Frostworks
Publisher : Henning Bauer
Description
Amidst the turmoil of the student uprising in 1968 Paris, a young Czech émigré uncovers the shocking family secret that drives her lover to self-mutilation...

Seven years after her first girlfriend's suicide led to a vengeful attack that nearly claimed her own life, Milena Beranovà is still trying to forget. As a politically engaged student at the university of Nanterre, Milena has no shortage of friends and comrades, but she lets no one get too close - until she meets Louise de Benoît, a young recluse estranged from her aristocratic family.

Sensing a kindred spirit in the young woman, Milena allows their friendship to develop into something more. From the start, their fragile romance is overshadowed by the mysterious wounds that keep appearing on Louise's arms. Louise insists that the cuts in her skin are caused by accidents. But with each new injury, Milena finds it harder to accept this explanation.

When a relative suggests that the truth about a childhood trauma may hold the key to Louise's suffering, Milena agrees to help investigate. Between demonstrations and increasingly brutal clashes with the police in the streets of Paris, she embarks on a journey into the secret lives of the de Benoîts. What she discovers puts her on a collision course with Louise's violent past...


The Story Behind This Book
For my novel Frostworks, I had to familiarize myself with a kind of violence that is very different from what usually occurs in fiction: violence directed by a person against their own body. As with everything you haven't actually experienced yourself, research was key (my somewhat uneasy talent for vividly imagining all sorts of awful things helped a lot, too). Moreover, in a culture where self-mutilation—commonly referred to as cutting, although this is not the only manifestation of the disorder—is still grossly misunderstood by many people, the subject had to be presented sensitively but also without sentimentality. Getting into the head of Louise de Benoît, one of the protagonists of Frostworks, was pretty unsettling. It required much more than imagining what it would "feel" like to cut one's own skin open. In terms of what the benefits of such behavior could possibly be, that's actually not as hard to understand as you may think. Anyone who's ever bitten their nails, picked at a scab, or ripped into their cuticles until they ended up with a hangnail knows the deal, in principle: it's about calming yourself, about feeling in control. Amplify that need for calm a thousandfold, along with the damage required to achieve it, and you've got a pretty good idea why a person might take a blade to their own skin. The difficult bit, emotionally speaking, was my research into the causes for such extreme self-damage. I can't go into details here, but suffice it to say that cutters and other self-mutilators suffer from a severe version of PTSD or post-traumatic stress disorder. The trauma can be of varying nature but typically involves familial abuse, often incestuous rape, and other heartbreaking situations. Why self-mutilation is a frequent coping mechanism vis-à-vis such experiences is a complicated issue. But after reading several books about the topic, I began to gain an understanding of the terrible logic behind this destructive form of behavior. You may wonder why I sought out such a very specific topic, being myself free from all but the most trivial self-damaging behaviors (see above). The reason is that the latter is actually untrue. I believe that we all suffer more than we think, and certainly more than we should, from pain that we're unable to let go, and that we engage in plenty of self-damaging behaviors that appear to us as ways of coping with an immutable past. In the process, we harm ourselves, our relationships with others, and diminish our ability to enjoy life and reach our full potential for happiness. Physical self-mutilation, in my perception, is only an extreme manifestation of an inability to overcome negative experiences that made and, sadly, continue to make us who we are. I also insist on believing that we could all get and be better. That's what drove me to write Frostworks, with the specific protagonists and their specific grief. It's really about hope as much as it is about suffering.




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Henning Bauer
Henning Bauer was born in Germany and has been living in the United States since 1994. In addition to being a writer, he is a linguist, language teacher, and freelance translator/e More...