1915-1945: A Defining Era

Now that my debut historical novel, Beyond Ultra, is published, I will examine various historical issues that I raise in this story. I would like to start by talking a little about the time period covered in my book.

Looking back at the Twentieth Century, it’s easy for us to recognize that this thirty year period completely shaped the century and most of the events that followed in its last half.  It really didn’t matter where you were on the planet; we were all affected by the cataclysms of that period, to this day.

We should note, however, that if you came of age during that period your perspective and fate certainly depended on where you lived.  American history for this period is well known and written about.  Americans of that period often came of age on the farm, although industrial trends were changing that; you may have been lucky enough to work in a Ford factory.  For a nation built on mobility and westward movement, this was a period when many people didn’t travel far, except for the two years of World War I and the four years of World War II.  Americans tended to be inward looking and had little knowledge of the rest of the world.

If you were a European, with family roots in Germany and Spain, your view of the world would have been far different.  During this period, one or both sides of your family would be continually suffering the effects of world war, civil war, economic turmoil, social upheaval, and/or political repression.  You would have considered yourself, or at least some loved ones, as lucky merely to have survived.

Yet, some exceptional individuals chose not to blindly accept such a fate, but instead they tried to shape events rather than be shaped by them.  As it turns out, for the fictional Hoffman and Ortega families in my historical novel, Beyond Ultra, there was no place where they could avoid being drawn into the turmoil and danger of this period.  My two protagonists, Karl Hoffman, and later his youngest son Paul, would learn to make their own breaks, as they carved out an empire in one of Spain’s few remaining colonial outposts and built a global business on four continents.

Although the Hoffman family was wealthy, and married into equal wealth with the Ortega family, they weren’t in the game just to pile up marks, pesetas, and dollars.  They also agonized over their loyalties and weren’t afraid to question the conventional wisdom.  This was a risky thing to do in Spain and Germany during most of this period, and the two families suffered as a result. Their propensity to take risks ended up embroiling them in incredible events where they helped shape history and interacted with well known and less well known historical figures of the era.

But they weren’t able to dodge every bullet aimed at them. Both tragedy and danger stalked the two families and tested their loyalties.  They faced up to questions of patriotism, blind obedience to authority, and other challenges, as they embraced globalism, intercontinental mobility, and other world changes, long before they became household words.

In future postings, over the next few months, I will tackle some other related issues, including World War I in Africa, the Spanish Civil War, air travel to Africa in the 1930’s and 1940’s, Spain’s role in World War II, some interesting facets of the espionage war in Spain, and some of the issues from World War II’s aftermath.

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