Lydia Munn and Heather Munn, How Huge the Night (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2011)
A guest review by Lydia Klingforth.
Some stories must be told. How Huge the Night, the debut novel of a mother-daughter writing team, Lydia and Heather Munn, is set in Nazi-controlled Vichy France at the start of World War II. It highlights the little-known true story of the village of Le Chambon. Over the course of the war, this town of 3,000 people saved the lives of 3,000 Jews. The town was later honored by Israel for their efforts. It’s amazing history, and the Munns tell it well.
The novel weaves together the stories of a pair of Jewish refugee children in a perilous journey across occupied Europe and of a French boy who is new in the small town. The characters are well drawn, especially the faith and struggles of the French protagonist, fifteen-year-old Julien Losier.
The novel celebrates both the resistance efforts and the Christian convictions that inspired the town's actions. Many Le Chambon residents were descended from Protestants who had been severely persecuted by French catholic kings in the 1600's and 1700's. During WWII, a local pastor reminded the town of their own history as he inspired them to accept and shelter many waves of foreign refugees.
In his endorsement of the novel, WWII historian and biographer Lyle Dorsett wrote: “The Munns have written an engrossing historical novel that is faithful to the actual events of World War II in western Europe during the tumultuous year 1940. But How Huge the Night is more than good history, it is particularly refreshing because the reader sees the conflict through the lives of teenagers who are forced to grapple with their honest questions about the existence and goodness of God.”
I have an unusual vantage point on this novel: the authors are my aunt and first cousin. So I got to read a draft copy of the book three years ago. And I read it in Kenya, where I live with my family. How Huge the Night was the only book I read all year, since I was busy caring for my newborn son. But I stayed up late into the nights to read while breastfeeding the baby.
It was January 2008 then, and Kenya was descending into tribal violence after the disputed presidential election. I could hear gunshots in the distance as I read, so the characters' fears about war were especially tangible. Later, we heard first-hand accounts from believers in our own city who risked their own safety to protect the lives and property of friends from the “opposite” tribal groups. Like the residents of Le Chambon, they followed the authority of Jesus, not the leaders of their nation or tribe.
We live in a violent world, and we all need to read and re-tell hero stories, so that we also have the courage to stand for peace. How Huge the Night is a wonderful book that recreates just such a story.