M.J. Joseph is a writer who has history in his blood. A seventh-generation Pensacolan, Joseph has an avid interest in history and the people who lived it. So it was fitting that his debut novel, “The Lübecker,” would be a sprawling historical saga that uses a disparate cast of characters to delve into the events leading up to WWI.
“Pensacola is actually the first American settlement by a European power, but the Spanish were driven out by a hurricane after two years,” Joseph says. “It has a unique blend of people. North Florida has been part of my lifestyle since I was a boy. The immediacy of my ancestry never seems to leave me.”
After studying philosophy and English at the University of South Florida, Joseph spent his professional life as the CEO of an industrial firm but always dabbled in writing. “I used writing in my professional life,” he says, “and I never lost touch with the intellectual world I came from.” Even though he had written several works of fiction, he never had the desire to publish them. But the life story of a 19th century Russian woman changed that.
“I began writing sketches about Lou Andreas-Salomè” he explains. “She was born to a noble German
family in Russia, where her father served in the Russian army and later, government. She became
close friends with Friedrich Nietzsche and ultimately became a student of Freud. She also wrote fiction and knew many of the intellectuals of of that period. She never married and was extremely independent. The life of the mind was the heart of her existence.” Salomè served as the inspiration for Kathe Kahn-Matthaus, one of the main characters in “The Lübecker.”
While the novel falls into the category of historical fiction, Joseph feels that it is more personal than many other novels of that genre, especially since it is primarily character-driven. “Many of the characters are from my great-grandparents’ generation, and much of the story is derived from my ancestry and from my firsthand experiences in Europe,” he says. “I chose the timeframe because I was interested in the era. The religious, cultural, artistic and international conflicts of that time have a strong bearing on issues of today. The events in the story are based on actual events, but these events are just mentioned to give historical context, and there is no participation by real historical figures in the narrative.”
Released by Peppertree Press in January, 2018, “The Lübecker” takes readers into the WWI era through the story of the Rosenbergs, a family living in Lubeck, Germany in the late 1800s. Focusing on 8-year-old David, Joseph weaves the Rosenberg narratives together with the story of Dr. Sam Yoffey, a young physician practicing in Florida’s Bayou region, to give readers a glimpse into the similarities and differences among people with diverse cultural, religious and intellectual backgrounds during a time of upheaval and unrest. Midwest Book Review praised “The Lübecker” as “…a narrative that moves deftly through different settings and events, exposing the encounters and clashes between different peoples.”
Joseph planned “The Lübecker” as part of a four-book series. “It gives the overall arc of the narrative,” he says. “The others will be from the personal perspectives of the primary characters. This will be the heart of the story.” The second book, “Claramond,” (targeted for release in 2019) will feature Kathe as the driver of the story. While Joseph admits that blending the narratives is a challenge, he hopes readers will enjoy living vicariously through his characters to experience the joys, sorrows, and struggles of an era long past.
For more information, go to www.mjjoseph.net.