A depiction of the horrors of the second world war, as told largely through van Houten’s parents’ love letters and diary entries.
World War II has been the subject of more scholarly monographs and works of literature than readers could ever consume in a lifetime. In her debut effort, however, van Houten effectively plumbs the war’s meaning from a more personal perch. She pieces together letters between her mother and father, along with their diary entries, which were written while the conflict separated them. The correspondence begins in 1939, at the very beginning of the war, when Jan van Houten, a Dutch journalist, stayed behind in London to work while his family absconded for safer environs. The following May, the German Wehrmacht invaded the Netherlands, and the Dutch government was temporarily exiled to England—defeated but struggling to maintain some sense of unity and morale. As the war progressed, van Houten's father wrote stirringly to his wife about bombings in London: “The sky overhead was dark red. It looked grand in all its terribleness.” The author, through her selections, shows how the Dutch had a renewed sense of hope after the Soviets defeated the Germans at Stalingrad and how they started preparing for an eventual return to power. Jan was recruited to work as a press officer in Brussels on the Dutch government’s behalf; he was officially in charge of censorship, delicately selecting the news in order to boost the spirits of a battered Dutch population. When he arrived in Eindhoven, though, he was shocked at the devastation, finding a land decimated and a people cowed. The author’s running commentary helpfully provides historical context, but she always allows the letters themselves to take center stage in the narrative. The epistles, written out of love and loneliness, reflect the emotional disturbance caused by a world in chaos. As a result, this is both an informative and an affecting tale, touchingly offered by a child of war.
A testament to the human spirit of perseverance in the face of danger and dislocation.