Blog Tour & Guest Post: Traitor by Amanda McCrina
Sometimes you read a synopsis and know immediately that book is for you. Traitor is definitely one of those books, with its historical setting and thriller storyline. I was curious about Amanda’s research process and choice for setting – so I asked her about it! Check out her process below and be sure you grab Traitor, out now!
Traitor: A Novel of World War IIby Amanda McCrina
on August 25, 2020
Genres: Historical Fiction, Young Adult
Poland, 1944. After the Soviet liberation of Lwów from Germany, the city remains a battleground between resistance fighters and insurgent armies, its loyalties torn between Poland and Ukraine. Seventeen-year-old Tolya Korolenko is half Ukrainian, half Polish, and he joined the Soviet Red Army to keep himself alive and fed. When he not-quite-accidentally shoots his unit's political officer in the street, he's rescued by a squad of Ukrainian freedom fighters. They might have saved him, but Tolya doesn't trust them. He especially doesn't trust Solovey, the squad's war-scarred young leader, who has plenty of secrets of his own.
Then a betrayal sends them both on the run. And in a city where loyalty comes second to self-preservation, a traitor can be an enemy or a savior—or sometimes both.
Choosing a Setting with Amanda McCrina
Setting my WWII thriller Traitor in Poland gave me a little bit of a personal handle on the story. My family has Polish roots, and as I started taking an interest in this history in high school, it occurred to me that—even as a WWII buff—I didn’t hear a lot of stories about the Polish experience during the war. It seemed to be a gap in our popular WWII narrative. So to some extent I was following Toni Morrison’s advice with Traitor: “If there’s a book you want to read but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.”
As I dug deeper into my research for Traitor, I started to realize why we don’t hear too much about this part of the war. It’s intensely complicated—alliances made and broken, constantly shifting borders and boundary lines, a plethora of groups and organizations and acronyms and pseudonyms and unfamiliar Slavic names.
Let’s talk about those acronyms! This is one place where I had to deliberately tweak the history just to make it coherent for the reader. The reality is a mess. What I call simply the “Polish Resistance” was actually the Armia Krajowa, the “Home Army,” AK for short—except at the beginning of the war it was called the ZWZ, the Związek Walki Zbrojnej, the “Union of Armed Struggle.” It only started being called the AK in 1942. So if part of Traitor is set in 1941, and part of it is set in 1944, do I call this group the ZWZ in 1941 but the AK in 1944? Do I call it the AK throughout for simplicity’s sake even if that’s not really historically accurate? And I had to ask myself these same questions for the various Ukrainian and Soviet groups, all of which were called different things by different people at different times during the war.
And there are so many things about this history that just don’t seem to make sense to outside observers. Take, for instance, the conflict at the heart of Traitor, between the Polish Resistance and the UPA, a Ukrainian nationalist paramilitary group. It was a heartbreaking, horrifically bloody conflict that left thousands of Ukrainians and tens of thousands of Poles dead between 1942 – 1945—a tragedy that each side considers an act of ethnic cleansing by the other and is to this day an issue of fraught historical memory between Poland and Ukraine. Yet toward the end of the war we find elements of the Polish Resistance and the UPA coming together, joining forces to fight the Soviets. That staggered me. How does that conversation even get started? How did these people look past such a raw, painful history and agree to work together? (That question in particular fascinated me so much that I wrote another novel about it, a companion to Traitor scheduled for release next year. And if you would like to read more heartbreaking-yet-heartwarming stories of this kind of unexpected grace and self-sacrifice, the Polish Institute of National Rememberance has compiled a free ebook in English about the “Ukrainian Righteous” who rescued or stood by their Polish neighbors during the wartime massacres, available for download here.)
The war in Poland defies easy categorization. It’s not, as one of my readers has noted, a simple story of “everybody against the Nazis.” But I firmly believe it’s history that needs to be told, and my hope is that Traitor can shed a little more light on this neglected corner of WWII.