Title: Chasing Shadows
Author: Lynn Austin
Major Themes: Jews, Holocaust, World War II
Synopsis: Three women work to protect those they love and keep their faith as the Nazis invade and try to destroy the Dutch Jewish population.
I was thrilled when I got word that I was approved to read Chasing Shadows a month or so ago—I hadn’t expected that, but I couldn’t wait to dive in. Lynn Austin has been one of my favorite authors ever since I first read her Civil War novel Candle in the Darkness, and in the years since then, I’ve had the privilege of reading her Waves of Mercy series, as well as other assorted titles like All Things New (a novel set during Reconstruction, which ripped my heart out, then put it back together again). Austin has a rich sense of the history and the times, and delivers plots with complex, faith-driven characters, which I love. Chasing Shadows, set in the Netherlands in World War II, is another to add to my list of well-loved books.
Lena knows her life will never be the same again when war is declared and the Nazis steadily march toward Holland. She’s already had to say goodbye to one family member this year—her oldest daughter Ans, who went to the nearby big city for work and more opportunities in life. But when her husband Pieter trains for the army, and then her son Wim wants to get involved in the war effort, too, can she trust God to protect them all? She’s willing to risk herself—but trusting God with the others is hard.
Miriam’s father makes the difficult decision to sneak out of Germany before the Nazis catch them. At the last minute, her mother decides to stay behind—and nothing will induce her to leave. After a tearful farewell, Miriam and her father make it safely to Westerbork, a refugee camp in the Netherlands. Eventually, they can move to Leiden, where her father gets a job. But when the Nazis overtake neutral Holland, and start putting the same restrictions on them there as they were under in Germany, can she keep her faith in God? Where can they go to find safety?
For Ans, life isn’t any easier than her mother Lena’s. She thought moving to the city would help her, and for a while, things were exciting. She’s found work helping a woman who is prone to bouts of severe depression, but even that is manageable. Then she meets Miriam, a recent refugee from Germany, and when things become too dangerous for Miriam’s family, she must try to find a way to help her friend. But how?
Chasing Shadows is one of those delightful books that has interwoven stories in it, and while I’d love to say I loved seeing the history come to life here, I didn’t—it was almost too real. Some nights after reading, I wondered how I’d ever manage if I were faced with the decisions these people had to make. Some decisions were well-nigh impossible—either risk your life and steal ration cards so people in hiding can eat for another month, or let them starve to death. What would God have you do? Those questions were asked here, and there really aren’t satisfactory answers—as much as I’d like to see things in black and white! What I did find interesting about the history that was shown here, though, was how the Nazis slowly instituted their restrictions for Jews—a little here, a little there, until they were fully cut off from society. I’d heard about that, but I got to witness it through these pages. And other things…like the famine the Dutch experienced near the end of the war—I’d heard about that, but trying to imagine eating tulip bulbs just to stay alive? That’s desperation. And I got to experience that here, too.
If you like books packed with, but not dragged down by, history, this would be a great one for you. Even though I’ve read a lot of World War II stories (or so it seems!), this one still held my attention. And the characters…I loved each one. Very well created. A satisfying, encouraging read.
Wow. I didn’t know, when I began reading Chasing Shadows, how much this book would affect me. I have read a lot of books about the Nazis, World War II, and how the Jews were persecuted, but this novel brought it home to me in a way that I hadn’t felt so much before. Part of that, I believe, is because we’re seeing the exact same scenario playing out in front of us here in our country right now. The chapter about how the Jewish professors were kicked out of the schools could be rewritten for right now, simply substituting a certain medical procedure for Jews, and it sounds the same. As so often before in stories about World War II, I admired the bravery of the people who risked everything to help those whose lives were in danger. The other side is shown so clearly in this story, too—the man who went along with everything he was told just so he could keep his job. And this quote: “The Nazis had already created such a climate of terror and hatred that everyone was afraid of them.” That’s happening around the world right now in regards to a certain sickness! Right and wrong, good and evil—both come through so clearly in this powerful story. Read it and be reminded about how good triumphs over evil in the end, and love wins!
I was also reminded that I am not in control. As Pieter told Lena,
“You’re wound so tightly, worrying about every little thing, trying so hard to hang on to control, but you never were in control to begin with. It’s an illusion. The sooner you realize that, the sooner you’ll put everything into God’s hands and find some peace and maybe even get some sleep at night.”
Ouch! Such a needed lesson.
I was given a review copy of this book, and this is my honest opinion of it.
WARNING: One of the characters in this book suffers from depression at times, and there are sometimes mentions that she might want to try taking her life if she spirals into depression enough. As this is a war story, war atrocities are talked about at times—in ch. 2, a man is beaten and left for dead, there’s a story of a man who was gassed in ch 11, and how he begged to be killed, there’s a bombing raid in ch. 12, etc. Hardly anything happens on-screen. A man is killed in ch. 45 (the Nazi’s retaliation for a train being destroyed). Throughout the book, there’s a good amount of lying as people try to protect other people. An unmarried couple kisses or holds hands several times throughout the story. In ch. 8, a man announces he has enlisted in the army, which is what he believes God wants him to do to protect people—when I look at Matthew 5 and other passages, I can’t agree with that decision. “Goodness” or a variant is used in ch. 33, 57, and 63.
Reading Independently—Ages 15 and Above, Adults