Thief of Glory

Aug 1, 2023 | Book Reviews

For years I read snippets about author Sigmund Brouwer and his books in my Calvin College alumni magazine, The Spark. I kept thinking I ought to read something of his. After all, we had things in common. We overlapped at Calvin (though we never met), we’re both authors (though he’s much more prolific), and we both have Dutch roots (though his run through Canada and mine through Michigan). 

Well, this year I finally read one of his books after a friend recommended Thief of Glory. Whew! It’s a vivid, gut-wrenching story about a Japanese internment camp in the Dutch East Indies in the 1940s. It’s part of what Sigmund’s own father endured as a boy growing up there.

Though reading this World War II story was my first introduction to this author, it’s a mere portal into the expansive world of his books which include Biblical fiction, westerns, mysteries, thrillers, fantasy, sports stories, and non-fiction for adults, young adults, and children. Check out his 100-plus books here—all the titles and book covers grouped by genre. 

Besides that mountain of work, Sigmund has a passion for inspiring youth. It’s based on the premise that “the love of writing begins and ends with the love of story.” 

Therefore, it follows that:

  • Story can connect child to teacher
  • Story can teach reading and writing
  • Anyone can enjoy a story
  • Anyone can create a story
  • Anyone can revise a story

Sigmund takes his philosophy and enthusiasm to schools for workshops via his Rock and Roll Literacy Show to get kids excited about reading and writing.

Thief of Glory (2014) has been acknowledged in both America and Canada. It was selected as the Book of the Year for the Christy Awards (2015) and was a winner of Alberta’s Readers Choice Awards.

WaterBrook (August, 2014)

Back Cover Blurb

A boy coming of age in a time of war…the love that inspires him to survive.

For ten year-old Jeremiah Prins, a life of privilege as the son of a school headmaster in the Dutch East Indies comes crashing to a halt in 1942. When the Japanese Imperialist army invades the Southeast Pacific, and his father and older stepbrothers are separated from the rest of the family, Jeremiah takes on the responsibility of caring for his younger siblings. But he is surprised by what life in the camp reveals about his frail, troubled mother—a woman he barely knows.

Amidst starvation, brutality, sacrifice and generosity, Jeremiah draws on all of his courage and cunning to fill in the gap his father and brothers left behind. Life in the camps is made more tolerable as Jeremiah’s boyhood infatuation with his close friend Laura deepens into a friendship from which they both draw strength.

When the darkest sides of humanity threaten to overwhelm Jeremiah and Laura, they reach for God’s light and grace, shining through his people. Time and war will test their fortitude and the only thing that will bring them safely to the other side is the most enduring bond of all.


My Thoughts

Ten-year-old Jeremiah Prins says his father’s job was “not to prepare the path for us, but to prepare us for the path” (p 28). That he did.

But nobody could have predicted the horrors along that path, ones that followed Jeremiah across the decades from the Dutch East Indies to America and later impacted his daughter Rachel, too. Not just horrors inflicted on him and his family, but those wrought by choices he was forced to make for his family’s well-being.

The fallout is still occurring decades later as the story unfolds through the vantage point of a much older Jeremiah reflecting on the 1940s and trying to make sense of it all. 

My only ventures into World War II fiction have been set in Europe or the United States. Other than watching The Bridge over the River Kwai and reading a story set in Burma, I knew little about the Southeast Pacific in 1942 when the Japanese invaded. Learning about this Japanese takeover in Asia was eye-opening. The atrocities echoed those in Nazi-occupied places. Besides shoving multiple families into one house, dictating food rations, and working people to the bone, leaders severely punished any perceived disrespect from children by beating their mothers. 

Living as Dutch colonists in the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia), young Jeremiah has  to grow up before his time when thrust into a Japanese internment camp, as gruesome  as German concentration camps. When the Japanese take his father and older step-brothers away to work as slaves, Jeremiah takes charge of his younger brother Pietje and twin sisters—plus his pregnant and mentally unstable mother Elsbeth who experiences periods of darkness. Jeremiah rises to the occasion as the protector and provider in his dad’s place.

