About the book:
Of the books I’ve read from Sigmund Brouwer’s pen, Thief of Glory is my favorite. In his signature storytelling style, this work of historical fiction is reminiscent of a memoir, shared like a series of journal entries written in the first person from the perspective of a 10-year-old boy; it is a completely fictional account of one family’s nightmarish experience of interment in a Japanese concentration camp during World War II. Yet the details are hauntingly real.
The author uses the format of a story within a story. At the beginning, the reader becomes aware that this is a story told in reminiscence, looking back over 70 years. An old man of 81 sits in a jail cell waiting for his daughter to take him home. Her one desire, however, was for him to tell her his story, one he has never divulged to her, or anyone else, before. So in compliance, chapter one in the book is Journal #1. By the end of the book, we are brought up to the present, and to journal #35. Most of the chapters are told from the perspective of the 10-year-old Jeremiah Prins, a Dutch boy living on the Dutch East Indies (now known as Indonesia) with his family. It begins just before the Dutch capitulation to the Japanese.
Jeremiah lived with his parents and siblings on the island of Java. His father was the schoolmaster of the Dutch colonists. His income allowed them to live prosperously in their little village, with servants from the community. Jeremiah’s blended family had two sets of siblings. There were three older half-brothers and his birth siblings–twin sisters and a little brother. Jeremiah was the eldest of his birth family. His lovely mother suffered from a mental illness where she frequently went into a dark phase of isolation. Often she was emotionally inaccessible. Jeremiah and his father were used to taking care of his family during these times. He took special care of his younger brother, Pietje (sounds like PJ). The little guy followed him around like a puppy.
The tragic portion of the story began when the Japanese arrived on the island. They removed the older boys and men, taking them to labor camps, some to work on the infamous Burma railroad. Jeremiah’s father and brothers never returned. Before he left, he gave charge of his young family to Jeremiah’s care. At this point, we are aware that the boy is a scrapper, a tough young man, and smart. He believes he is up for the challenge. It wasn’t long after the men were taken when the Japanese came for the women and children. They were placed in “Jappencamps”, where each family lived in a single room of a house. The bulk of this amazing story occurs in this place of captivity.
This story left me awestruck. The book, especially in the twists and turns of the conclusion, grabbed my attention and left an impression. I know I’ll be thinking of the events in this book for a long time.
One element meaningful to me was the author’s use of a few powerful metaphors. The banyan tree represents moments in time that leave an indelible impression for life. It also is used to represent the consequences of moments which pervades our lives to the end. The second metaphor was the impression left by reading Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe a number of times on Jeremiah. Jeremiah saw himself as Ivanhoe and Laura Jansen as Lady Rowena from the moment he laid eyes on her at the village’s marble game. Consequently, when another boy named Georgie Smith vied for her attention, Jeremiah was ready to fight for her, even in the Jappencamp.
I suppose the world of marble games could serve as an analogy or another metaphor. The game often determined the victims from the victors, the predatory from the prey, the followers from the leaders. Georgie and Jeremiah rose to be leaders, but by using two distinct methods and with two distinct motivations. Those characteristics were amplified in the Jappencamp.
The second thing that struck me as an amazing factor in this story were the details of life in the camp. While these details are secondary to the plot, they lend an atmosphere of authenticity to the events that took place. In the preface, it’s mentioned that these details came from the author’s parents, especially his father who spent years in a similar situation as Jeremiah. Yet he survived and returned home to his loved ones, and in particular the author’s mother. I think it’s the stark realism of this tale which plucked at my heartstrings so much. Toward the end, I even forgot the story was supposed to be fiction.
The thing that surprised me most about this book was that reading this from a pre-teen’s viewpoint meant that, like Tom sawyer and Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, there were the inevitable light moments and chuckles. Even in the midst of the horrendous circumstances he was in with his family, Jeremiah’s antics and escapades were often funny, in a dark sort of “stick-to-you” type of way. Call it comic relief. I don’t want to sound insensitive to the victims of such horrors, but the author managed to include many enjoyable instances as a sort of foil to the seriousness of the situation.
All of this meant I could hardly put the book down because of the suspense. It was all about surviving the war with his sanity and sense of self intact. Like me, you may be surprised how the book ends. I didn’t see it coming at all. If you enjoy a fresh perspective of a historical fiction and/or love what Sigmund Brouwer writes, I can heartily recommend this book to you. For the rest of you, try something new; I think this book is worth it.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from Waterbrook Press and the website, Blogging for Books. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”