Memories of Glass
In 1997, the Seinfeld episode called The Yada Yada aired. While this installment is best known for coining the term “anti-dentite” and the use of yada, yada to skip details in conversation, it also takes an intriguing look at religious conversion and the confused feelings such an event creates in the people around the convert. For many this subject is still problematic, which is why I am opening this review with a warning: Memories of Glass, a dual timeline novel taking place in both WWII and the present day, talks a lot about evangelism and conversion.
Josie van Rees and Eliese Linden first meet in 1933. The girls become fast friends, enjoying carefree days playing in Holland’s countryside. Less than ten years later, their days are far less untroubled. Eliese has an illegitimate son by an American businessman whom she believes will soon be reunited with her and young Hein. Until that day she must worry and plan, for the Nazis are in Holland and have begun deporting Jewish families like her own to concentration camps. She understands herself to be protected from deportation by being listed on Puttkammer’s list, an elite account of rich Jews who have paid for a special stamp on their identity card, but at the urging of her father, she agrees to work with Walter Suskind at Hollandsche Schouwburg assisting with the registration of families being sent to the camps since working there provides another layer of protection.
Her first night on the job finds Eliese in a nightmarish situation. A young toddler begins crying, causing the other children to begin crying as well. An angry Nazi soldier shoots a bullet into the wall behind him, silencing the other children and warning that the next bullet will be for Eliese if she can’t silence the child. She is able to hustle the boy away to a nursery school across the street, where he spends that night and the following morning. When Eliese is sent to retrieve him the next day, she encounters a friend she hasn’t seen in years.
Josie is part of the Dutch resistance. Her cover is her daily life routine as a student and part-time worker at the local nursery school across from Hollandsche Schouwburg. She is at the school the morning Eliese comes in to pick up the young boy and is surprised to see her. Their friendship was broken by an event in their past but when Eliese pleads with Josie to help her rescue some of the children, including Hein, she agrees. It’s an alliance that will put both women in very grave danger.
It’s been seventy five years since WWII but Ava Drake’s family, now living in America, still has ties to Holland thanks to the charitable work of their Kingston Family Foundation. She has just finished opening the Kingston Bibliotheek, a research library in Amsterdam, and would have enjoyed spending more time in Holland, but her job as the foundation’s director means that immediately after the opening she must go Landon West’s Ugandan coffee plantation, a charity which provides a sustainable income for the people of the community as well as an orphanage and school for the local children. When she arrives, Landon doesn’t realize she is there about a grant but instead believes she is a volunteer and puts her to work in the nursery. Ava doesn’t mind, as it gives her the opportunity to learn whether the organization is worthy of a donation – as well as allowing her to spend the day with the most fascinating man she has ever met.
Memories of Glass is told in alternating points of view from the perspectives of Josie, Eliese and Ava. All three ladies make for fascinating heroines. They also all share one important trait which the author weaves throughout the tale as the moral of her story: All of them need to let go of the past in order to fully live their present and future. Eliese has made poor decisions in how she handles her love life. The people around her pay a heavy price for those choices but those are not the only mistakes she has made. It is her work registering Jews for the camps that has her truly feeling guilty, making her wonder if the handful of children she saves can ever atone for the thousands of people she is helping send to their deaths. Josie has held a grudge against Eliese for years since Eliese’s actions have caused a great deal of hurt to someone she loves. She isn’t sure she can fight successfully against the Nazis and work with her old friend to rescue the children unless she is able to let go of the anger she’s held on to for so long. Ava’s mother and brother died in a fire of which she was the sole survivor. Along with her survivor’s guilt, she also carries a concern about her extended family’s history. There is something about her Kingston great-grandfather’s tales of WWII heroism that doesn’t make sense and as she slowly begins to unlock the secrets of the past, she wonders if she will destroy the family’s present and future with the avalanche of facts she is about to reveal – or if the truth will finally set them free from whatever it is that causes them to be cruel and hateful to each other .
The emphasis here is on the journeys of our heroines as they wrestle with their demons, the growth and joy found in their triumphs and the horrors experienced by Eliese and Josie during the war. The history revolves around businessmen who profited from the pain and suffering created by Nazi atrocities. The author does an incredible job of bringing this often forgotten heinousness to light and showing its impact on real lives through its effect on the characters in our story. I was completely enthralled by this facet of the tale.
In fact, the entire novel had me riveted. My only quibble was that the inspirational portion of the story is handled very haphazardly. There was talk about evangelism, both through the work done by Landon’s Bishara Coffee & Cafe company and by someone Eliese meets in the resistance, but the language used is vague and the moments of conversion in the tale are completely glossed over. I appreciate the author not wanting to bore readers with sermons but once she had people making life changes based on accepting Jesus as savior, not fully exploring the reasons behind that choice, especially in the case of Eleise, left important parts of the tale unexplained. I do want to emphasize that Eleise does not convert from Judaism to Christianity; her family’s ethnicity was Jewish but they didn’t practice Judaism. In spite of that, I think her conversion deserved a more detailed explanation than it received.
Memories of Glass is a well written Inspirational women’s fiction tale which I think will please its target audience but whose evangelistic messages might be off putting to readers who don’t feel comfortable with such themes. It’s well worth a read, though, if you are untroubled by strong discussions of faith.