Overnight, life turns from luxurious comfort to a daily struggle for survival. Jeremiah’s father, the school’s headmaster, is suddenly gone. So is food, water, privacy, free time, and education, replaced by harshness and deprivation. 

One thing remains—Jeremiah’s marble collection which grows through savvy and skill, bearing a brief, periodic semblance to carefree childhood. Other than that, normal life only happens outside the fenced-in camp. Playing marbles turns from hobby to a livelihood of sorts. Resourceful Jeremiah learns to barter for things needed in camp. 

He and Laura Jansen, the love of his young life, encounter frightening adventures when trying to trade for food and medicine outside the camp. He loves her in all the best ways a ten-year-old boy knows how—with a fierce sense of protection while also fighting off his nemesis, Georgie Smith. 

Jeremiah grew up learning to never cry or fear anything, and to never initiate a fight—lessons from his father. Despite Jeremiah’s savvy, I didn’t always appreciate his interactions. But I had to remember he was only ten and still thought like a child. Any immature actions were believable and true to form. But to his credit, with the yoke of early adulthood pressing, he took many risks for the sake of helping his family and others survive. He developed more courage than a person might normally expect to possess in the face of brutality.

The camp horrors are compounded by not being able to trust appearances. Families who needed to band together caused additional strife when at odds. Fortunately, Laura’s grandma Sophia, Dr. Elkinboom, and others have a strong faith that also promotes unity.

“We are all children of God,
and it is not how we treat each other in good times
that allows us to demonstrate His love,
but in times like this.” — Dr. Eikenboom to Jeremiah,  p 90

But again, there are choices you never think you’ll have to face. That’s why the ending blew me away.

This isn’t an easy read. I couldn’t read this book at night, but it was worth my while. It’s worth yours, too. But I recommend sandwiching it between two lighthearted ones.

Join me for some Q & A with Sigmund Brouwer.

Author Sigmund Brouwer

Questions about Thief of Glory

Your father’s experience growing up in the Dutch East Indies during World War II is the starting point for Thief of Glory. What inspired you to write this as a fictionalized memoir? What was the most challenging part of telling this story?

My father was absolutely the inspiration for the novel. He never talked about his experiences as a boy growing up in the internment camp. So I began reading accounts from other survivors, and used what I learned there to ask questions about what it had been like for him. 

He was in his seventies at the time, and after initial reluctance, he began to share his memories. I’m glad I recorded many of those conversations on video; he’s no longer with us, and it’s wonderful to have those videos now.

How did you develop your hero Jeremiah Prins and the situations he faced?

I’m not sure I can remember my father ever complaining about anything. Nor, it seemed, did he come from a generation of Dutch who shared their feelings or showed emotion. This was the starting point for Jeremiah.

I begin nearly every story by throwing a problem at my character. I believe that character development — like real life — comes from how someone reacts to problems. And in fiction, every scene must contain tension. (I remember my high school English all so well. ‘Human vs. Self, vs. Man, vs. Society, vs. Nature, vs. Technology, and vs. Fate–or the Supernatural.) So each new scene is a chance to learn more about the characters, both as a writer and a reader.

I rarely start with any kind of theme in mind. Instead, I try to make the stories as compelling as possible, but that’s only possible if readers like spending time with the characters.

Which historical parameters were imposed on you? Where did you have to fill in the gaps with your imagination?

I read dozens of non-fiction titles, from Dutch history to World War Two Pacific theatre to  Japanese military history to survivors accounts. All of this, including what I learned from my father, meant that I could easily stay within the historical parameters and explore the stories through the characters facing what they did in the fictional internment camp.

I’d never read any World War II books set in the Dutch East Indies until I read yours. What unusual thing did you do or discover while researching for this book? 

