I was fortunate to be an advance reader for Joan Dempsey’s This Is How It Begins, a novel about an eighty-five-year-old Polish American art professor, Ludka Zeilonka, her family, students, and a mysterious man whose memory has haunted her for sixty years.
The story, set in 2009, but with skillfully written bits of backstory, grabbed me by page four and never let up. Without slowing the pace, Dempsey takes the time to create multi-dimensional characters, as well as a strong sense of place and setting. Somehow, she has created characters and situations that could easily be defined as “good” or “bad,” without imparting judgment or suggesting to the reader how they should feel. Just the opposite; I found myself challenging my own tendency to see things as black or white. Besides entertaining us, the author’s uncanny ability to expose truly awful modern-day and World War II injustices, and yet remain unbiased, has kept me thinking about this story long after I finished reading it.
I recommend this book to anyone, regardless of the genre they might normally read. I’m normally a consumer of mystery/thrillers but This Is How It Begins has elements of literary fiction, historical fiction, modern-day political and social issues—and yes, it has a compelling mystery to it!
I am thrilled that This Is How It Begins has been accepted as a must-read for our book club this year!