A writer brings her perspective as a therapist with a love of mythology to her debut memoir of growing up in Amsterdam during World War II.
Before the Nazis arrived, de Vries and her parents lived a vibrant life with colorful neighbors in a charming city full of promise. That changed when the author witnessed a little girl in a crowd being taken away by Nazis. Soon after, her father was sent to a camp as a prisoner of war. De Vries was only able to offer her father her toy dog, which she secretly believed was a wolf, to protect him. For the following two years, the author and her mother survived as Amsterdam’s inhabitants starved or were shot in the street, witnessed neighbors betray neighbors, scavenged for food, and burned anything they could find to stay warm. Her mother stayed hopeful and joined the resistance, at one point hiding a young Jewish woman. In one of the book’s most harrowing scenes, de Vries watched as Dutch traitors dragged the woman out of hiding and held her mother at gunpoint. As a child who had been taught to love stories, the author tried to think of a happy ending even as she and her mother ate their meager rations and battled malnutrition. One of the more intriguing aspects of this engrossing account is what happened when the family was reunited after the conflict. De Vries clearly and empathetically portrays how a broken-down family and a devastated city attempted to rebuild after the trauma of war. There are many lovely moments and vivid, heart-rending details that bring the author’s narrative to life, including her stark description of the inexplicable coldness she felt toward her father when he first returned. “I had no feelings for this man hugging my mother,” she recounts. “He had no place in the story of my mother’s and my traumatized life.”
A beautifully wrought wartime account; highly recommended for its portrait of the human side of a horrifying period of history.