Powerful, poignant and painful: Sigmund Brouwer opens up a devastatingly real tale of Jeremiah Prins, a 10-year-old Dutch boy and his family as they are caught in the invasion of the Japanese into Dutch-controlled West Indies in WWII. Their fates spiral into near-hopelessness, as their life of luxury as Dutch elites converts into starvation, disease and despair in the Japanese invasion. Jeremiah’s distant father and emotionally troubled mother don’t support him much in this time; he must rely on his own wits and fierce fighting skills to scrape together food for his family. Throughout it all, his rare skill with marbles, reading people and making the tough decisions brings hope and heartache.
I was hooked from the start. Brouwer does an amazing job of bringing you into Jeremiah’s mind: the mentality of a reserved, toughened Dutch boy; their life of luxury among the Indonesian natives who resent their presence; his boyish but unending fascination with Laura; his pride in his family heritage; his lust for fighting and scrappy belligerence; his mix of insolence and respect. Jeremiah is a complicated person, and despite how alien I found him at first, I enjoyed his no-regrets, intelligent attitude more and more.
Furthermore, the description is incredible. Early in the book, I felt I had taken a trip to Indonesia myself: the clammy, humid feel of clothes sticking to my skin, the tang of exotic spices in the market and ripe bananas and dust in my nose; the clamor of dogs barking and bahasa Indonesian and Dutch voices. Later, I also felt Jeremiah’s pain, horror, desperation and fury as though it were my own, thanks to the author’s description.
Based on the back cover blurb, I did expect for the faith of the family to play a more pivotal role in their attitudes. I’ve been inspired by other biographies and fictional literature from Christians and Jews in the throes of German concentration camps who took powerful stands for their faith. In this book, I was half-expecting it, but instead their chief means of survival were outwitting their Japanese captors through rigged marbles games and other trickery, trading for food, and other clever means. Many times the family members made questionable if not outright morally reprehensible decisions in order to stay alive. It’s an excellent book for a group to read together; I wish I had the benefit of others who were reading it, so we could debate on the validity of their decisions.
I will say the book also threw me for a loop towards the end; the author’s perception changes drastically from Jeremiah as a 10 year old to Jeremiah as a 70 year old. I felt as though the rug were pulled out from under me as I struggled to get to know this new man where the boy survivor had been. It did feel a bit rushed as the author used the final chapters as an extended epilogue, tying up loose ends and sharing major revelations which left me reeling. It is definitely absorbing, if tragic and shocking.
In summary, I am glad I read this book and think it is a valuable addition to understanding the many untold perspectives from the WWII. I would recommend it for anyone with an interest in historical fiction, and a group reading would be most valuable in order to deal with the complex religious and moral decisions happening hard and fast in this story.
I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review. This is my honest review.