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In Steve Anderson's story of chaos, good vs. bad isn't neat and tidy



It’s 1946 and American Capt. Harry Kaspar is living in relative splendor in bombed-out Munich during the U.S. occupation. He’s comfortable and a little sheepish about the small mansion where he lives and the velvet smoking jacket he sometimes dons. So far, Kaspar has resisted becoming fully corrupted by the spoils of war while administrators, social climbers, spies and plunderers run amok in the dark streets of Munich.

Everything changes for Kaspar when a Munich cop knocks on his door one night and says, “There has been an incident, sir. Your brother may be involved.”

COURTESY PHOTO - ANDERSONThis is the shadowy setting for Portland author Steve Anderson’s engrossing new historical novel “Lost Kin” ($24.99, Yucca Publishing), in which no one is exactly as they appear. The book, Anderson’s fourth, is a stand-alone continuation of “Liberated.”

History writer James R. Benn blurbs on the cover: “Steve Anderson deftly creates a world on the razor’s edge of survival, where yesterday’s allies are tomorrow’s cruel enemy, with the innocent caught between.”

This is a closely observed atmospheric novel. You can almost smell the Butane coming off the Zippo lighter of hero Capt. Kaspar, a man burdened by his murder of a plundering American who tried to steal belongings of Jews.

Anderson was a Fulbright Fellow in Munich, where a fascination with lesser known pockets of history was hatched. “Lost Kin” examines the forced repatriation of the Cossacks back to Russia, and untangles aspects of history that don’t fit neatly into the standard narrative of good guys and bad guys.

“I’m obsessed by the chaos of certain periods and what happens in between,” he says, “when an advanced civilization suddenly crumbles.”

For example, Anderson produces a copy of the book “The Victims of Yalta, The Secret Betrayal of the Allies” by Nikolai Tolstoy, a work that he admires. “Once we renegotiated the repatriation to only send the worst offenders back,” he explains, “we called it Operation Keelhaul. Well, to be keelhauled is to be dragged under the water from one side of the boat to the other until you die.”

Don’t get me wrong, Anderson is a highly enjoyable person.

His books explore lesser known aspects of historical periods that often involve the little guy caught in the middle during war, he says.

History writing in 2016 Portland can be disorienting. Once while working, Anderson looked out his window on the Northwest Park Blocks to see that all the Portland street signs were in German. It took a moment to realize it was “Grimm” filming a scene.

Anderson also works as a translator of literary novels from German to English. “It’s a gig like any other,” says Anderson, who has a background in marketing and journalism. “And I don’t always know when they’re coming.”

He seeks out books he wants to translate, finds out if the rights are available, and then hits up North American publishers with a sample.

He has the discipline part of writing down. “I need to stare out the window and watch soccer, too. But there’s fear, too, and the worst is not to do it,” he says.

Anderson traces his interest in history to a Portland State University history class that rekindled childhood memories. “It took me back to things I was into as a little kid,” he says. “I was a bookish kid who liked to read and build models. My parents were older parents, from the ‘40s era. I would open trunks and read newspapers from those times. ... I was that kid in the attic reading Colliers magazine.”

Anderson grew up in Milwaukie and attended Clackamas High School.

Anderson’s grandfather was German, and his parents were born in Portland. He says: “My mom and her father visited Germany in the late ‘30s. He hadn’t been back for years and was horrified to find relatives in the SS. My mom was young but she saw a parade that Hitler was in, in Hamburg.”

Anderson recalls his mom noting neighbors’ unease upon their return. Some of these recollections trickle into Anderson’s fiction.

“In my books the women are always smarter. They’re always pushing the men to do what’s right. They also might have their own agendas,” Anderson says.

Anderson’s next novel is set in Hawaii in the late 1940s. “I just like historical fiction. I like putting people in different periods of time. It’s a kind of time travel,” he says.

Anderson lives in Portland’s Pearl District with his wife Rene.

He’ll give a reading of “Lost Kin” at Powell’s on Hawthorne, 3723 S.E. Hawthorne, 7 p.m. Thursday, April 7.

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