Looking for Hope in the Past
by Jenna Olson Popp
I love bookstores. Walking into Barnes and Noble is one of the most calming and promising experiences, knowing that there’s thousands of pages waiting to be read and stories dying to be shared. I never walk into B&N with a specific book in mind to purchase. I walk in with one very clear goal: find books that I want to read … just as soon as I’ve finished reading the thousands of other books on my list.
So I’m what you might call a bookstore wanderer. I just walk around a bookstore, picking up books here and there to read a little about, making a list on my phone of which ones intrigue me, and then going online to read the reviews. And, then, I usually walk out with nothing but a longer “to-read” list in my pocket.
And what I’ve been struck with the past couple of times I’ve been in a bookstore is the number of books that are set in the time of World War II. To name a few of my favorites:
- The Tattooist of Auschwitz
- All the Light We Cannot See
- The Book Thief
These – and many more – are love stories, family stories, stories of humanity and connection and hope in the midst of a horrible time in history.
And I just love them. And I know I’m not the only one that loves them because they’re always on the “Best Selling Paperback” shelves, right in the front of the store. It’s like people see a novel set in war time and think, Oh, this will be so good!
How weird is that? But it’s what happens! And the more I’ve been thinking about it, the more fascinating I think it is.
A majority of those of us reading these books never lived during WWII. We don’t know the horrors personally; we only know stories and documentaries and mementos that our grandpas brought back as soldiers. And these books not only bring us into a world we’ve never known, but they also transport us to a time and world with layers beyond the visible.
The concentration camp wasn’t the only story because Lale fell in love with Gita. (The Tattooist of Auschwitz)
The occupation of a blind young girl’s home wasn’t the only story because there was an uncle looking out for her safety. (All the Light We Cannot See)
The burning of books wasn’t the only story because that’s where Liesel found free books to read. (The Book Thief)
As humans, we are naturally drawn to light. We need stories of faith and courage to propel us forward, to reframe challenging times in our lives. After difficult times, we look back to see the hope of the past, in expectation that it will give us strength to continue.
We are about to embark on a Lenten journey, a time when we often draw nearer to the darkness, the heaviness, the brokenness of ourselves and the world.
But as we do this, I am reminded by my walks through the bookstores that this darkness – this brokenness, this sin – is not the only story. This Lenten story is like picking up a WWII novel, knowing the death and tragedy the journey will lead us on, but searching expectantly for the light and life.
We are about to walk toward the cross – the deepest depth of darkness. But we know that the death the cross bore is not the only story.