Book review

The Bowl with Gold Seams

Author Ellen Prentiss Campbell

Broken pieces when put together make something more beautiful than the original.” – Unknown

The Japanese believe that broken pottery should be mended – as the breaking of the item is an integral part of its history. Kintsugi is an art form that consists of using a lacquer resin mixed with powdered precious metals – often gold as portrayed in this story – to form a paste that highlights, instead of hides, the pottery’s flaws.

The comparing of this art form to life itself is easily done.

It’s the hurdles we face through life – the losses, the heartbreaks – and the way we heal and put ourselves back together, that make us the people we eventually become.

I love historical fiction and I always enjoy reading a book that teaches me something … a book that makes me a little more knowledgeable than I was when I started reading it. The Bowl with Gold Seams is one of those books.

Not only did I learn about the history of the Bedford Springs Hotel, but also a bit about the beliefs of the Quakers.

The story takes place just a stone’s throw away from Johnstown at Bedford’s famed hotel in two timeframes: during 1945 just after World War II – when the hotel became a detention center for the Japanese ambassador to Berlin, his staff and their families; and 40 years later when the main character of the book, Hazel Shaw, is the esteemed head of a prestigious Quaker school near Washington, DC.

The author handles the past/present back-and-forth very well.

Raised by her single Quaker father in the jailer’s quarters of the Bedford County Jail, Hazel is a compassionate child and young adult whose empathy stems from her Quaker upbringing.

Shortly after her marriage, Hazel’s husband leaves to fight in World War II. When all correspondence from him stops, she joins the staff of the hotel to fill her time, hoping against hope that her new husband may still be alive.

She was compassionate to the detainees, who were fearful of what might happen to them as the U.S. government bargained with the Japanese. Her kindness helps to make the prisoners as comfortable possible – bringing them books and encouraging them to play their musical instruments.

Hazel befriends the daughter of the ambassador and his British wife, a child confused and – in a time that wasn’t quite as accepting as we might be today – trying to fit in as a mixed-race child.

Hazel and the child meet 40 years later at a conference and decide to go together to visit the hotel and delve into the experiences that greatly affected them both.

The Bowl with Gold Seams explores family, war, racism, death, love, regret, suicide, treatment of those who are different and other emotional topics that shape us as humans. I highly recommend this beautifully written, fictionalized story, based on real historic events that happened right here in our own little corner of the world.


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