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Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2013 10:42 am

Journey of a lifetime

Through Time and Space, $15, by Sarah Hathaway Thomas, 2013. Available from Prairie Archives, The Sly Fox in Virden and Amazon.com.

In Through Time and Space, Sarah Hathaway Thomas’ new book, “time” refers to stories of World War II – her parents, aunts, a childhood chum – and brings us to recent time with adventures in China. “Space” stretches from her native Springfield to Germany, the Orient and points between.

The first of the book’s five sections gives us a German girl’s survival through the Nazi years: Trudi’s separation from her family, her escape on a worn bicycle, sleeping in woods and abandoned houses, distrust of both American and Russian liberators. The story is gripping, well worth telling, and confirms what another German civilian told me (hard as it is to believe): that ordinary citizens were not aware that the work camps for their Jewish friends were really extermination sites. Trudi, though a citizen, was herself in a forced labor camp. Thomas knows this story for she pressed her nephew’s mother-in-law to tell it.

Thomas’s father, Benjamin P. Thomas, is next featured. He was a noted Lincoln scholar; Abraham Lincoln: A Biography was highly esteemed, and headed the New York Times best seller list for many weeks. Michael Burlingame has written an introduction to another Lincoln work by Thomas. This chapter is unique in that it contains much information on Thomas, but also his biography written by his wife, and annotated by his daughter. It ends with accounts of Sarah Thomas and her siblings’ relationship with their father.

We meet more family in stories of Thomas’s aunts, both graduates of Smith, who chose to live in Springfield in the family home and direct their energies into philanthropic works.

Much of Thomas’s childhood is revealed through adventures with a close friend, who led imaginative activities, while young Sarah followed. Today’s kids with electronic games should take note, to realize the vast playground of reality so many are missing. When the friend moves away, the young Thomas realizes she needn’t always be a follower. She has served her apprenticeship.

The book rounds out with Thomas’ China journal, about teaching children English as a second language. This is through a long-running program that rotates English-speaking volunteers, teamed with Chinese teachers. With children now required to know English, Thomas finds her students more advanced than she’d expected. She adjusts her exercises to be more hefty. Again, American children might well be interested in a Chinese school day – and amused that much of the schoolchildren’s knowledge of America comes from an ancient Tom and Jerry cartoon! The visiting teachers’ schedules are such that (after a “culture lesson” by their hosts) there’s time for sightseeing and sampling unfamiliar, but usually tasty, food.

Thomas dedicates the book to her children and grandchildren “so they will remember me.” Here, often on the sidelines, she tells of others – friends, aunts, the smoggy Great Wall. While this book reveals something of herself, it’s more an introduction. For her next work, we suggest more of (though some is already here) the richness of her thoughts and views, more stories that glimpse into her soul.

Jacqueline Jackson is a retired UIS Professor of English and an author. Her latest works are The Round Barn, A Biography of an American Farm, Volumes 1 and 2.

Books at the Iles House

At the Iles House on Saturday, Oct. 26, 2 p.m., Sarah Thomas will be reading from her book, will have books for sale and will sign books.

Sponsored by the Iles House Foundation, this is the inaugural event in a new program of book signings for local authors who have produced work pertaining to central Illinois. The afternoon will also include a program on Dan Guillory’s Historic Homes and their Untold Stories.

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