It was all new to me as well, since nearly all the stories about World War Two that I’d read seemed to take place in Europe. That’s why I was grateful for all the research I did to give me a better understanding of what my father faced as a boy. As well, it was illuminating to learn the history of the Dutch East Indies, and the freedoms that the Indonesians demanded for themselves after the war ended.

What advice do you have for people who want to write a memoir?

I’m definitely not the first to suggest this, but I think it’s important to share because it allows the author of a memoir to explore more fully their memories and how it impacted them. In short, a memoir is not meant to be written as a non-fiction piece where everything must be factually perfect. Instead, it’s a way to share their perspectives on the events of their lives and use dialogue, setting and character descriptions to make it feel like a fictional read while conveying essential truths about the situations described.

Questions about writing

What books have been most influential for you as an author?

The first 150 titles in the Hardy Boys series! Beginning with The Tower Treasure, I was hooked very early on the pleasure that books give when they deliver stories. So I tend to focus on story first — the intersection of characters facing problems — and less so on the fabric of the writing that delivers those stories.

You’ve written so many genres (historical fiction, Biblical fiction, speculative, mystery, adventure, thriller, both standalone and series) for numerous audiences (children, teen, YA, and adult). Do you have a favorite genre or audience?

Keeping in mind the influence of the Hardy Boys, I think it’s safe to say that for the most part, I write mysteries, but with different settings from historical to sports to futuristic. Thief of Glory is an exception to that, and I think that’s because the story was so personal to me.  In fact, Thief of Glory is my favourite, because it honours the memory of my father.

What prompted you to write Biblical fiction? 

The pedantic side of me can’t help but ponder the contraction in the term ‘Biblical fiction’! With The Weeping Chamber and The Last Disciple series I did as much research as possible to understand the historical context presented in the true stories delivered in the Bible, and then imagine stories with main characters in that setting. Those were written for an adult audience. I’d love the chance to do the same for a younger audience, but I’m not sure that publishers would see a large market for this.

Where do your story ideas usually originate from—character, plot, setting, theme, or a combination? Share examples of how a story grew from an initial idea.

Usually, I’ll start with a setting, whether sports or a historical era, and do as much research as possible. As I’m doing the research, I’ll run into an idea or situation that intrigues me, and build from there.

You’ve written so many books. Which of your books is the best introduction to Sigmund Brouwer for a new reader? Name one adult book and one children’s book.

Thanks for the question!

If I had a chance to pitch readers one of my grown up novels, it would be Saffire, which is set during the building of the Panama Canal, and based on extensive correspondence from a man named T. S. Miskomen, who reported to the head of the project. I spent hours in archives reading those letters, and marveled that a hundred years later, I could hold the actual papers that came from his typewriter. I hope readers would like the interplay between the main character — a laconic cowboy — and the detailed and precise Miskomen.

As for a book for children, Dead Man’s Switch. Many of my children’s books are written with simple vocabulary and sentence structure to be accessible to reluctant readers. With DMS, however, I decided on a different audience and tried to make it much more nuanced and sophisticated. 

What was the impetus for starting Rock & Roll Literacy? How did you get that off the ground?

When my first books were published, I was invited by school librarians for author presentations. I discovered immediately how fun it was to try to engage the kids with stories as a way to make any of my teaching points, and it grew from there. At first, I’d speak to a couple of classrooms in the library, and then it grew to gym assemblies with all the students. It’s been thirty years of about 200 presentations a year to schools across North America.

How does the Rock & Roll Literary program work? What are some of your most memorable and/or rewarding times visiting a school?

Naturally, I love it when I hear that a child has gone from reluctant to engaged reader after a presentation that helps them understand it’s not about reading books, it’s about reading stories.

However, the only reason that happens is because of all the work that the teachers in their lives have devoted to helping the child learn how to decode the symbols of the alphabet into thoughts. It wasn’t until I started visiting schools that I realized how dedicated teachers are, and the more support we can give them, the better.  

