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This Is How It Begins: A Novel Paperback – October 3, 2017
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“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 ....” —FOREWORD (starred review)
“… Dempsey’s fine first novel [is] notable for the evenhanded way it addresses hot-button issues. The result is a timely and memorable story.” —BOOKLIST
“A gripping and sensitive portrait of ordinary people wrestling with ideological passions.” —Kirkus Reviews
"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.” —Lily King, author of the award-winning national bestseller Euphoria
"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."
—Matthew Goodman, New York Times-bestselling author of Eighty Days: Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland's History-Making Race Around the World
"Joan Dempsey's spellbinding novel illuminates how the tides of history repeat themselves with different characters. When a group is targeted for discrimination there will be resisters and rescuers, but mostly bystanders. 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."
—Eva Fogelman, Phd is the author of the Pulitzer Prize nominee Conscience and Courage: Rescuers of Jews During the Holocaust
"Dempsey brings her characters to life with equal parts empathy and tough-mindedness, from the three generations of the Zeilonka family—refugees, artists, politicians, teachers—to the pastor and radio host striving together to remake the United States into a Christian nation. 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."
—Judith Frank, author of All I Love and Know, a Lambda Literary Award 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."
—Frank O. Smith, author of Dream Singer, a Bellwether Prize finalist
"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."
Mary Rechner, author of Nine Simple Patterns for Complicated Women
"Into these tumultuous and politically polarized times comes a beautifully wrought novel that plumbs the roots of bigotry, hatred and intolerance. This Is How It Begins makes it clear that we have been down this road before and we ignore the lessons of history at our own peril. A riveting, immensely satisfying read.” —Bill Lundgren, co-author of Becoming (Other)wise: Enhancing Critical Reading Perspectives
"This exquisitely drawn and timely novel will remind you why we have freedom of expression, ideas, sexuality and religion, and leave you wondering why we're so quick to forget the lessons of the past." —Paddy Murphy, Material Pictures
About the Author
Winner of the 2017 Maureen Egen Writers Exchange Award from Poets & Writers, New England native Joan Dempsey received an MFA and teaching certificate in creative writing from Antioch University, Los Angeles. Dempsey was the recipient of a significant research grant from the Elizabeth George Foundation for her work on This Is How It Begins.
Her writing has been published in The Adirondack Review, Alligator Juniper, Obsidian: Literature of the African Diaspora, and Plenitude Magazine, and aired on National Public Radio.
She lives in Maine with her partner and their family of animals. Find her online at joandempsey.com.
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Top customer reviews
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The author describes the characters of the story as complicated and complex. This is possibly due to the political agenda and climate in this story. The year is 2009, and a main character , Ludka Zeilonka, an 85 year old art professor gets involved in the political upset when her grandson Tommy, a gay teacher is fired. Both Ludka’s husband and son have been active in politics, and Tommy is supported by his father’s liberal support of gay rights, and also is against firing for any kind of discrimination. Tommy is only on of several gay teachers fired.
There is a Christian Right wing group that is saying it believes that Tommy has been depriving Christian believing children from learning. Radio-host Warren Meck has political aspirations and believes that his Catholic children are being deprived of the proper learning in school. Unfortunately there are riots and violence, and Warren Mack prefers using words.
Ludka has the sickening feeling of remembering during World War Two when the Nazis were oppressive. This reminds her of that. Only then Ludka had many dark secrets. One was that she rescued children before the Nazis got to them. Also Ludka had a part in trying to save the Polish Jewish people’s art that was being taken by the Nazis.
As Ludka thinks about what is happening to her grandson, someone from her past threatens her.
I appreciate that the author brings up topics such as discrimination, , gay rights, minority rights, bias, bullying, violence, betrayal, and secrets and how harmful they are. The author also discusses honesty, communicating, compromising, empathy, love, hope, family friends and community.
I would highly recommend this novel to those who appreciate Historical Fiction. I received an Advanced Reading Copy for my honest review.
The characters are vivid, intriguing, the kind you remember as if you’ve met them.
It’s been a while since I’ve had a book I was so eager to get back to every day. Joan Dempsey’s writing is both masterful and very accessible. Highly recommended.
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