Thief of Glory is by far my most favorite book of the year. Sigmund Brouwer begins with a dedication page detailing how his own parents, bolstered by their love for each other, left behind the Netherlands and immigrated to Canada. They also left behind the shadows of how the World War II years had affected their childhoods, one in Europe and the other in the Dutch East Indies. From that introduction, he takes us back to Dutch East Indies to imagine the story of another childhood love that will survive decades after the battles cease.
On the surface, this is the story of ten year old Jeremiah and how he survives the years that his family is interned in the Jappenkamp, a make shift concentration camp set up to imprison the Dutch colonials of the Dutch East Indies. At that level, readers will see Jeremiah as a smart alecky boy who thrives on beating the other boys at marbles. Behind what seems like innocent games, we see that Jeremiah is clever, quick to assess other people's weaknesses, and equally quick to protect those he loves. When he meets newcomer Laura, Jeremiah knows that he has met his true love. He reacts with a protective loyalty that places him on a dangerous collision course with his nemesis Georgie. Soon Jeremiah's older half brothers and his father are sent off to labor on the infamous Burma Railway and the young boy is left to be the caretaker of his family, which includes his mother, *(pregnant and often mentally unstable), twin sisters, and a younger brother, Pietje. As food and medical provisions dwindle, Jeremiah's life
becomes a dangerous game of survival -- one he plays as craftily as he once played the marble games of childhood. Soon the boy who has lost almost everything and everyone becomes the lifeline to the women and children of the prison camp.
Many aspects of this book propel it beyond the ordinary. First of all, is the unexpected ending to the book. I am still reeling from it, even hours after finishing the book. I SO wish I had someone to discuss that ending with, but I will not share a bit of it. No spoilers here! I can share that Brouwer does an excellent job of making the unique natural world of the island part of the story. A banyan tree, a python, poisonous processionary caterpillars, and a rabid dog all play pivotal roles. When you think about ten year old boys, no matter where they are or what the circumstances, somehow they will have encounters with "wildlife" and and Brouwer's inclusion adds layers of realism to the story. More realism comes from the inclusion of Adi, a young native boy, whose deformity makes him isolated and tormented by his own people. One of the lowest of society and among the weakest, his ability to help Jeremiah will have you discussing the difference between the world's view of importance and God's.
I know I mention this often when reviewing historical fiction, but I appreciate authors who add to my historical knowledge base. I don't just want a story with a backdrop of another time. When I close the book for the last time, I want an accurate perspective of that time period, hopefully with details I've never know before. Reading Thief of Glory gave me an understanding of the anti-Dutch sentiment among the island natives who had been under European control for over 350 years, making them easy targets for the Japanese promises that they would be allowed self-rule after the war if they supported the Japanese.
I received a copy of this book from Blogging for Books for review purposes. If I had to give it a starred rating, this would be a 5 plus!