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.