Daughters of Teutobod is a story of love triumphing over hate, of persistence in the face of domination, and of the strength of women in the face of adversity.
Gudrun is the stolen wife of Teutobod, the leader of the Teutons in Gaul in 102 BCE. Her story culminates in a historic battle with the Roman army.
Susanna is a German American farm wife in Pennsylvania whose husband, Karl, has strong affinity for the Nazi party in Germany. Susanna’s story revolves around raising her three daughters and one son as World War II unfolds.
Finally, Gretel is the infant child of Susanna, now seventy-nine years old and a professor of women’s studies, a US senator and Nobel laureate for her World Women’s Initiative. She is heading to France to represent the United States at the seventy-fifth anniversary of the liberation of southern France, at the commemoration site where her older brother, who was killed in action nearby, is buried. The site is very near the location where the Romans defeated the Teutons.
Kurt Hansen is from Racine, Wisconsin, and has lived in Kansas, Texas, and Iowa. He has experience in mental health and family systems as well as in parish ministry and administration. He holds degrees in psychology, social work and divinity. Kurt now lives in Dubuque, Iowa with his wife of 44 years, Dr. Susan Hansen, a professor emerita of international business. Kurt is the author of Gathered (2019). Daughters of Teutobod is his second novel.
How did you do research for your book?
Online searches for everything about the Teutons to pre-war Pennsylvania and the earliest training of American Rangers, Northern Ireland, Scotland, and modern-day sites in Paris and Southern France.
Which was the hardest character to write? The easiest?
Where do you get inspiration for your stories?
From reading, from people, and from the news.
What advice would you give budding writers?
Read widely. Attend a well-established writer’s conference.
Do you have another profession besides writing?
How long have you been writing?
After heart disease forced early retirement, I began attending the Iowa Summer Writer’s Festival in 2014. I began writing poetry, but soon began writing novels.
What is your next project?
A book entitled Chameleon, about a man in treatment for Borderline personality disorder.
What genre do you write and why?
I write character driven stories and historical fiction because those are what interest me.
What is the last great book you’ve read?
Chances Are by Richard Russo
What is a favorite compliment you have received on your writing?
A reader wrote that my book connected with her on an emotional level, bringing her to tears at times.
If your book were made into a movie, who would star in the leading roles?
The only one I’ve had an instant intuition for is the elder Gretel, who would surely be portrayed nicely by Meryl Streep.
If your book were made into a movie, what songs would be on the soundtrack?
Not sure, but during closing credits, I could suggest Respect by Aretha Franklin.
What were the biggest rewards and challenges with writing your book?
Greatest reward is the coming together of the various story elements. Greatest challenge is slogging through the research and persisting through the dialogues.
In one sentence, what was the road to publishing like?
It was painful and frustrating.
What is one piece of advice you would give to an aspiring author?
Be open to criticism. Write about what you know.
Which authors inspired you to write?
Philip Roth, Harper Lee, Richard Russo, Flannery O’Connor, Charles Dickens, Michael Crighton, Dan Brown, Kurt Vonnegut, Amy Hassinger
Where do you write?
Either in my office at home or in a coffee shop.
Do you write every day?
No. But I’ve heard many authors say that I should.
What is your writing schedule?
It tends to be manicky. I may go weeks without writing anything, and then a sudden spurt of energy possesses me and I write furiously for days.
In today’s tech savvy world, most writers use a computer or laptop. Have you ever written parts of your book on paper?
Favorite travel spot?
Sour cream raisin pie
If you were stuck on a deserted island, which 3 books would you want with you?
To Kill a Mockingbird, A Tale of Two Cities, and the Bible.
Any hobbies? or Name a quirky thing you like to do.
I collect rock-n-roll memorabilia. Signed record albums and photos and so forth.
If there is one thing you want readers to remember about you, what would it be?
That I care about relationships and helping people.
What TV series are you currently binge watching?
Silent Witness and Cheers
What is your theme song?
“You’ve Got a Friend” by James Taylor
What is your go-to breakfast item?
Tell us about your longest friendship.
I’ve been going on an annual retreat with six colleagues for over thirty years.
