Waln, Nora (1895–1964)

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Waln, Nora (1895–1964)

American journalist and author . Born on June 4, 1895, in Grampian, Pennsylvania; died on September 27, 1964; daughter of Thomas Lincoln Waln and Lilla (Quest) Waln; educated at Swarthmore College in Swarthmore, Pennsylvania; married George Edward Osland-Hill (in British government service), in 1922; children: one daughter.

Published House of Exile (1933), based on her experience of living with a Chinese family for two years; on eve of World War II, published a perceptive book on Nazi Germany, The Approaching Storm: One Woman's Story of Germany, 1934–1938 (released in the United States under title Reaching for the Stars, 1939).

Nora Waln was born in 1895 in Philadelphia to a sea-faring Quaker family which had actively participated in trade with China in the 1800s. As a girl, she studied early family records and found that the Walns had "hereditary traditions" of friendship and trade with a Chinese family in Hopei Province. Waln discovered that this aristocratic family, the Lins, still lived in their ancestral family homestead, called "The House of Exile." The notion of this family connection stayed with Waln as she grew up. She attended college until the United States entered World War I, when she left to edit a Washington, D.C., newspaper page about women and the war. She later worked in New York as a publicity director for the Near East Relief Committee.

In 1920, Waln sailed for China. After a day's trip from Peking (Beijing), she located the Lin family compound on the Grand Canal. The first foreigner ever to set foot in the home in the entire 650 years of its existence, she was welcomed as a "daughter of affection" and shared the family's daily lives for the next two years. She kept detailed notes on the experience. On a boat during a visit home, the trim, blonde Waln met George Osland-Hill, who was working in Peking for the British foreign service. They married in Shanghai in 1922 and later had one daughter. Waln was forced to relocate to England and Japan during troubled political times in China, but was finally able to return to the Lin home. She had composed a book, House of Exile, from the notes she made during her first stay with the family, and after critiquing it they finally allowed her to publish it. The book was a bestseller in 1933.

After George Osland-Hill's resignation from his government post, Waln accompanied him to Dresden, Germany, in 1934. The popular House of Exile had been widely translated, and the couple was welcomed by German admirers, including some Nazi elite. Adolf Hitler himself had purchased 35 copies of the book. Over the following four years, Waln began another book about her perceptions of Nazism and the emergence of National Socialism in Germany. Her sentiments were not complimentary, and in 1938, when German security officers seized part of the manuscript she had sent to London publishers, Waln and her husband were deported with only a 24-hour notice. Before leaving, Waln had attempted to mail three copies of the manuscript to London from three different postal stations within Germany. None of them ever made it, however, and Waln had to rewrite the book from memory and the notes she had managed to keep.

The Approaching Storm: One Woman's Story of Germany, 1934–1938 (titled Reaching for the Stars in the United States), was published in 1939 to wide approval. The book was full of admiration for the German people, but some criticized Waln's Quaker mildness in not condemning the Nazi government harshly enough. Before her death in 1964, Waln wrote magazine articles and reported on the Nuremberg trials, the Korean War, and postwar Japan.

Jacquie Maurice , freelance writer, Calgary, Alberta, Canada