The Key Is Lost

(This is edited from the review I originally wrote for my old Angelfire site, probably around 2004.)

5 stars

This is another sweet book by Ida Vos, based on her experiences during WWII in Holland, when she and her younger sister had to move to many different hiding places, sometimes in the middle of the night. Like the author’s family, the Zilverstijns fled Rotterdam after the bombing and settled in Rijswijk.

Eva Zilverstijn is twelve when the book begins, and her sister Lisa is nine. They know something terrible is happening, but can’t fully understand just what. When they go into hiding, they’re given the fake last name Dutour. Eva becomes Marie-Louise and Lisa becomes Marie-Jeanne. Their cover story is that they’re Huguenots who left Rotterdam after the bombing.

At first, like the Hartogs in Hide and Seek, they’re all hiding together, along with the Baruchs, whose children Davy and Doortje are Eva and Lisa’s best friends. Eventually, it becomes too dangerous to have so many people hiding in one house. Not only that, but their protector Geesje’s anti-German father is also in the house, making it doubly-dangerous.

After drawing lots, the Zilverstijns/Dutours leave. Their new location becomes dangerous too, and several hiding places later it’s decided that it’s too dangerous for all four to be together. Before they part, Vrouw Zilverstijn gives her girls each a poem (identical) in an envelope, addressed to their fake French names, about her hopes for after the liberation. Ida Vos and her younger sister had the exact same poem given to them by their mother. In her Author’s Note at the end, she says she always read it after they moved to a new hiding place, and it gave them hope and courage.

Eva and Lisa stay for a long time with the nice childless couple Eduard and Martha. Martha teaches kindergarten and loves children, so she jumps at the chance to have two little girls. Their relative peace and security are dampened by the arrival of Martha’s sister’s youngest child Trijntje. Martha’s sister has eleven children, and needs more room in the house, so she sends this obnoxious child off to live with her aunt.

Trijntje doesn’t inform on them, but she’s not a very pleasant person. She even gives them head lice and scabies. Eventually her parents decide it’s too dangerous for her to stay there, so they take her back. Eva and Lisa are forced to leave again when one of the anti-Hitlerite Germans, Karl Gröger, who regularly comes over at night, is captured. Everyone fears he might give up their location under torture, or the police might decide to search the house where he so often visited.

Their next stay is with Big Mie and her husband Skinny Rinus, who feed them pancakes, drill a hole in the attic floor so they can see what’s going on underneath, and let them see cartoon films of Popeye, Donald Duck, and Betty Boop. They have to leave when one of the boys who regularly comes over for pancakes notices the antique guns that belonged to Big Mie’s great-great-grandfather, and tells his father. He in turns tells the police, who may arrest them for having weapons, which should’ve been turned over by 20 September 1940.

The girls are smuggled to their next hiding place in an ambulance, tranquilised, by their Resistance friend Henny, a nurse. They wake up in the house where they spend the remainder of the War. Their protector is their old friend Amici Enfante, a gentle puppeteer who insists they call him Mr. Ami, since “ami” is French for “friend.”

I think this is my favourite Ida Vos book which has been translated into English. Though it’s the sequel to an untranslated book called White Swans, Black Swans, it can easily be read and understood by itself. It just seems like her deepest, most mature, most substantial book. I also love Mr. Ami, and the personal touch of including the real-life poem Vrouw Vos’s mother wrote.

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3 thoughts on “The Key Is Lost

  1. Pingback: Top Ten Tuesday—Ten Books About Friendship « Welcome to My Magick Theatre

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