Nov 22, 2010

While We're Far Apart by Lynn Austin

In an unassuming apartment building in Brooklyn, New York, three lives intersect as the reality of war invades each aspect of their lives. Young Esther is heartbroken when her father decides to enlist in the army shortly after the death of her mother. Penny Goodrich has been in love with Eddie Shaffer for as long as she can remember; now that Eddie's wife is dead, Penny feels she has been given a second chance and offers to care for his children in the hope that he will finally notice her and marry her after the war. And elderly Mr. Mendel, the landlord, waits for the war to end to hear what has happened to his son trapped in war-torn Hungary.

But during the long, endless wait for victory overseas, life on the home front will go from bad to worse. Yet these characters will find themselves growing and changing in ways they never expected--and ultimately discovering truths about God's love... even when He is silent.


Lynn Austin, a former teacher who now writes and speaks full time, has won five Christy Awards for her historical fiction. One of those novels, Hidden Places, has also been made into a Hallmark Channel movie. Lynn and her husband have raised three children and make their home near Chicago, Illinois. Visit Lynn's Web site at


1. What inspired you to write While We’re Far Apart?

The initial idea came when my mother gave me her collection of scrapbooks from the 1940s. Throughout World War II, she had cut out articles about the war that interested her, as well as maps and photographs. I was able to get a very unique perspective on how a young girl, growing up during those devastating war years, might have viewed world events. One of the main characters in the book, twelve-year-old Esther Shaffer, also collects articles and maps about the war from the newspaper.

2. Did you encounter any interesting challenges while writing?

For my Jewish character’s story (Jacob Mendel), I needed to find out when Americans first learned about Hitler’s atrocities and how that news became known. This information was surprisingly hard to find. As I read through my mother’s scrapbooks, I found several early indications of what Hitler was doing, but I don’t think the world really understood the full extent of it. Any news that was smuggled out of Nazi-occupied countries seemed so unbelievable that most people assumed it was exaggerated. I finally located an excellent sourcebook when I visited President Roosevelt’s home in Hyde Park, NY. The book is entitled: “Saving the Jews: Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Holocaust” by Robert N. Rosen.

3. Did While We’re Far Apart involve any other special research?

For me, the most interesting research I did involved learning about everyday life in an Orthodox Jewish community so that I could bring my character, Jacob Mendel, to life. A Jewish family invited me to celebrate the Sabbath and several holidays such as Passover, Hanukkah, and Purim in their home. A Hungarian-Jewish friend told me how the Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg had saved his family, which led me to research that part of the story.

4. What is the underlying theme of the book?

The underlying message of the book turned out to be the importance of family. Because of the war, my main characters experience many disruptions in their families’ lives and are also mourning losses. The search for lost family members becomes very important to Penny, Esther, and Mr. Mendel. But even as they learn to treasure the families that God has given them, they also discover that a true “family” isn’t necessarily made up of blood relatives.

5. What take-away message do you have for your readers?

Throughout the story, there is so much in my characters’ lives that is completely out of their control. They can only trust and believe that God is in control whether they can see Him working or not. I hope that my readers’ faith will be strengthened by this story and that they will learn that they can trust God’s sovereignty in every situation.

6. How does a story that takes place during World War II have relevance for modern readers?

I love to write historical fiction because I believe that the lessons our ancestors learned when facing challenges in the past can be applied to readers’ lives today. When we hear news on TV of tragic world events and unrest, life often seems very frightening and out of control. It must have been the same for families during those terrible war years when no one knew when or how the global war would end. Good friends of ours have a son who is currently fighting in the war in Afghanistan, and I know how difficult it is for them as they wait and worry and pray for his safe return. Many families in America experienced painful separations during WWII, as well. We can learn a great deal from their courage and the sacrifices they made. And we can know that through it all, God is still sovereign, just as He has been throughout history. I want readers to know that God is with them in all of the challenges they face today.


Historical fiction has become a new favourite genre for me, and the book titled While We're Far Apart is absolutely exceptional. After reading this book, I have a new appreciation for what it was like during World War II, and especially the brutal treatment of the Jewish people.

The characters in this book totally captured my heart. It is hard for us to comprehend the atrocities of war, when we have been so far removed and sheltered.  I believe we all can benefit by reading stories like this one, in order to truly understand the price that was paid for the freedom that we take for granted.

The book synopsis above is a great overview of the story, but this book is so much more than what is portrayed.  It is really a lesson that we can apply to our lives ... one of discovering truths about God's love, protection and provision, even when He is silent.

While We're Far Apart is at the top of the list of my favourite books read this year. Read it ... you won't be sorry.

Disclosure: Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc. Available at your favourite bookseller from Bethany House, a division of Baker Publishing Group.