While visiting my sister and her girls over the holidays, I thought it would be a great idea to have my niece pluck out my gray hairs. I don’t have a lot of them, but let’s face it: I’ve reached the time of my life when I can no longer deny having the shiny little suckers. They’re hiding in there, and I can’t contort my arms well enough to reach them all.
I don’t dye my hair, and frankly, I love being natural (minus the gray that is). I coloured my hair for years and, when blonde, was a slave to dark roots and monthly dye-jobs. I’ve been down that expensive road, and now I’m avoiding those costly touch-up appointments as long as possible. Hence, the plucking (which my niece refused to do, by the way. Was it too much to ask?)
I did enjoy being a blonde though. I grew up in Los Angeles where having a tan and being blonde are practically laws. My 40-year-old pale, brunette self barely recognizes the teenager I once was. Long gone are the days of slathering myself in baby oil and spritzing my hair with Sun-In before a day at the beach with friends. We’d lie on the sand, motionless, until time to flip over for optimum and even sun exposure. Today’s age spots are cursing my recklessness, but I made darn sure that I looked like everyone else at the time. We were California Girls—Daisy Dukes, bikinis on top.
Eliza Bennett, in The Other Me, is a natural blonde, a fact that she keeps hidden with dark hair dye and a red beret. Her real hair colour, and real name for that matter, are closely coveted secrets that she’d sooner die than reveal.
Eliza is a trained ballerina, madly in love with her life in Leeds and her new boyfriend Cosmo. She is living out her dream, the dream she’s created for herself now that she’s left her past behind. No one knows that she used to be Klaudia, a bullied little blue-eyed, blonde girl from London living in the shadow of her father’s guilt.
But when her mother dies unexpectedly, Eliza flees Leeds, leaving no word with Cosmo or her friends, and returns to a home haunted by memories and shame. Feeling obligated to care for her father, Eliza once again becomes Klaudia Meyer, the daughter of a Nazi.
By chance, Cosmo finds Eliza and demands answers for her sudden disappearance. He swears by his love for her, but how can she tell him, the grandson of a Holocaust survivor, the awful truth of her heritage?
The Other Me is Klaudia’s story, and the story of her father—a young German orphan desperately seeking acceptance and belonging. It is a story of bad choices and retribution, of dreams and reality. It calls into question whether we can inherit our parents’ guilt, and to what extent love can guide forgiveness.
Saskia Sarginson holds a MA in Creative Writing from Cambridge University. The Other Me is her third novel. Flatiron Books, 2016.