“My father told me once that we are on earth to learn. God wants us to receive everything that life was meant to teach. Then we take what we’ve learned, and it becomes our offering to God and to mankind. But we have to live in order to learn. And sometimes we have to fight in order to live.”
On Christmas Eve my mother handed me my gift and inside the christmas wrapping lay From Sand and Ash by Amy Harmon. I immediately hugged my mom, she’s the one I inherited my love for reading from, and thanked her. I had been wanting to read this novel by Amy Harmon for a long time and finally From Sand and Ash found its way to me.
Now, I do want to say that this post is going to get a little personal. If you don’t want to read this long post then let me give this short review: I loved this. I absolutely loved this and there are two words I want to say to Amy Harmon that I don’t think capture the gratitude and depth of emotion I feel after finishing this story: thank you. From the bottom of my heart, thank you for writing this. From Sand and Ash is beautiful, its tragic, its bitter, brutal and yet it is filled with incredible hope. I whole-heartedly recommend this story to everyone. I feel like saying “this is a 5 star read” is so trivial compared to what this book represents but for the sake of a short mini review, this is a 5 star read. The writing is amazing, the story breathtaking, and the characters are so vividly real that it will break your heart.
I’m a deeply faithful person. It’s just who I am. I have never, not once in my life, doubted that God exists. I know He is real. He has shown me His love through the people He has blessed me with. He gave me a beautiful mother, a strong father, a wonderful family, and loving friends. Even when the world is angry, broken, and sad I have always felt His presence. I know He is there. Watching. Loving. Healing.
My faith is who I am. I can’t imagine what it would be like if someone tried to take that away from me. If I was tortured for it. Killed for it. Ridiculed for it. Persecuted for it. Unfortunately, even though I can’t imagine what that would be like, there are many who lived it. Many who still live it today. Amy Harmon wrote a story about a few of those who lived through such intimate persecution.
“I never really thought about being Jewish until I started to be persecuted for it.”
From Sand and Ash is the story of Angelo and Eva, a Catholic priest and Jewish girl trying to survive the horror of WWII while remaining steadfast in their belief of God. The story starts out with showing us a beautiful blended family. Their beautiful life in Italy and the slow, insidious way that life was hatefully ripped from them.
Eva was like me. She could not imagine a world where someone would try to take her faith from her. She heard rumors, heard the news being passed from mouth to nervous ears of what was happening in Germany but she never thought it could happen to her. In her country. In her home. Yet, laws were passed. Little by little Jews had their dignity stripped from them. And then it came. The rumors became real life monsters dressed in Nazi clothing.
“The longer he remained on this earth, the more sure he was that mankind had no clue about God or heaven. Not when they used him as an excuse to kill, to punish, to discriminate.”
This above quote really hit me straight in the heart. My faith teaches me to be kind, tender, loving, and vulnerable. I will never understand how someone can make God into a weapon. His love into a killing machine. Yet, that’s what happened during WWII. Hitler turned faith into a target. Into a sniper. Into gas chambers. Faith was manipulated to achieve evil.
What makes this book even more devastating is hindsight. We all know what happened in WWII. We know the work camps were death camps. However, for Eva and her family, they didn’t know. They just knew rumors. Therefore when someone was taken, we as the reader know what that means. Yet, Eva and her people didn’t know. They wanted to believe that the camps were just temporary. That they would be worked until exhaustion until the war was over. But we know that those camps were not temporary, nor were they meant to be.
“Three years and no word whether he lived or died. The only word they’d learned was Auschwitz. It sounded like a sneeze. Harmless. But when it was whispered among the fearful it became something else, the Grim Reaper come to call, the Black Plague. There were only rumors, but the rumors were enough to make some Jews flee with nothing but the clothes on their backs, looking for a hiding place.”
Amy Harmon didn’t hold back while writing this. I’ll be honest, sometimes this book was extremely difficult to read. There were moments that absolutely gutted me and disturbed me. Yet, there’s this single thread of hope, of light, that runs through the story that was utterly beautiful. I believe it takes great talent for a writer to be able to illustrate many emotions but especially hope during such tragic events.
There’s this quote that circulates the internet when tragedy strikes on earth. A quote about looking for the helpers. When there’s tragedy, when there are people dying and hurting, always look for the helpers because they’re always there.
