The 1960s: a time of bubbling discontent with the social and political climate in America. Though that period is now nearly 60 years in the past, many things are much different and many things are still the same.
That sentiment is very real to local teacher and debut author Kip Sieger, who documented snippets of his young life in the Sixties within his semi-autobiographical fiction novel “A House Divided.”
Sieger grew up with three older brothers in a residential neighborhood in Pittsburgh, Penn. His father worked as a chemical engineer and his mother was an artist and art history professor. Sieger said that, as a child, he processed the issues and events of the time incompletely, but now sees them as they were: crucial.
“I really enjoy that I was so immersed in the writing and that the writing was so close to me,” said Sieger. “There’s many synchronicities that line up in the book with what went on in that time frame. A number of events come together in the book because of these meaningful coincidences.”
Sieger said the idea started off as a short story but evolved into a full-length novel. The material stuck with him through his adolescence and adulthood but was framed into the bulk of the book within a year.
“In writing, I tried to pay attention to what knowledge would be accessible to my characters at that time,” Sieger explained. “That speaks to the importance of people being as well-informed as possible and being accountable for their actions.”
The novel centers on the Milton family, a family of five living in quiet suburbia ironically outside Pittsburgh, with teenage Paul narrating the turmoil of the Sixties arriving at his doorstep. Paul is caught in the middle of two warring factions in the forms of his glory-seeking, aspiring soldier brother Chris and his anti-Establishment politico sister Mary. Many of the decade’s crucial events unravel around the characters such as the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr. and Bobby Kennedy, the Civil Rights movement and the Vietnam War. Suddenly, Paul’s idyllic summer is shattered when “racial tensions and (the) escalating War in Vietnam are no longer events playing out on TV, but bitter upheavals with potentially fatal consequences that are tearing apart both his family and country,” according to a book synopsis provided by Sieger.
“In many respects, you could probably say the act of writing the book was an effort to make sense of the tumultuous events unfolding during my childhood, and even of life itself,” he said. “From the Summer of Love and the Age of Aquarius, to the assassinations of President Kennedy, Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy — to say nothing of the war in Vietnam — it was a pivotal time marked by both soaring hopes and stunning disillusionment.”
The fabric of this coming-of-age story is woven by timeless themes: anarchy and conformity, rejection and acceptance, war and peace, love and hate. But most importantly, it sheds light human difference and perspective and the moments of understanding and compassion that shine through.
“We see the same types of things happening today,” Sieger said. “Some of the same questions that were present in the Sixties pop up all over the world.”
Sieger advises readers and students alike to keep an open mind and learn as much as possible from the past because it tends to ripple and echo.
“With this book, I wanted to show readers that through tumultuous times, what we do matters,” he explained. “We need to try to do the right thing and be nicer to each other. Knowing history can be an important part of accomplishing that… I love to see people pursue their passions but also see them be considerate and compassionate towards one another.”
Sieger has taught at Brushy Creek Elementary in Round Rock for 20 years. He primarily teaches P.E. with a secondary certification in Social Studies. Sieger lives with his wife in Cedar Park. He has three daughters and one granddaughter.
A link to learn more about the novel or purchase a copy is available at hillcountrynews.com.