Summary and book reviews of This Is How It Begins by Joan Dempsey

This Is How It Begins

by Joan Dempsey

This Is How It Begins by Joan Dempsey X
This Is How It Begins by Joan Dempsey
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  • Paperback:
    Oct 2017, 399 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Donna Chavez

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Book Summary

Compulsively readable, This Is How It Begins is a timely novel about free speech, the importance of empathy, and the bitter consequences of long-buried secrets.

In 2009, eighty-five-year-old art professor Ludka Zeilonka gets drawn into a political firestorm when her grandson, Tommy, is among a group of gay Massachusetts teachers fired for allegedly silencing Christian kids in high school classrooms. The ensuing battle to reinstate the teachers raises the specter of Ludka's World War II past - a past she's spent a lifetime trying to forget.

Radio host Warren Meck has been leading the Massachusetts campaign to root out anti-religious bias in public schools - but he believes in working respectfully within the political system, so he's alarmed and offended when his efforts are undermined by someone inciting violent action. Even worse, he fears the culprit is among his inner circle.

As Ludka's influential family defends Tommy under increasingly vicious conditions, a stranger with connections to her past shows up and threatens to expose her for illegally hoarding a valuable painting presumed stolen by the Nazis. Only one other person knew about the painting - a man Ludka's been trying to find for sixty years.

1
The Roslan

In her favorite gallery of the Baldwin Museum in Hampshire, Massachusetts, Ludka Zeilonka spun around to face her honors class, fast enough that one of the young men gasped. She staggered backward and flung out an arm, ostensibly to make a sweeping introduction to Alexander Roslan's most famous painting—Prelude, 1939—but in truth to brace a hand against the wall to avoid falling. Ludka was keenly aware of how she appeared to others, not because she was vain or insecure, but because she was long accustomed to the consequences of casting particular impressions. In this case—a dazzling and hip, if ancient and somewhat tough professor.

In a stage whisper too loud for the museum, she demanded that they tell her what they see. This was unfair. She wanted them to see what wasn't in the painting: legible signage, playful children, well-stocked grocers' bins, churches, and eye contact among the ordinary people going about their lives. On loan from the...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Dempsey's choice to imbue her characters with motives ranging the gamut from light to dark creates a fine literary chiaroscuro that enriches the reading experience. I truly enjoyed This is How it Begins' timely examination of the disturbing potential for desecularization of our Democracy.   (Reviewed by Donna Chavez).

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Media Reviews

Booklist

Dempsey's fine first novel [is] notable for the evenhanded way it addresses hot-button issues. The result is a timely and memorable story.

Kirkus Reviews

A gripping and sensitive portrait of ordinary people wrestling with ideological passions.

Foreword Reviews

Starred Review. In a time when religious liberty is on trial, [this] is an extraordinarily pertinent novel dripping in suspense and powerful scenes of political discourse … a must-read.

Author Blurb Lily King, author of the award-winning national bestseller Euphoria
Beautifully written, This Is How It Begins wrestles with the fundamental questions of our existence on this earth together. An ambitious and moving debut novel.

Author Blurb Matthew Goodman, New York Times bestselling author of Eighty Days: Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland's History-Making Race Around the World
In this remarkable novel, Joan Dempsey brings together contemporary America and Holocaust-era Warsaw to tell a riveting tale of family secrets, civil rights, and the persistence of memory. Here are pastors and politicians, teachers and activists, historians and spies - all of them, on every side of the cultural divide, imbued with genuine humanity. This Is How It Beginsis an essential story for our time.

Author Blurb Eva Fogelman, PhD, author of the Pulitzer Prize nominee Conscience and Courage: Rescuers of Jews During the Holocaust
This is How It Begins superbly demonstrates the clandestine nature of rescue, and the irony that those who ought to be rewarded for their conscience and courage remain hidden, and live in fear. Reading this moving adventure compels us to bear witness to the past and present and think about our own complacency to everyday discrimination in our midst.

Author Blurb Judith Frank, author of All I Love and Know, a Lambda Literary Award Finalist
A riveting story of the clash between LGBT and fundamentalist Christian cultures, and the way its violence reawakens historical trauma, this striking debut is essential reading for our times.

Author Blurb Frank O. Smith, author of Dream Singer, a Bellwether Prize finalist
Joan Dempsey's debut novel is a compelling story that seems to rise out of the rancor of current national headlines about hate, bigotry, and intolerance. The story has deep roots in the darkness of the horrific persecution and betrayal of Jews during World War II. Twin story lines, then and now, illuminate how close we yet remain to the hellish cauldron that fear enflames.

Author Blurb Mary Rechner, author of Nine Simple Patterns for Complicated Women
Joan Dempsey's debut novel explores the limits of empathy and the unpredictability of violence. Thoughtful people who reach opposing conclusions are at the all-too-human center of This Is How It Begins, a prescient road map for our times.

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Beyond the Book

Arts, Artists and Authoritarianism

Portrait of a Young Man by RaphaelIn This is How It Begins, Ludka Zeilonka, art history professor and survivor of the World War II Nazi invasion of Poland, rescued a valuable painting from certain theft or destruction at the hands of the Germans. She has kept it hidden for over 70 years, protecting it and keeping its provenance intact for posterity. As an idealistic young art lover she knew that if the prized painting of Chopin by a famous Polish artist fell into German hands it likely would have been destroyed and thus an important link in Polish art history would be lost.

This was not an unusual occurrence. As Nazis rounded up and executed Jews, they confiscated all their possessions and either kept or sold everything of value. Jewelry, cash, and valuable antiques ...

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