The smoke of the grist fires rose incessantly, grey black against the cloudy blue sky as the day meandered toward its middle hours. It was the season of harvest, and those konas who were able were out among the plantings, gleaning grain or digging turnips, carrots, or beets out of the black, loamy soil. Some ground grain into flour and some baked bread, while others tended the fires and the fleshpots. Still others were about the business of tanning hides, mostly of deer, raccoons, rabbits, or fox, occasionally from a bear. The smells of death intermingled with the breathing life and beating heart of the sveit.
Gudrun liked this time of day best. She grabbed another handful of golden wheatstalks, slicing off the grain heads with a strong whisking motion and dropping the grain into her tightly woven flaxen gathering bag. She paused for a moment, wiping the sweat from her brow with the back of her hand. The sun was bright today, making the air steamy. Gudrun looked out across the hills, down the valley, past the wooded glades where she could see dozens of other kǫngulls like her own, and she knew there were even more beyond the reach of her eyes. Most of the kǫngulls contained about 100 persons, but some had more. As she fixed her gaze closer, to the kǫngull where she lived, she could see the jungen, chasing one another, some wielding sticks or branches, others seeking to escape the assaults of their aggressors. The jungmädchen were variously helping their mothers with cooking or cleaning vegetables or sewing hides; the kinder simply hid in corners or clung to their mothers’ legs.
Several hours passed, and now the sun was receding, thankfully, because its blazing, yellow glare kept breaking through the billowing clouds all day, intensifying the laborers’ fatigue. Gudrun emptied her grain bag into the large, woven basket at the edge of the planting. The basket was filled to the brim, and as she plunged both hands into the basket, letting the harvested grain sift between her fingers, a smile of satisfaction softened her face. Filling up her basket all the way to the top was for her, a measure of the goodness of the day. She hoisted the heavy basket, glad for the leather strap she had fashioned to carry it. Before she designed the strap, two women were needed to carry the woven baskets—one on either side—especially when full. But Gudrun decided to cut a long strip from the edge of a tanned deer hide and, with a sharp bone needle she affixed the strap to her basket, allowing her to shoulder the entire weight by herself.
When she first showed her invention, one of the men—Torolf—chastised her for taking the piece of deer hide. He pushed her to the ground and threatened worse, but Teutobod intervened, bashing Torolf on the head with his club and sending him reeling. Teutobod, Gudrun’s mann, was the undisputed leader of their sveit, and he had been their leader long before he took her for his wife, ever since the sveit’s earliest days in Jutland. He ordered that all the grain baskets be fashioned with straps for carrying, and Gudrun won the admiration of all the konas (and even some men). Torolf avoided her from then on.
As evening approached, it was time to prepare for the return of the männer. Most hunting excursions were a one-day affair, bringing in meat for perhaps a few days at best. But as the harvest season proceeded, the männer would leave for days at a time, seeking to increase supplies for the long winter to come. This foray had lasted nearly a week, but Gudrun was told by Teutobod to expect their return before seven suns had passed, and she shared this information with the some of the other konas. By now all the kongulls were preparing for the männer coming home.
As the sun began to set, the konas started pulling out skins from their bærs, unfolding them and laying them on the ground about the fire pits. The flesh pots were stirred and stoked, and a hearty stew was prepared with deer meats, mushrooms, yellow beans, potatoes, turnips and carrots, seasoned with salt and fennel and black peppercorns. Flasks of beer that had been cooling in the stream all day were brought to each firepit and hung on a stake which had been plunged in the ground for that purpose. Various dinner ware made from carved bone or fashioned out of wood or clay were laid out. All was in readiness.
An aura of anticipation and anxiety tumbled around the kǫngull, shortening tempers as the waiting lengthened. Finally, about an hour after the sun had fully set, the sound of the ram’s horn distantly blasted out its announcement: Die männer komme! The jungen were hustled away to the kinderbærs. One never knew the mood that might accompany the hunters when they returned, and things could and often did get ugly. The konas sat or knelt respectfully beside the firepits, twitching, nervously swatting insects away from the food, inhaling excitement and breathing out fear.
Soon the rustling of leaves and the snap of twigs underfoot grew louder and closer until the shadows brought forth the whole troop of men, bustling in to the kǫngull, carrying or dragging the meat they had procured, pounding their chests, howling, pulling on their scraggly hair or beards, banging the ground with clubs or spears and smelling of the hunt and of the forest. Similar sounds of triumph and dominion could be heard resonating throughout all the kǫngulls below as the männer clamored in across the entire sveit.
