My Mother’s Secret – A Self-Publication Success

I have to admit, Amazon has my number!  Whenever I sign in to my account on their website, I get a display of “featured recommendations,” and when I order a book, I am shown selections that “customers who bought this item also bought.” It was one of these suggestions that lead me to the wonderful little novel, My Mother’s Secret   by J. L. Witterick.

The description on Amazon says, “Inspired by a true story, My Mother’s Secret is a captivating and ultimately uplifting tale intertwining the lives of two Jewish families in hiding from the Nazis, a fleeing German soldier, and the mother and daughter who team up to save them all.”  There was no way I could resist this introduction.

Last week, after finishing a group of three dense nonfiction books, I chose this thin book from the huge stack on my bookshelf because I needed a quick read with a compelling plot.  Thumbing through the pages, I saw well-spaced lines and short chapters. More importantly, I spied simple but beautiful sentences like this one from the middle of the book:  “People are like water in a pond where you cannot see the bottom.”

I read the book in three days, though I could have finished it in a day if I hadn’t forced myself to set it down occasionally and attend to things such as preparing my taxes, working on my current writing project, and attending meetings.

Like Immigrant Soldier, Witterick’s novel is based on a true story. She learned about the bravery of Franciszka Halamajowa and her daughter Helena from a 2009 film documentary, No. 4 Street of Our Lady.  The story so inspired the Taiwanese-Canadian, money-and-investment manager turned writer, that she determined to write a novel about Franciszka.  When she had a draft, she wisely sought input and advice from a myriad of connections and friends. In her acknowledgments at the end of the book, Witterick says, “Every time I think the story has reached its destination and cannot possibly be improved, fate sends me someone to take it one level higher.” The result is a truly powerful story told with pathos and understanding.

The novel, a story of courage, fear, love, and determination during the dark days of Nazi occupation in Poland, is told in first person by four different characters.  Helena, the daughter, begins the tale.  Following sections are told by the father of one on the Jewish families saved, the eight-year-old boy of the other hidden Jewish family, and the pacifist German soldier that also finds refuge in Franciszka’s home when he deserts.  Finally, the end of the tale returns to Helena as the narrator. Witterick made only minor changes from the true story—notably she added an appealing and believable romance and softened the ending for the German deserter.

The author used her business acumen to aggressively market the book that she self-published with iUniverse in 2012. Unlike most self-published authors, she seems to have had thousands of dollars available to pay for advertising on the radio, on bus shelters, and in newspapers and magazines. Now, I am happy this worked for her, but I admit to the wish that I could front a similar advertising campaign.

G. P. Putnam’s Sons, one of the world’s leading trade imprints picked up My Mother’s Secret  almost immediately. They republished it as part of their 2013 list. This is a huge success for a self-published author, one I often dream of, and the book certainly deserves this window to millions of additional readers. The National Jewish Book Awards of 2013 named the book  “Outstanding Debut Fiction Finalist.”

My Mother’s Secret is appropriate and readable for anyone over the age of 12 and would make a great curriculum supplement for students.  Adult readers will find it an unforgettable book and one they will want to share with friends.   I highly recommend it!


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