Wednesday, February 11, 2009

"Through a Harsh Dawn" by Hendrik Leffelaar

"Through a Harsh Dawn: a boy grows up in a Japanese Prison Camp" by Hendrik Leffelaar is a book that took me a long time to read. This is the story of a Dutch boy who is living in Sumatra and is about 12 years old when World War II begins. Japan invades and takes over, and this is his story of what it was like to live through that. It also has pieces of his father's experience as well. His father was part of the National Guard and spent most of the war in P.O.W. labor camps. Hendrik begins the story shortly before the Japanese invasion, and then takes the reader through his experiences in four camps. At first he was with his mother and younger brother, but later he was separated from his mom. Finally his brother was sent to his camp too. At the end of the story, all four of his family members survive. That's the good news.
I have not read much about what the Japanese did during WWII. When I think about WWII history, I think mostly about what the Germans did to the Jews. I don't know much about what was happening in the South Pacific so this story was interesting to me because it gave me some of that point of view. I almost threw down the book and quit reading when I read how complacent and wimpy the Dutch were in the beginning, but I kept going, and saw that they were very tough inside, they just had no idea what was going on in a global way. Then again, it's easy to look back now and say "Of course..." but back then, who knows? When the war was over, I expected the book to end. I was surprised that there were still another 50 pages to read. WTF? Of course even though the WWII was over, there was still another battle to be fought unfortunately. One that again, I did not think about, it did not really register on my mind. The Japanese left, and Britain did not help, and the Indonesian nationals took control of Indonesia from the Dutch so eventually the Dutch had to leave. After spending 4 years in concentration camps, they did not get their homes back. They eventually went to Holland, and then scattered to the winds beyond. The end of the book goes too fast, and I wish he had slowed down to really tell us how his family got out. His father was last, but I didn't really catch the details on how he got out. He definitely suffered the worst. Anyway, in spite of a slow start, and having to renew the book because it took me so long to get through it, I finally did, and then found myself reading all the appendices in the end too. This was a very good book if you like history, and want to hear a story that is about World War II, but isn't about the Holocaust. A worthwhile read!


Next up on my reading list- something considerably lighter I hope- "Street Gang, the History of Sesame Street". I am hoping to get through this one quickly as I have a coworker who is also waiting to read it as well.

17 comments:

  1. I enjoy historical novels. This one sounds like a good one.

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  2. Arlene, it's not necessarily a novel. I would say it is a biography or autobiography, but yes, it was good.

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  3. Hello Rebecca,
    I am Gijs, the son of Henk L Leffelaar.
    I'm glad to read that his book left you with the correct impression of the years in the in the Japanese prison camps.
    My father returned to holland, traumatised, yet the dutch people underestimated what they had gone thru in Indonesia.
    Later on 1980 he wrote a book in dutch (De japanse regeering betaald aan toonder) on how the war affected his latter life.

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  4. So nice to hear from you Gijs! Unfortunately I do not read or speak Dutch. I wonder if the book has been translated into English? Then I might be able to read it. I guess that will be something to research.

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  5. Beste Gijs,

    Your father was a student here at the University of Georgia in the 1950s and I'm researching for a book and documentary film about him and other international students who were here in Georgia in those days. I would love to hear from you. You can find my information on the University of Georgia web pages.

    Tot schriefs,

    Jack Pannecoucke

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  6. Jack I don't know if he will your message since he was on my blog back in February. I hope you two do find each other though.

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  7. Rebecca...thanks for your kind reply. I just now looked at your site again. That was the first time I had posted anything to a blog--this is the second!! :)

    I was in our UGA archives yesterday and found a cache of letters that Leffelaar had written to Georgia poet Byron Reece in the mid-1950s (check him out in the on-line New Georgia Encyclopedia). They are fascinating. Am going to try to get my hands on Harsh Dawn and other works of Leffelaar.

    Take care!

    Jack

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  8. Hi Jack, you can find copies of the "Through the Harsh Dawn" on the AmazonUSA site. It might be on AmazonUK or AmazonDe too. I'm not sure, but you could definitely look.

    Nice to hear from you again. :-)

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  9. Thanks, Rebecca! I just ordered it from the AmazonUSA site!

    Seems I managed to send my post with my name on it the first time, but now I'm Anonymous, so I don't know how I managed to do it right the first time! It's all very complicated! ha ha! :)

    best regards,

    Jack

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  10. Dear Jack,
    I am curious.. are you in Russia? Or Slovenia? I am happy that my little blog is being read "worldwide". :-)

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  11. Dear Rebecca, am sure you are read world wide, but i'm just in little ole Athens, GA. --ha ha!

    I guess maybe my name sounded Russian to you?? Nyet! It's actually Flemish. :) My paternal grandfather was born in Ghent, Belgium (East Flanders), but the ancestral home is a village called Harelbeke down near the French border. His father couldn't find work in the little town, so he moved to the big city as so many others did in those days!

    see ya...

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  12. Hello, Does this help? Hello, My great aunt was married to the late Hendrik L. "Henk" Leffelaar, they later divorced. I did read this "Through A Harsh Dawn, A Boy grows up in a Japanese Prison Camp." about 7 years ago 2004 or so. And I am My grandfather and grandmother knew Hank very well, and have good things to say of him, a good man -Hendrik- was. How could his son MR. Gijs Leffelaar be reached? S. W. R.

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    1. INSERT: where it reads: "And I am..." looking to read the book again. My grandparents were among some of the first who supported the writing of this book, and got a signed copy from Hendrik all those years ago...

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    2. Unfortunately you all are leaving Anonymous messages here regarding Gijs Leffalaar. I have no contact information for anybody myself.

      I am glad to see you all posting about Mr. Leffelaar, even three years after I originally read the book. I wish I could be more helpful.

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    3. hallo everybody who read the books written by Henk Leffelaar. I am an old friend of Henk in the year he was at U.of Ga, while I was a student at Brenau College in Gainesville. I am really looking for his son Gijsbrand, because I would like to hear more about his later life, after 1954/55. Renée, from the Netherlands.

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    4. Hello Renee! Rebecca was kind enough to contact me about your post yesterday. I'm doing some research on the program that brought you and Henk to Georgia and would love to hear from you. I also have Gijs' address. --Jack Pannecoucke Please email me at: jpannecoucke@gmail.com

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    5. Renee I am glad you found my blog, and I know Jack does have quite a bit of info. Since you posted your comment anonymously we can only hope that you will see the replies and be in touch again. Your contact info (email address) is not appearing on the blog so Jack does not know how to reach you directly.

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