Ludka Zeilonka is an 85-year-old art professor and member of an esteemed political family in Massachusetts. Her only troubles—at least on the surface—are protecting her renowned and delicate Polish contemporary art collection and that she gets cold in museums.
But then Ludka receives a disturbing phone message about a secret she has kept for more than sixty years. Shortly thereafter, her grandson, Tommy, is fired along with a handful of other gay teachers across the state for allegedly discriminating against Christian students in the classroom.
The teacher firings are the brainchild of Warren Meck, a deeply religious local radio host and father of three who is hoping to pass a religious freedom bill in Massachusetts. Meck favors achieving his goals through careful planning and legislation, and is concerned when violence erupts. But concern quickly turns to alarm when he realizes the violence may be being incited by those within his inner circle.
As a young Catholic woman in WWII Poland, Ludka joined the Resistance as an artist, her surviving drawings serving as testimony to Nazi crimes. Also, her family sheltered Jews, and her parents died because of it. As Ludka witnesses Tommy navigating the political firestorm that erupts over his job loss, she knows that what she sees doesn’t compare to her childhood. But she also recognizes the danger in dehumanizing a group of people. As the tensions escalate, she’s forced to decide once again to keep quiet or to act.
In this novel about free speech, family and secrets, Dempsey brilliantly depicts both sides without creating caricatures, emphasizing the importance of empathy in public discourse today. THIS IS HOW IT BEGINS is page-turning, thought provoking, and timely.