From Sand and Ash shines a light on the helpers. On the countless Jewish people who held strong and resilient in the face of evil. On the Catholic nuns and priests who stepped up and sheltered those who faced detainment and deportation to concentration camps. On those that did what they could to ensure that lives would be saved…even if it was just one life.
“Our immortality comes through our children and their children. Through our roots and our branches. The family is immortality. And Hitler has destroyed not just branches and roots, but entire family trees, forests! All of them, gone…”
“You have saved and preserved so many branches, Angelo,” he said in a choked whisper.
Angelo Bianco was one of the helpers. He was a priest who hid as many Jewish people as he could. We meet Angelo when he’s young and first moves to Italy. He finds a home with Eva and her family and later he becomes the man who Eva loves.
“I danced around him for years, trying to get his attention, wanting only to see him smile.”
Angelo had to grow up without his parents. Not having a solid foundation can build a shaky man, but that did not happen to Angelo. He allowed himself to be loved and cared for by Eva and her family, and especially by God.
Angelo has to be one of my favorite characters ever written. There was so much about him that I resonated deeply with. Reading about him, the way he found his path to God, it reminded me of myself. See, I love to read because I believe the books that speak the most to us are the ones that have pieces of ourselves reflected in them. The same with music, we find artists who speak to us through their lyrics. Who sing about things we can relate too. Angelo understood that about art and one day he happened to stumble upon a piece of art that resonated so deeply within him it altered the course of his life.
He’d been thirteen when Saint George had spoken to him. Not audibly. Angelo wasn’t a fool or a seer. But Saint George had spoken to him, all the same.
…gazing up at the statue as Saint George stared off into an ancient distance with an innocence that belied his armor and a fearlessness that contradicted the concerned slant of his brows. His eyes were wide and clear, his back was straight, and he faced the approaching threat with steadiness, though he barely looked old enough to wield a sword.
“Help me, San Giorgio,” he said aloud, hoping the heavens were listening. “Help me to face what is to come.”
Art inspires us. It can motivate us. It can heal us. And it can remind us. Which is why I’m so thankful that Amy Harmon wrote this story. Angelo and Eva may be fictional, but the trauma they faced was not.
It is important to remember the events that led to the Holocaust, it is important to remember the Holocaust itself, and it is important to listen to the stories that are still being told today about the Holocaust. History is there so we can learn from it.
“Camillo always said we are on earth to learn. I think I want to teach. I want to teach history so that the world doesn’t have to repeat her mistakes.”
There are so many things that I want to talk about. So many aspects of life that Amy Harmon wrote about: the loss of innocence, the impact of art, faith, losing faith and gaining it back even stronger, family, fear, loss, death, birth. Love.
The love story between Angelo and Eva was beautiful. Tender. Gentle. Heartbreaking.
She knew every verse , but it was one line that made Angelo’s throat close and his eyes smart. Ah, how much it costs you, your loving me. Ah, how much it costs you, your loving me.”
How could something so gentle cause him to crumble?
With the same knowledge that God exists, quietly as that may be, both Angelo and Eva knew without a doubt the love they had for each other. My heart was slowly breaking with every interaction knowing that the moments of light they created were always threatened to be eclipsed by the hate surrounding them. However, their love was the spark of light that kept them going. Kept them breathing. Kept them fighting. They never thought about dying for each other, but they always thought about living for each other and that is the truest form of love.
If you’ve read this entire essay, thank you. This was basically just me purging the emotions I feel after reading this novel. It’s heavy and I will probably be feeling this story for days to come.
“We can cause pain, but we can so seldom cure it.”
Honestly, I thought about putting this novel down and thought about reading something happier to start my new year with but I knew that was impossible. Once you start reading this, you won’t be able to stop. And I’m glad this was the book that called to me for the start of the new year. 2017 was hard for many people for various reasons. But going into 2018 I want to show more kindness. Be more steadfast in my faith for God. Read more books like this one.
I want to end this post with a quote from Amy Harmon from her Author’s note that spoke a truth I believe in:
Like Angelo, I believe that God is quiet. But he is not blind or impartial in the affairs of man. I don’t know his mysteries, and like Eva, I’m not convinced anyone does. But I am grateful to know him to the extent that I do, to feel his love and influence in my life, and to walk quietly with him as best I can.
Amazon link: From Sand and Ash by Amy Harmon