Most of us have a catalog of photos in our minds from an endless variety of things in our personal stories or iconic photos that we can “see” without even closing our eyes. Examples of the latter include scenes of military men and women leaving or returning from overseas duties. Most of us recall the iconic 1945 photo capturing a sailor kissing a nurse on V-J Day in New York City. It’s appeared multiple times on magazine covers and news stories. There are other photos as well that do not paint as much celebration and none of them really can capture the stories of those in the scenes on film.
Lynn Austin’s newly released historical novel, Long Way Home, gives us a sense of such stories from World War II as she writes a story of a medic whose heart of compassion and strong faith saved more than a few on the battlefield after D-Day, but suffered the impact of the horrors he saw on those battlefields and in the uncovered concentration camps.
Jim Barnett was preparing to become a veterinarian and join his dad’s practice until WW II came along. His actions impacted the lives of many, but the toll was to fall prey to what was then described as battle fatigue after years of those horrors and freeing those held in the concentration camp of Buchenwald including a young woman named Gisela. When he returned to his home in upstate New York he was a shell of his former self, lost in the darkness he had sought to fight against.
Austin’s research reminds us of the unseen wounds that linger in those who battle on behalf of others, reminding the reader that one out of every twenty soldiers returning from WW II suffered from what is now called post-traumatic stress disorder. At that time there was little understanding and treatment subjected veterans to electroshock, insulin therapy, water therapy and surgical lobotomies.
Long Way Home lets us see how Jim Barnett’s faith in God was shattered through what he saw as well as how Gisela’s Jewish faith was also deadened. But one young friend, Peggy, whom Jim had shown kindness to and led her to faith, refused to give up on Jim when the doctors seeking to treat him wanted to use the painful and negative treatments available at the time. “Peggety” as Jim had called her was on a mission to save Jim along with Buster, the three-legged dog Jim had once helped save.
Again, and again the story grapples with the question of why God didn’t intervene or choose to spare the Jewish people and the millions of others whose lives were destroyed in any number of ways, why nation after nation closed their eyes and doors to the atrocities happening in Europe to the Jewish people. And how the care and compassion and faith of some result in a better understanding.
“The war and everything else that happened is because of what people chose, not God. He put us in charge of the earth. We’re responsible for it and each other. Even before America entered the war, there were reports of what the Nazis were doing to the Jews, yet no one did a thing. God doesn’t control us like puppets and make us do what we should. Ever since Adam and Eve, He lets us live with our own choices.”Lynn Austin
Long Way Home reminds us of powerful truths relevant for all of us today in a story that will capture your heart and keep you turning page after page to the end and offer many lessons each of us can glean from.
“If He was loving and all-powerful, why did He allow such suffering? Was He powerless to stop it? It was as if those bombs blew up our belief system when it clashed with reality. Of course, the spiritual realm is invisible. God’s actions behind the scenes are invisible. So all we had to rely on was what we were seeing. But our enemy wasn’t just the Nazis. Satan’s ploy is to spread evil throughout the world and let it drive a wedge between us and God. His evil is most painful and dangerous when it seems purposeless to us. When we can’t see how God can possibly bring anything good from it…
The only light we’ll ever have in this dark world comes from God, If we turn away from Him, we’re left with darkness and despair.”Lynn Austin