Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Patricia Friedberg - History's Lessons

It started with a cryptic inscription in an old book.

As a child visiting her grandparents in London’s East End during World War II, Bradenton writer Patricia Friedberg has vivid memories of that tumultuous era. She recalls experiencing Nazi air raids during the blitz and seeing her grandmother’s house in Aldgate reduced to rubble. But what stands out most in retrospect is the courage of the Londoners as they faced danger with endurance and determination.

Friedberg seems to have inherited some of that courageous spirit. In 1964, she accompanied her physician husband to the Rhodesias (now Zambia/Zimbabwe).  Having studied at The London School of Journalism, she wrote newspaper articles and documentaries for Rhodesian television. After several years, however, the growing civil unrest forced her family to leave Southern Africa for the safety of America. Moving to Milwaukee, Friedberg attended Marquette University,  wrote newspaper columns, and hosted “People of the Book,” a PBS talk show.

While visiting her mother in London after her father died, Friedberg  came across a book she recalled seeing as a child. It was a 1934 original copy of A Frenchman in Khaki, a memoir by the French impressionist Paul Maze recounting his experiences as a field artist during WWI.  On the title page, written in Maze’s hand, were these words: “To Mrs. Simon: Whose help and devotion was a factor in writing this book which the author will never forget. In memory of the days when she entered my room with that refreshing smile of hers that led to her present happiness.”  Friedberg asked her mother about the book, and a fascinating story emerged.
Friedberg learned that her mother, a young woman from a working-class Jewish family in London, had been employed by Maze to help him write his memoir. Despite the differences in social class and culture, the two forged an intimate friendship.  “My mother lived to be almost 100,” Friedberg says. “She began talking more about her past after my father died, and later told my sister she had a secret she would take to her grave. Between her stories and my memories, I knew I had a story.”

That story eventually became a screenplay titled 21 Aldgate which is being considered for a TV mini-series. Friedberg then decided to rewrite 21 Aldgate as a novel.  Writing the book was a unique experience for her. “It was difficult to stay outside the story and not see the main character as my mother,” she says, “but I enjoyed bringing to life the people I once knew.”

21 Aldgate is a tribute to the brave civilians caught in the Blitz. It is also a fascinating tale of love, endurance, and family. At its heart, however, 21 Aldgate is an indictment of the senselessness of war. “I found a photo taken in 1914 of my mother’s brother fighting in Mesopotamia in WW I,” Friedberg says. “It was almost identical to a recent picture of my grandson stationed in Iraq. Here we are, all these years later, still fighting that same bloody war. Having lived through World War II and the war in Rhodesia, I strongly believe we should think before deciding war is the only answer to far-off conflicts.”

Friedberg has recently completed a memoir titled Letters from Wankie: A Place in Colonial Africa. Based on letters she’d written to her parents, the book chronicles Friedberg’s experiences while living in Rhodesia. “In a drawer in my mother’s dressing table I came across a bundle of blue air letters tied with a yellow ribbon.  I recognized them at once – they were letters I’d sent from Rhodesia,” she recalls. “My mother had kept each and every one of them – over five hundred – each depicting daily life in a hotter than hell colliery town on the outskirts of a game reserve.” 
After Friedberg and her husband were married, the couple spent a few months living in Johannesburg but decided that living under apartheid law was not something they could tolerate. They then moved to Wankie, a town in Southern Rhodesia, where Friedberg took a job as Clerk of the Court in what was known as the Native Commissioner’s Office.  It was here that she penned the letters to her parents which served as the inspiration for Letters from Wankie. “I realized on reading those letters they were documents of a time long gone,” Friedberg explains.  “They give a firsthand account, written by a twenty- year-old naïve young woman seconded into history without knowing she was to become part of a period often despised and rarely appreciated.”

History can come alive when viewed through the eyes of people who experienced it. Patricia Friedberg’s books are proof of this, helping readers to relive the past and, hopefully, learn from it.

 For more information, visit the author’s website at  


  1. I have just finished reading “Letters from Wankie” and along with the first book which I read of yours a while, back 21 Aldgate. These two books have taken me on journey into my past. Not a big reader but Pat these two book I can say have given me so much pleasure in just being able to read

  2. With both humor and pathos one is vividly and intimately drawn into the uunual world of colonial Africa and the adventures of a young British bride transplanted in a completely foreign environment. Woven between letters written home to London is the clever narrative which the author expertly delivers in her voice, as if spoken just to you. If you've read "21 ALDGATE" by this author you wil realize how LETTERS FROM WANKIE carries on from the period up to and into WWII, into the post-war 1950's. The author takes the reader along on her journey. A must read!