"A remarkable novel full of characters on every side of the cultural divide, all imbued with genuine humanity ... a riveting, essential story for our time."

—Matthew Goodman, New York Times bestselling author of Eighty Days



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Advance Praise for THIS IS HOW IT BEGINS

  • Matthew Goodman
    Matthew Goodman -

    In this remarkable novel, Joan Dempsey brings together contemporary America and Holocaust-era Warsaw to tell a riveting tale of family secrets, civil rights, and the persistence of memory. Here are pastors and politicians, teachers and activists, historians and spies—all of them, on every side of the cultural divide, imbued with genuine humanity. This Is How It Begins is an essential story for our time.

    New York Times bestselling author of Eighty Days: Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland's History-Making Race Around the World 

  • Mary Rechner
    Mary Rechner -

    Joan Dempsey’s debut novel explores the limits of empathy and the unpredictability of violence. Thoughtful people who reach opposing conclusions are at the all-too-human center of This Is How It Begins, a prescient road map for our times.

    Author of Nine Simple Patterns for Complicated Women

  • Frank O. Smith
    Frank O. Smith -

    Joan Dempsey’s debut novel is a compelling story that seems to rise out of the rancor of current national headlines—about hate, bigotry, and intolerance. The story has deep roots in the darkness of the horrific persecution and betrayal of Jews during World War II. Twin story lines—then and now—illuminate how close we yet remain to the hellish cauldron that fear enflames.

    Author of Dream Singer, a Bellwether Prize finalist

  • Judith Frank
    Judith Frank -

    Dempsey brings her characters to life with equal parts empathy and tough-mindedness, from the three generations of the Zeilonka family—refugees, artists, politicians, teachers—to the pastor and radio host striving together to remake the United States into a Christian nation. A riveting story of the clash between LGBT and fundamentalist Christian cultures, and the way its violence reawakens historical trauma, this striking debut is essential reading for our times.

    Author of All I Love and Know

  • Eva Fogelman, PH. D.
    Eva Fogelman, PH. D. - Joan Dempsey’s spellbinding novel illuminates how the tides of history repeat themselves with different characters. When a group is targeted for discrimination there will be resisters and rescuers, but mostly bystanders. This is How It Begins superbly demonstrates the clandestine nature of rescue, and the irony that those who ought to be rewarded for their conscience and courage remain hidden, and live in fear. Reading this moving adventure compels us to bear witness to the past and present and think about our own complacency to everyday discrimination in our midst. Author of the Pulitzer Prize nominee Conscience and Courage: Rescuers of Jews During the Holocaust

What Readers Are Saying

Cathy Kodra of Knoxville, TN says "I can only say 'Wow!' and I mean it with my whole heart. You did an amazing job with this literary, page-turning novel. I've given it five stars on Goodreads.

If this doesn't become a NYT Bestseller, I'll never understand why. This is one of the best novels I've read in the past five years, and one that I feel will stay with me."

Mary Whiteside of Plano, Texas, says this is a "wonderful and courageous book."

David Brightman, Ohio, says "I just finished the book last night—it is BRILLIANT. I love it. 'Well Done,' as the Brits would say ... I am not usually a fan of the intertwined then-and-now stories approach, but the author pulled it off so well I am completely won over. Brava!!!!!!

Diana Rigor says "… undeniably binge-worthy. I'm loving this book. Joan has hit it out of the park."

Barry Jandebeur, Bartlett, NH, says, "The language pops, the story is fluid and the characters are immediately real and familiar. Carry this book to your favorite reading spot. You'll be glad you did."

See and Hear More from Readers

About the Novel

In 2009, eighty-five-year-old art professor Ludka Zeilonka gets drawn into a political firestorm when her grandson, Tommy, is among a group of Massachusetts teachers fired for allegedly silencing Christian kids in high school classrooms. The ensuing battle to reinstate the teachers raises the specter of Ludka's World War II past―a past she's spent a lifetime trying to forget.

Radio host Warren Meck has been leading the Massachusetts campaign to root out anti-religious bias in public schools―but he believes in working respectfully within the political system, so he's alarmed and offended when his efforts are undermined by someone inciting violent action. Even worse, he fears the culprit is among his inner circle.

As Ludka's influential family defends Tommy under increasingly vicious conditions, a stranger with connections to her past shows up and threatens to expose her for illegally hoarding a valuable painting presumed stolen by the Nazis. Only one other person knew about the painting―a man Ludka's been trying to find for sixty years.

Compulsively readable, THIS IS HOW IT BEGINS is a timely novel about free speech, the importance of empathy, and the bitter consequences of long-buried secrets.


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