During the Covid years, I had no choice but to learn how to be a virtual presenter, with the silver lining that I no longer need to travel to have a chance to use the power of story to hook kids on reading. 

Now that schools are open to visitors again, I now spend two days a week with my virtual program at, and three days a week visiting schools.

What does a session with you during Rock and Roll Literacy look like? What do you DO with the kids during an assembly?

When I’m at a school for Rock and Roll Literacy, I make a few main points, and the foundation is this: humans connect through the heart. 

We always remember how people make us feel. I argue that great songs grab your feelings, and it’s the same for great stories. (My goal is first and foremost to engage a reader emotionally.)

For kids, I point out that we mess with people through feelings, so their job is to come up with stories to mess with their teachers. I think that motivation matters in any endeavor, and if we can give kids a reason to write, it’s a lot more fun for them. In short, I suggest they should come up with a story to make a teacher giggle or groan or to scare a teachers. As long as the story is appropriate!

With this in mind, I use stories and music to prove those points, which means that first and foremost, the stories and music engages the student audience emotionally and makes it a lot more fun for me and for them than if I were simply presenting teaching points.

Please share something about a current project or the direction you want to go as an author.

After graduation from Savannah College of Art and Design with a degree in film and television, my daughter pitched Thief of Glory to a management company in Los Angeles, where she now lives. So she and I have been signed up as a team to co-write the screenplay of Thief of Glory. It’s a joy to be able to work with her, and a lot of fun exploring a new way of writing as a way to deliver a story. We are definitely exploring other screenwriting projects.

Do you have any advice for aspiring novelists?

Focus on making sure your readers will have an emotional response to every scene they read. Humans connect through the heart.


Back to Laura . . . On a similar note . . . 

If you like historical fiction, Southern fiction, or stories about family secrets and small town dynamics, you might enjoy my re-launched novel All That Is Hidden. Set near North Carolina’s Smoky Mountains in 1968, the story spotlights the bond of family and the connections of a tight-knit community. Northern exploitation threatens as a father’s hidden past catches up to him and tests family ties. Learn more and watch the trailer here.

All That Is Hidden awards:

  • Winner of the Artisan Book Reviews Book Excellence Award
  • Semifinalist in Serious Writer’s Book of the Decade contest

If you like dual timeline fiction, you might enjoy my novel, Fifteen Minutes with Mr. Baum. This story spotlights L. Frank Baum, author of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Set in Holland, Michigan, this pre-published novel alternates between 1980 and the early 1900s. The story is rooted in a girl’s childhood friendship with Baum and shows his impact over the decades. Read more and watch the book trailer here.

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Sigmund Brouwer Bio

Sigmund Brouwer writes for both children and adults. In the last ten years, he has given writing workshops to students in schools from the Arctic Circle to inner city Los Angeles. One of the writers in Orca’s Seven series, he has published well over 100 books for kids, from YA fiction to picture books to nonfiction, with over four million books in print. He has won the Christy Book of the Year for Thief of Glory and the Arthur Ellis award for best juvenile mystery in Canada. Sigmund lives in Red Deer, Alberta. For more information, visit and his website


Join me next time for another visit with Pepper Basham.

Meanwhile, have you read Thief of Glory or anything by Sigmund Brouwer? Have you read any World War II fiction set in East Asia? Answer in the comments below.

Ever reading,


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  1. Anita Klumpers

    Wow. So many books, so many genres, so much grace! At least that’s how he comes across in your interview. Which was excellent, by the way.
    Like you, I was at Calvin about the same time but maybe he didn’t live in Knollcrest East in 1976? AKA No Rest East.
    Like his father, the dad of one of my roommates was also in a Japanese internment camp (I’m remembering he said Indonesia?) He cooked
    Indonesian food for us when I went to New Jersey with her on spring break.

    Will I be able to read “Thief of Glory?” We’ll see. It might be too intense for me. But I have to learn to temper my empathetic tendencies with reminders of how important it is to read people’s Hard (capital H) stories. Even if it is hard for my emotions.

