Damp air settled between the marlstone walls, its chill creeping into my bones as our group wandered reverently through the ancient mines. We stopped to read the old inscriptions, listen to the stories, and remember all that happened in these tunnels along the southern tip of The Netherlands.
During World War II, these passages were used to hide artwork from the Dutch masters and as an escape route for Allied pilots and those escaping the Nazi occupiers. What would it have been like to be a Jewish woman down here, I wondered, trying to navigate the thousands of tunnels as she fled from a Nazi officer intent on finding her? What if, in order to save her life, she had to leave behind the boy she loved?
My mind began to follow my feet in the wandering.
Each of my novels builds block-upon-block on the foundation of an experience like this one. In those tunnels last year, I could feel the wetness of the marlstone walls on my hands and the coldness in my lungs. I could breathe the moist air and fight the weight of darkness as the walls pressed in. In the wandering of my mind, the breadth of wondering what might have happened there, I could imagine the lamplight of the Nazis patrolling through this labyrinth. My own running to hide.
As I research my novels, I read mounds of books, peruse websites, and conduct interviews, but the most important research I can do is walk, if possible, where my characters once walked. Hear what they might have heard. Smell the smells that will whisk readers into a different world. It’s those sensory details that breathe life into a historical novel and invite readers on the journey.
After I capture these senses, I have to dig deep inside me to remember my own experiences that provoked heartache or fear. While my memories pale in comparison to what my Jewish character must have felt when she fled, I have to empathize with the sadness and fear and also the hope that propelled her along her journey through these tunnels. The light and peace and freedom she prays that she’ll find when she emerges on the other side.
My own journey to these marlstone mines, the wanderings of both feet and mind, inspired my latest novel, Memories of Glass. These tunnels were one of many experiences in Holland that shaped my time-slip story about a group of seemingly ordinary men and women who saved the lives of more than six hundred Jewish children from deportation. I was changed as I learned the stories of these real-life heroes who fooled the Nazi officials with their ingenuity and courage.
Now I’m on a plane destined for Germany. Tomorrow I’ll be wandering down medieval German lanes and the rooms of a Roman castle before visiting the Nazi Party grounds in Nuremberg. And as I wander, I’ll begin fitting together the pieces of a new novel in my mind.
Reminiscent of Diane Ackerman’s The Zookeeper’s Wife, this stunning novel draws from true accounts to shine a light on a period of Holland’s darkest history and bravest heroes.
1942. As war rips through the heart of Holland, childhood friends Josie van Rees and Eliese Linden partner with a few daring citizens to rescue Eliese’s son and hundreds of other Jewish children who await deportation in a converted theater in Amsterdam. But amid their resistance work, Josie and Eliese’s dangerous secrets could derail their friendship and their entire mission. When the enemy finds these women, only one will escape.
Seventy-five years later, Ava Drake begins to suspect that her great-grandfather William Kingston was not the World War II hero he claimed to be. Her work as director of the prestigious Kingston Family Foundation leads her to Landon West’s Ugandan coffee plantation, and Ava and Landon soon discover a connection between their families. As Landon’s great-grandmother shares the broken pieces of her story, Ava must confront the greatest loss in her own life–and powerful members of the Kingston family who will do anything to keep the truth buried.
Illuminating the story and strength of these women, award-winning author Melanie Dobson transports readers through time and place, from World War II Holland to contemporary Uganda, in this rich and inspiring novel.
About Melanie Dobson
Writing fiction is Melanie Dobson’s excuse to explore abandoned houses, travel to unique places, and spend hours reading old books and journals. The award-winning author of twenty books, Melanie enjoys stitching together both time-slip and historical fiction including Catching the Wind, Hidden Among the Stars, and her latest novel, Memories of Glass. Melanie’s historical novels have won four Carol Awards, the 2018 Audie Award, and the ForeWord Book of the Year. More information about her and her family’s journey is available at www.melaniedobson.