Marcel's Letters: A Font and the Search for One Man's Fate by Carolyn Porter

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MWSA Review

Carolyn Porter is a highly trained and successful graphic designer, but from early in her career she harbored a secret desire to design a font based on a real person’s handwriting. For years she looked for old letters in antique shops, hoping to find a sample that would catch her eye. In the months after the destruction of the World Trade Center, her interest in such a project intensified. Then in an out-of-the-way little shop in White Bear Lake, Minnesota, she found a letter whose beautifully scrolled handwriting took her breath away. Out of a pile of the unknown writer’s correspondence, she picked four letters that contained the capital letters and numbers she would need to begin construction of her font.

She had, of course, under-estimated the amount of work building a font from scratchy marks on deteriorating paper might take. She started with tracings and pencil sketches and taught herself to use font-designing software. Months and years passed as she worked on one letter’s shape at a time. The font-designing urge eventually gave way to the pressures of day-to-day life. Some ten years later, she came across the letters again and resolved to make a renewed effort to recreate this handwriting as a font.

The letters were in French, which she could not read. Her early efforts had focused only on the individual letter-forms. But this time, something was different. She concentrated on the beautiful signature of the writer—Marcel. A few recognizable words convinced her that Marcel had written a love letter. And now she wanted to know more about the writer. She hired a translator to provide an English version of just one of the letters.

It was a crucial decision—one that set her on a three-year journey to find the man with the beautiful handwriting—the man who had written these letters while a conscripted laborer assigned to a German tank factory during World War II. She moved from curiosity to wanting to know more. The desire to know more soon became a need to know. Then the need became a full-blown obsession. She neglected her other jobs, ignored her husband, family, and friends, forgot to eat, and gave up trying to sleep. She spent countless hours writing letters of inquiry, reading about the German occupation of France, digging deep into genealogical sites, and pursuing official records. She found more letters and developed new leads. But would she ever find Marcel himself? And would she ever finish his font?

This is Ms. Porter’s story as well as Marcel’s. She tells it honestly and with deep emotion. She manages to balance the several strands of her adventures—the history lessons, the details of creating a font, the inner workings of her marriage, and the clues that point to the eventual outcomes. The reader will rejoice with her when things go well and cry with her when she faces discouragement. It’s a great story.

MWSA Reviewer Carolyn Schriber (March 2018)

Author's Synopsis

A graphic designer’s search for inspiration leads to a cache of letters and the mystery of one man’s fate during World War II. Seeking inspiration for a new font design in an antique store in small-town Stillwater, Minnesota, graphic designer Carolyn Porter stumbled across some old letters and was immediately drawn to the beautifully expressive pen-and-ink handwriting. She could not read the letters—they had been written in French—but she noticed they had been signed by a man named Marcel and mailed from Berlin to France during the middle of World War II. As Carolyn grappled with designing the font, she decided to have one of Marcel’s letters translated. Reading words of love combined with testimony of survival inside a German labor camp transformed Carolyn’s curiosity into an obsession, and she sought to find out why the letter writer, Marcel Heuzé, had been in Berlin, how his letters came to be for sale in a store halfway around the world, and, most importantly, whether he returned to his beloved wife and daughters after the war. Marcel’s Letters is the story of Carolyn’s increasingly desperate search to find answers to the mystery of one man’s fate, answers that would come from Germany, France, and the United States. Simultaneously, she would continue to work on what would become the acclaimed font P22 Marcel Script, immortalizing the man and letters that waited years to be reunited with his family. Keywords: Non-fiction, France, WWII, Biography, French Forced Labor, Service du Travail Obligatoire, Daimler, Labor Camp, Graphic Design, Font Design, Typography, Love, Father, Reunion, History-Mystery

ISBN/ASIN: 978-1510719330
Book Format(s): Hard cover, Kindle
Genre(s): Nonfiction, Creative Nonfiction, History, Memoir, Biography
Review Genre: Nonfiction—Memoir/Biography
Number of Pages: 352