Sigmund Brouwer’s newest novel, Thief of Glory (WaterBrook
Press) an elderly Jeremiah Prins must make peace with his daughter from his
jail cell. This requires him to dive deep into a painful past to reveal debilitating
secrets. Sigmund weaves a brilliant story in this novel, melding the past and
present while delving into fascinating historical events.
This novel is about family secrets and the things our close
relatives choose not to share with us. Where did you get the inspiration for
My primary inspiration came from a story that has been in front
of me all my life. My grandfather was a headmaster of a school in the Dutch
East Indies, and became a soldier when the Japanese Imperialist forces began to
invade the islands. He was captured and eventually died in forced labor during
the building of the Burma Railway. My father was just a boy when he and the
rest of his family were forced into a concentration camp on the island. They
survived nearly three years of desperate and brutal conditions. When the war
ended, they were put on a ship back to Holland, and arrived owning only the
clothes that had been given to them. My mother as a girl, during the same
period, survived the Nazi occupation of Holland. I wanted to honor their
stories by writing the novel.
Jeremiah finds an outlet for his secrets through writing
journals for his children. Why is writing sometimes the easiest way to
communicate difficult things we would rather keep hidden? Why is it the best
way for Jeremiah to write the things he cannot say?
Writing is sometimes much easier because you can write in
privacy, and you don’t feel the judgment that you fear if someone is in front
of you as you watch them listen to your story. Writing is also a way — because
it can be a slower process that also allows editing — to make sure that you are
communicating with the clarity and purpose. Specifically, for Jeremiah, my main
character and narrator, there is the necessity to write because he is
struggling with the early onset of Alzheimer’s, and he uses a series of
journals as a way to fight the loss of his memories, journals he intends to
leave behind so his daughter can fully understand why he wasn’t the father to
her that he wanted to be.
Did you venture into your own family’s history while writing
My father rarely spoke about his time in the camp. This was
partly because he was so young in the camp and some of the recollections were
too far back for him. It was more so, as I found out after writing the novel,
because no one in his family would talk about the war and those events in the
years that followed. It meant that I spent a lot of time reading accounts from
other survivors, which broke my heart, because I kept imagining my father as
boy in those same conditions.
I treasure the results, however. Not only did it help me
understand what formed my father, but it gave me specifics to open the door to
conversations about his life in the camp. Almost without fail, he would open up
about things I’d never heard from him before, and share similar stories that
matched the accounts of the other survivors. Through that process, I even
convinced him to tell those stories on video, which are priceless now for our
family and my own children. We did the same with my mother’s stories about the
Nazi occupation, including the morning that soldiers took her father away for
hiding a Jew in their house.
This book delves into Jeremiah’s past quite a bit. Was it
difficult telling his back story and weaving it in seamlessly with his current
At the time of writing, it was very difficult. I struggled with
how to alternate past and present and it seemed too disjointed. When I finally
realized Jeremiah’s true motivation for finally revealing to his daughter the
secrets he had hidden from her and from the world, the structuring became much
easier. So the novel opens in the present where readers see him in jail as an
81-year-old, and learn why his daughter demands the story and why he agrees to
finally tell it through his journals. Those journals then take readers into his
boyhood and the camp, and the novel concludes with a return to the present-day
story that resolves those boyhood secrets.
What do you hope readers feel while reading this novel?
reading it, I hope they feel everything that the women and children felt during
time in camp, from the despair to the joy. And when they finish it, I hope they
realize where ultimately, we can find joy in life despite all that difficulties
and losses that each of us suffer.
How was this project different from books you have written in
Jeremiah faces a fictional tragedy that my own father, thankfully, did not
endure, I kept seeing my own father in my mind. When I watch the book trailer (www.thiefofglory.com) it always has a
tremendous impact on me, because that’s my father, playing the role of
Jeremiah. So this is definitely my first novel where I felt I had a personal
stake in the character because I so closely identified it with my father. I
asked my father to read the first draft of the novel, and it was heartbreaking
to me when he said he could only read it a little at time because of some of
the memories it brought back to him.
Can you tell us about your next project?
before the outbreak of World War One, the United States completed one of the
greatest engineering feats in history — the Panama Canal — a 10-year task that
riveted Americans even more than the moon-landing many decades later.
efforts of Theodore Roosevelt, one of the most beloved presidents, it involved
the biggest dam at the time, the biggest man-made lake, the biggest ship locks,
the deepest excavations, all against tremendous odds that had already brought
France to its knees in an unsuccessful attempt two decades earlier.
One of the key
men behind beating those odds, like King Solomon of Israel, had total authority
over tens of thousands, and every Sunday held an informal court in his house
where anyone of any social status could bring complaints. Like Solomon, it was
his wisdom and common-sense judgments that in no small part kept the necessary
seven years of peace that remained complete the project.
romantic backdrop and clashes of social structures — set in the era of Downton
Abbey — my main character faces difficult choices as he struggles to get what
he wants most in life.