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A Life Across Continents: From Wars to Writing with Author Michael Bergen.

Raised in Montreal, Michael Bergen served in the Royal Canadian Navy during the Cuban Missile Crisis before venturing into the world of business, which took him from Paris to South Africa. Yet, beneath the surface of his adventurous life lay a passion for storytelling. It wasn't until later in life that Michael decided to pursue writing, drawing inspiration from his family's experiences in past conflicts. The Rutherford Chronicles is a series of historical fiction novels blending personal tales with major historical events. From the Boer War to the Cold War, Michael seamlessly intertwines history and personal anecdotes.

With three books already published—Empire Discovered, Empire and War, and Empire and Tyranny—and a fourth, Empires Lost: Cold War Memoir, nearing completion, Bergen offers readers a rich blend of history and personal narrative. As we eagerly await the final installment and his upcoming memoir, Bergen's storytelling invites us to explore the past through his eyes, discovering the intricacies of a century in flux.

Continue reading for an exclusive interview.


Tell us a bit about your background.

I am a British-born Canadian who has lived and worked most of my adult life in eight cities in five countries on three continents.

I was born in Croydon, South London, England, during the Nazi V-1 and V-2 “vengeance” bombings of World War Two. My father was a Canadian soldier, and my mother was a sweet and innocent English girl. I’m not sure who talked to whom about marriage, but I was the outcome. My father left for Italy the day after my birth as part of the British, Canadian, and American Italian Campaign in Churchill’s Soft Underbelly of Europe. My father would become the principal character of my third novel.

My mother’s father was a Geordie from the Northeast of England who had fought in the Boer War in South Africa, subsequently serving as a British soldier in British India and years later fought briefly in the trenches of WW1 France, and four years in POW camps in Northern Germany. He became my principal character for my first and second books.

I grew up in Montreal, Canada, from the age of two. After a normal and model childhood in school, Cub Scouts, Scouts, and Sea Cadets, I joined the Royal Canadian Navy in 1961 as a Sonarman hunting Soviet submarines in the Atlantic. I took part in the Cuban Missile Crisis, inspecting hundreds of Soviet fishing boats on the Grand Banks of Canada, looking for hidden missiles. We also took part in the search for the US advanced nuclear submarine USS Thresher, which sank in the deep Atlantic off the Massachusetts coast. I also participated in three Cold War naval exercises during that time.

After I left the Navy, I studied Economics at Concordia University in Montreal and worked in the computer industry by accident to pay my way through my studies. That’s when I first became interested in writing poetry and novels, but I put them on hold after marrying.

I put my studies on hold while taking a gap year in Europe and the UK. While there, I secured an excellent opportunity with IBM to conduct computerized medical research in Heidelberg, Germany, while raising a family. After seven years of research, I was transferred to marketing in Paris, France, for three years. I left IBM and worked for the Atomic Energy Agency of France, which offered computer services in Germany.

In 1983, I was offered a three-year assignment in South Africa, started my own IT company, and ended up staying in that country for many years and retiring there.

Why and when did you decide to become a writer?

As mentioned, I became interested in writing at university, but due to family and work pressures, I put that idea on hold until about 10 years ago.

What was the impetus for writing your series, The Rutherford Chronicles?

My writing began innocently with research into my life and family history about ten years ago. From that research sprang the idea of writing a series of historical fiction novels based on the paths and experiences of my grandfather and father in the first three significant conflicts of the twentieth century: the Boer War, the Great War or World War One, and WW2. From the beginning, I planned to write The Rutherford Chronicles and add my non-fiction Cold War experiences in the Atlantic, a divided Germany and Europe, and the Soviet-backed and financed struggle for majority democratic rule in South Africa as the series’ fourth book.

What time frame does your series cover?

The Rutherford Chronicles covers the entire 20th century. The Boer War started in October 1899, and the Cold War ended in 1991. However, the Soviet then Russian-backed South African struggle for independence only ended in 1994, and the end of the British Empire ended with the handover of Hong Kong to China in 1997. The series covers the century from beginning to end. The four books of the series are:

  1. Empire Discovered,

  2. Empire and War,

  3. Empire and Tyranny, and,

  4. Empires Lost: Cold War Memoir

The first three books have been published; the fourth is nearing completion and should be published by the summer. It’s currently a three-book series.  You also have a new memoir coming out.

Do you see that as part of the series?

Absolutely. The series’ theme is “a tumultuous family journey through the 20th century, following the lives of ordinary people thrust into extraordinary circumstances”. It’s a “fast-paced, exciting, and fact-enhanced historical series of sweeping breadth.”

The Rutherford Chronicles are historically accurate, enhanced by fictional dialogue and personal situations, and will appeal to avid readers and history buffs alike.

Tell us a bit about the memoir.

As I mentioned in my resume above, I lived in Cold War hotspots worldwide from WW2 to the end of the Cold War and the South African struggle for majority rule. The memoir covers the second half of the 20th-century section of the family journey.

The memoir begins with my early childhood years in Montreal. It gradually introduces the developing onset of the Cold War, including the Soviets grabbing and holding onto the Eastern European countries. It briefly explains the Soviet plans for an aggressively expansive future as highlighted and predicted by George Orwell, who first used the term Cold War, and Winston Churchill, who coined the Iron Curtain and Truman Doctrine of US President Harry S. Truman. It covers the Korean War as an unregistered conflict during my childhood. During my university years, it covers the constant negative news arriving from the Vietnam Proxy War and the Antiwar protests.

After telling the story of my later childhood, I cover my three years in the Royal Canadian Navy during the John F. Kennedy years, the Bay of Pigs and the Cuban Missile Crises and follow me into a divided Germany and Berlin, my research work in Germany and experiences with the terrorist attacks of Germany’s Red Army Faction happening then and meeting and exchanging views with young East German scientists at a conference in Sweden. While in Germany, I visited West Berlin twice and East Berlin once, and I visited the dangerous East-West German border in multiple places along its length.

The book also covers at length my experiences with the terrorism of the anti-Apartheid operatives in South Africa leading up to the first majority elections in 1994, during which I met and shook hands with Nelson and Winnie Mandela soon after his release from prison. My underlying message about that time and conflict is that it was, in effect, a proxy conflict of the Cold War due to Soviet financing and terrorism training of the ANC, SACP, and PAC operatives in the USSR and Russia.

Is there a message you hope readers take away from the series? 

My main messages of the series are at two unfortunate and unnecessary levels: with every war that politicians foolishly begin or lead their countries into by accident, the innocent youth of those countries become patriotic, adventurous, and enthusiastic recruits, and rush into the murderous battlefields of the most disastrous and costly century of humankind in terms of finance and lives. I hope that we can put an end to that painful weakness and develop the intelligence and strength to avoid wars in the future.

One of my favorite principles covering all my books is by the Spanish-American philosopher and writer George Santayana in his monumental work The Life of Reason, from 1905, “Those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it”.

Are you working on any other projects you can share with us?

Yes. I am working on a history of the Celts in Ireland and Scotland and the migrations to America and elsewhere with a fantasy flavor involving mythological kings, warriors, druids, saints, and my ancestors covering two millennia, from the earliest unwritten history to modern times. The book is titled The Lure of Celtic Legends and subtitled A Historical Fiction Novel About Unravelling the Mysteries and Unusual Discoveries of My Celtic Ancestry & Heritage.

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