Book Review: Thief of Glory by Sigmund Brouwer
12-year-old Jeremiah Prins is living a content life as the son of a school headmaster in the Dutch East Indies (Indonesia), but when Holland declares war on the Japanese in 1941, the situation changes swiftly. The Japanese army invades, and Jeremiah and his family are placed in a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp–a camp Jeremiah finally escapes. Years later, wartime complications force him to abandon a marriage engagement with Laura. The young man flees to California, where he struggles with the lingering anger and war stress he faced as a child.
Determined to find some kind of redemption, a now-elderly Jeremiah tries to make sense of his life by journaling of all that he does not want to reveal to his children about his past, intending to leave his writings as an apology after he is gone.
An online encounter puts Jeremiah in touch with his true love from the war years, Laura, and when they meet again, it triggers the time bomb of long-buried secrets. Even seventy years later, if uncovered, these secrets can harm everyone who matters to Jeremiah.
As in most instances when an author has a tangible connection to their story, this tale exudes passion. Like Jeremiah’s father, Brouwer’s grandfather became one of over ten thousand of victims of the Burma railway, while the rest of the family was imprisoned in a Japanese internment camp. Though the tales diverge from there, one can feel the author’s heart for those who endured the atrocities.
This book takes place in an interment camp – a place of abuse, death, and little hope. To balance the moments of horror, there are moments of true inspiration – inspiration to be strong and fight, regardless of the consequences – not for personal gain or safety, but to protect those weaker than oneself. To be able to stand on the judgement day, knowing one chose right. Sophie Jansen is a brilliant example of this selflessness – would that we could all be like her!
Thief of Glory is a unique piece of christian historical fiction in more ways than one. The majority of the story feels like it is being told from a ten-year-old boy’s perspective, although we find out later it is an old man recounting his memories of the war. Though there is a faint touch of romance, it is not remotely the focus of the story. And unlike most christian fiction that I’ve enjoyed, it is not a feel-good book. There are moments of humor, triumph, and inspiration, but this bittersweet novel is more haunting than uplifting, leaving the reader aching for the characters and the real people who endured such trials.
So be warned: if you’re looking for a romance, or a fluffy story to brighten your day, or an escape from trials – don’t read this book. But if you want a book to challenge you, to paint you an unvarnished picture of what war can do, to warm you yet haunt you for days to come – then yes, absolutely read this book.
This novel was the winner of the 2015 Christy Award for Book of the Year.