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Wrapping story around horrific events disseminates their skeletal outlines into bite-sized pieces for readers’ assimilation and learning.

 

Such an event occurred the night of January 30, 1945, during a freezing snowstorm upon the Baltic Sea. The Soviet submarine S-13 torpedoed the German transport ship, the MV Wilhelm Gustloff, nine hours into its passage. On board were 10,000 refugees fleeing from the Russian and Allied offensive. Only one thousand survived.

For three years the author Ruta Sepetys, the daughter of a Lithuanian refugee from World War II, researched this disaster until, in her imagination, Salt to the Sea (2016) was conceived. The story unfolds, piecemeal, through four characters: Joanna, a twenty-one-year old Lithuanian nurse; Florian, a seventeen-year old East Prussian preservationist and restorer of works of art; Emilia fifteen-years old, Polish and eight months pregnant; and Alfred, a seventeen-year old delusional German seaman assigned to the Wilhelm Gustloff.

Like a skilled minimalist painter, Sepetys reveals more by what she leaves out. Her precise words have dropped depth charges upon this reader’s psyche, its rumble evoking a slow burn and profound feelings for the characters.

Salt to the Sea, an historical novel, also leaves me with questions. In seventy years, will anyone be writing of today’s refugees caught within the crosshairs of greedy global politics? Since when has it been all right to minimize the losses of the poor, even their lives?

All of this cries out to God.

 

 

 

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Imagine the terror of a ten-year-old boy suddenly facing the nozzle of a submachine gun held by an SS soldier, after having been slammed against the courtyard wall with its butt. It was Jo Joffo, waiting for his older brother on the Rue de Russie in Nazi-occupied Nice, France. It was summer, 1942. For over a month nasty inspectors interrogated him and his brother at the Excelsior Hotel until they were finally released. This experience ripped Jo Joffo from his childhood with its games of marbles and jacks, with ringing doorbells and other pranks.

This boy would later become a French author whose 1974 memoir A Bag of Marbles narrates this gripping flight to freedom, a hair-breath away from the enemy. So deep was the memoir’s appeal that it was translated into eighteen languages.

Such stories of survival still speak. From a safe distance, we observe and learn from others who have suffered heart-wrenching losses and survived murderous occupations of their countries. Yet, our times are not that different. Subtle forms of “occupation” still abound: social media, fake news, and addictive substances that manipulate attitudes, thoughts, and choices and keep spirits in bondage to Evil. Indeed, Jesus cautions us whenever we step outside our homes: “Be like sheep among wolves, cunning as serpents and yet as harmless as doves.” (Mt. 10:16)

The Plaza Frontenac Theater in St. Louis, Missouri, is currently showing the second film adaption of this memoir A Bag of Marbles; Christian Duguy directed it with English sub-titles.

It was evening, the auditorium in Knight Hall located on the Washington University of St. Louis campus. The introduction was made. All was ready.

Petite in stature, her wavy hair framing her oval face, Princeton Professor Elaine Pagels shared her research on a millenials-old story—“war literature,” she called it, referring to the Book of Revelation (91 CE). Urgency, tinged with joy, enhanced her speech, evidence of her having been in the fire with the Sacred.

Upon the floor-to-ceiling-wall, behind her, flashed art works from medieval illuminated manuscripts, from woodcuts, from paintings, from sculptures that further enhanced the cataclysmic clash between Michael the Light Bearer and Lucifer the Prince of Darkness and their minions. For continuing evidence of this clash, we only have to look within our psyches and the world around us. Thus, the continuing attraction of this book that so engaged her listeners.

 

 

My take-away only surfaced later… War still exists in my body: fifty-seven years of living with rheumatoid arthritis have throttled my spirit, blunted psychic growth, and enervated relationships. Drugs, knee joint surgeries, and fatigue almost devoured me until I took responsibility for my health. Only devotion to the Crucified with bleeding knees has and still sustains me.

 

It’s about being faithful. There will be a resolution—entrance into the New Jerusalem as narrated in the Book of Revelation.

Available on Amazon

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