Plot Summary: It’s WWII and the Germans are in retreat leaving wartorn Poland and it’s civilians to the advancing Soviets. A stranger at a train station observes a married couple saying goodbye to each other as the young man sends his pregnant wife away from Krakow to keep her safe. Bread Upon the Waters follows the stories of these three characters, their past history, their present situations, and their future paths. Hanna Muller, daughter of German civilians living in Poland… Tadeusz, a young Polish engineer who must overcome his hatred of Germans in order to learn to accept love into his life… And Jacek, a Polish emigrant orphaned as a child, now singled out to work as an agent behind the scenes and along the front lines in Europe. How these lives intersect and where their individual paths take them makes for an engrossing read.
My Review: This is a book that initially intrigued me because of the time, setting, and the fact that the story involved a secret agent. I was not expecting it to be a deeper read that would teach me about the history of Poland after WWII (something I previously knew very little of). Even though I’d seen The Pianist, The Winds of War, and The Courageous Heart of Irena Sendler, it really wasn’t until I read this book that I was able to better piece together the events and begin to comprehend a little more. When I finished it, I was completely blown away that anyone could have survived through such fearful events. My heart goes out to Poland and its history after reading this!
In the preface to her first novel, the author Anne de Graaf states that she fictionalized testimonies of real people. It was based on a real family that inspired her to write the book. She said she even hesitated to weave some of the true experiences in just because they were so incredible! And I have to admit—some events did seem too unbelievable. But truth is often stranger than fiction, and I believe that God works in supernatural ways in the lives of His people. So really, we shouldn’t be too surprised at the miracles He performs!
The writer’s style seemed to be quite a good deal of narrative and the backgrounds of the characters were told in flashback. So much is covered during the course of the book. It almost felt like the story was told “at arm’s length” with a bird’s eye view—instead of going into greater detail about things that happen to Tadeusz, Johann, or Jacek, they are summarized. In one way, this speeds up a story that could have been bogged down and laborious. But at the same time, it was harder to try to experience the story and get emotionally connected to the characters. I wanted to feel more acutely the fear of Hanna in the cave, the misery of Johann trekking daily across the steppe, and Tadeusz’s joy when he falls in love with Hanna. I think I would have liked it better if the author had lengthened the story and broken it down into more books, so that you could really feel that you were right there with the characters and what was happening to them.
Understandably, this story has a solemn, grave edge to it. There are parts that are difficult to read about. But I really am glad I picked this up. Reading about ordinary people living in extraordinary times gives you a little more perspective about things… one of the important reasons it’s healthy to read! And sometimes you can learn so much more from fiction than non-fiction. I encourage anyone who is fascinated by the Second World War and the people who lived through it to try Bread Upon the Waters, which is the first in The Hidden Harvest Series, by Anne de Graaf (followed by Where the Fire Burns, and Out of the Red Shadow).
Surfing on YouTube, I found this amazing interview with a Polish woman who was only a child during the German occupation, but whose memories are crystal clear: