him redeem his conscience. After they are rescued, the two men part ways. Klaus goes back to Germany and Jorg turns himself over and spends the next two years in a POW camp in America.
After the war he manages to change his identity and get immigration papers to Canada where he remolds his identity into a successful Canadian businessman.
Reviewing their father’s past, Helena makes a connection between their father and the commune of Olino that Fran visited. They travel back to Olino and discover that several people there actually knew their father. In fact, the old woman with no hands turns out to be their grandmother, Sophia.
The story goes back in time again, but this time to 1936 when George was a young man named Jiri, who grew up in Olino amongst a band of carnival entertainers. He runs the shooting booth at the arcade and paints portraits. He runs away as a teenager and manages to erase his Romani (or Gypsy) heritage from his identity papers, to avoid persecution by the Nazis. As a result of looking like an Aryan, he is forced to join the Hitler Youth, where they take advantage of his sharp shooter abilities by making him a guard at a death camp. To his horror, he discovers that the Nazis have rounded up the Olino community and sent them to the death camp where he is now a guard. He makes a failed attempt to save them and barely escapes alive, arranging to get transferred to Northern Africa. Eight months later, after Sophia is one of the only remaining members of Olino still alive at the death camp, Klaus smuggles her and a few other prisoners out – but only after they cut off her hands.
The story returns to the present where Sophia and her newfound granddaughters reconnect their family bond. As her love affair with Jasper becomes deeper, Fran chooses to remain on the commune for the next few months. Since she has been falsely implicated in the fraudulent audits at her inherited accounting firm, she asks for and receives mentoring from both her grandmother and half-sister about how to find her way out. With the help of a lawyer in Canada, they manage to clear Fran’s name and place responsibility where it belongs: in the lap of her father’s unscrupulous business partner.
Understanding her father’s past much more clearly, Fran eventually clears his name by proving that he had, in fact, helped prisoners escape the Nazi prison camp. And confirming that she is her father’s daughter, she saves the company from the brink of bankruptcy through a series of strategic moves supported by her growing sense of self.