    Will I check out some of his other books? Yep!

    • Laura DeNooyer

      Fascinating that you got to meet your roommate’s dad while he cooked Indonesian food for you. Did he tell you any stories?

      • Anita Klumpers

        He was a delightful Dutchman with a heavy accent yet, and told us…a bit. If I remember, he was a cook in the camp?
        I wish I remember more. I should ask my old roommate to share some. I hadn’t realized the the Dutch were placed in prison camps. I need to do more research!

  2. Elizabeth Daghfal

    So many thoughts from this one interview!! Not sure how to put them all down as they’re tripping over each other in my mind. But first, while I haven’t read this story yet, it sounds like I’d agree with you, Laura–that it needs to be sandwiched between some light reads. I know when I read Unbroken, I’d get to a spot where I had to put the book down to process the evil of man.
    And yes! Nothing Beats a Great Story! I love his statements that story connects us, speaks to us, helps us see truth lived out in life.
    I love his teaching idea in the schools–reading stories helps kids see the world through others’ eyes–I think we’d have a more empathetic, less selfish society if we had more readers. And a tangent to that thought, I’ve heard it said that one reason our American society spends so much time on our current arguments is because we don’t know what it’s like to actually live the hard life of the rest of the world. They don’t have time to argue about the topics we debate. They’re just trying to stay alive.
    All that to say, I hope to read this book one day. But maybe I’ll start with his biblical fiction first. I can’t wait to see how all his research impacted his writing!!!
    Thanks again for introducing us to such a great storyteller.

    • Laura DeNooyer

      I’m with you regarding Unbroken, Elizabeth. That was a tough read, but oh, so good.
      I completely agree about the connection between reading stories and developing empathy. I don’t know a better way to teach empathy other than to drop people directly into such circumstances to experience them firsthand. Reading and engaging with fiction by vicariously walking in someone else’s shoes is the 2nd best way.

  3. Laura Dritlein

    I like Sigmund Brouwer’s advice to kids to, “mess with people through feelings, so their job is to come up with stories to mess with their teachers.” This advice, plus, “Focus on making sure your readers will have an emotional response to every scene they read,” are bits I will carry with me for my writing. So, thank you for them.
    I have not read Thief of Glory, but I would like to. I did read The German Girl in which a family attempts to escape the Nazis by going overseas. I don’t want to give any spoilers, so I’ll leave it at that. Because that story also took place outside of Europe, it opened my eyes to the war happening on so many fronts.
    It doesn’t sound like Sigmund’s father had an opportunity to read this book, but I’d wager he would have appreciated the story being told.

    • Laura DeNooyer

      Yes, those are definitely good pieces of advice! The emotional connection is everything.
      It’s amazing how many countries were touched by World War II, beyond Europe and the U.S. Reading quite a few WWII books over the past two years has opened my eyes to just how far-reaching its effects were.

  4. Rita Trickel

    What an articulate and inspiring interview, Laura. I stopped and thought about so many of Sigmund’s comments:

    “Focus on making sure your readers will have an emotional response to every scene they read. Humans connect through the heart.”

    “…we mess with people through feelings, so their job is to come up with stories to mess with their teachers. I think that motivation matters in any endeavor… In short, I suggest they should come up with a story to make a teacher giggle or groan or to scare a teachers.”

    “I begin nearly every story by throwing a problem at my character. I believe that character development — like real life — comes from how someone reacts to problems.”

    “Naturally, I love it when I hear that a child has gone from reluctant to engaged reader after a presentation that helps them understand it’s not about reading books, it’s about reading stories.”

    I love these comments, not just for consideration in the context of stories, writing, and reading, but also for the context of the lives we’re living out—and fiction that resonates in some way with the lives we’re living out generally is the most immersive fiction for me.

    • Laura DeNooyer

      I’m so glad these insights resonated with you, Rita! They did with me, too.


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