Here in Gudrun’s kǫngull, the konas kept their gaze to the ground, their eyes fixed on the fire, and as the hunters’ swagger slowly abated, one by one the konas silently lifted their plates above their heads, each looking up to her mann as they all found their respective places. Once the providers were all reclining on skins beside the firepits, the konas stood and began to prepare plates of food for them. The men ate loudly, hungrily, slurping the stew from the lips of the bowls and using hunks of bread to grasp chunks of meat and vegetables.
The food having been consumed, skinflasks of beer soon followed, and before long the sated belches and grunts of the eaters gave way to boisterous banter, the proud providers reliving the thrill of killing a stag or the bravery of facing a bear. The konas scraped up the leftovers to take to the huts for themselves and the children, after which the cleanup tasks commenced. The women worked in groups of three or four, tending two large boiling pots to soak the dinnerware until all remnants of the food floated up to the top and were skimmed off. A little more soaking, then all the dinnerware was stacked and stored for the next use. Gudrun, along with two other konas, took the job of drying the cleaned dishes, swinging a dish in each hand to move the air. They playfully swung the wet plates or cups at one another, spritzing each other in the process and giggling like little meyas.
This being the end of a prolonged hunting venture, the children were tucked in early in the kinderhäusen, and the konas prepared to receive their husbands. For those unlucky enough to have brutish men, their wifely duties were not at all pleasant. Others were more fortunate. Gudrun was happy to be among the latter, hoping only that the beer ran out before Teutobod’s love lust. She retreated to the bær she shared with her husband, glad for the privacy his role as leader provided. This entire kǫngull was comprised of the sveit’s leadership and their skuldaliðs, and as such it claimed luxuries not generally known throughout the sveit by underlings. The leaders camped furthest upstream, and therefore got the cleanest water for drinking, cooking, and bathing. The leaders claimed individual space for themselves and their vifs, while others down below had to share living space with two or three other skuldaliðs.
Gudrun removed her garments and lay nude on the soft deerskins in her bær to prepare herself for her husband. Covering herself with another skin, she began to move her hands over her thighs and abdomen, softly, back and forth, her rough-skinned fingertips adapting to their more delicate uses. She moved a hand upward, swirling around her breasts and throat, teasing each nipple at the edges, holding back from contacting the most delicate flesh.
Her stroking and probing continued, a bit more urgently as she felt her breath rise and grow more heated. The muscles in her abdomen began to pulse, and as her hands found the sensitive spot between her legs, she felt the moisture beginning to flow inside her. When she was young Gudrun had learned from the older konas how to help her husband in this way, to ease his entrance and hasten his joy. Along the way, over the years, she also learned to enjoy herself more in the process. As the instinctive rocking motion in her pelvis began, she eased her manipulations, not wanting to be prematurely excited. Breathlessly, she looked toward the bær’s entrance, hoping Teutobod would hurry.
You never know where researching a book might take you! While researching the WWII portion of Daughters of Teutobod, I learned about the earliest training of the Army Rangers. After gathering at Carrickfergus in Northern Ireland, the group headed off to the highlands of Scotland for intensive combat training, after which they returned to Carrickfergus to await deployment. A fascinating sidenote for me related to the treatment of Black soldiers, many of whom related how wonderfully they were treated by the Irish people. They were welcomed into homes and pubs and treated as equals among their lighter-skinned compatriots. When some of the White soldiers complained to their commanding officers, the officers addressed the “morale” problem by attempting to force local business owners to impose race restrictions on the soldiers they served. The locals would have none of it! They all stood up to the American officers and reminded them they were guests in Ireland, and that they (pub and restaurant owners, mostly) would not be told whom they could serve in their own country!
For me, the experience of the Black soldiers intersects with the experiences of women in history. Being called to serve (for women, in roles such as mother, wife, nurse, schoolteacher, etc., and for Blacks in roles of servant or even soldier) has come with a tacit exclusion from full participation in the world of those they served. The message has been, “be a good little (fill in the blank), but don’t bother the men. You don’t really belong here.”
*I was kindly gifted a copy of this book in exchange for taking part in the blog tour but all opinions remain my own.