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Fiction Literary

What Is Written on the Tongue

A Novel

by (author) Anne Lazurko

ECW Press
Initial publish date
Apr 2022
Literary, Biographical, World War II
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Apr 2022
    List Price
  • eBook

    Publish Date
    Apr 2022
    List Price
  • Downloadable audio file

    Publish Date
    May 2022
    List Price

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For readers of Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See and Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried, a transportive historical novel about finding morality in the throes of war and colonization

Released from Nazi forced labor as World War II ends, 20-year-old Sam is quickly drafted and sent to the island of Java to help regain control of the colony. But the Indonesian independence movement is far ahead of the Dutch, and Sam is thrown into a guerilla war, his loyalties challenged when his squad commits atrocities reminiscent of those he suffered at the hands of the Nazis. Sam falls in love with both Sari and the beautiful island she calls home, but as he loses friends to sniper fire and jungle malady, he also loses sight of what he wants most — to be a good man.


About the author

ANN LAZURKO, a graduate of the Humber Creative Writing Program, has had short fiction and poetry published in literary magazines and anthologies and is active in the prairie writing community as mentor, editor, and teacher. Dollybird, her first novel, originally published by Coteau Books, received the Willa Award for Historical Fiction and was shortlisted for the Saskatchewan Book Awards Fiction Award. Her second novel, What is Written on the Tongue, was released in the spring of 2022 by ECW Press and was shortlisted for the 2022 Glengarry Book Award. She writes from her farm near Weyburn, Saskatchewan.

Anne Lazurko's profile page

Excerpt: What Is Written on the Tongue: A Novel (by (author) Anne Lazurko)


He pulls off his socks and boots and strips down to his underwear, the men around him doing the same, gasping as blisters tear open, groaning at their own stench. Cold buckets of water, ointments and gauze, and everyone is under their nets huffing and yawning. The steady click of Andre’s beads slows and stops, the buzz of his inevitable snore filling the space between them. Usually it lulls Sam to sleep, but tonight it isn’t enough to crowd out the questions.

He stares into the dark, head filled with images of Amir in his shop, Amir on the ground, images that mix with his memories of Leo until he is sweating with confusion. Amir wants to choose his own work and make some decent money off the resources of the land. It’s not so hard to understand. Sam resented every minute of the Nazi occupation of Holland, every potato or kernel of corn the Germans took from them. Imagine two hundred years.

At least Amir has some claim, an argument to ownership and birthright. Not like the good Dutch Christians back home who wasted no time in taking over the homes of the Jews. Later they stared at those returning skeletons as if they had no recollection of the Weisel, Elias or Berman families taken away two years earlier; no shame in the fact they’d waited across the road, imagining how they would make over the Jewish homes even as their neighbors were loaded up. In the end, people decided the Nazis had victimized everyone in equal measure so there was no extra compassion for those few who’d survived Auschwitz. It was unbelievable, really. He winces at the crassness, the cruelty. Yes, Amir has a claim.

And yet, Sam is afraid Amir won’t be allowed to stay out of the conflict. Mertens said it, the countryside is running amok with all kinds vying not only with the Dutch for ground, but with each other for power. Amir will have to choose a side. After Raj’s performance, Sam has a sense he knows which it will be.

The knot in Sam’s stomach tightens, a coil of unease waiting for his attention. But he can’t give it any. Doesn’t dare. Instead, he pulls out the notebook his father pressed into his hands as Sam boarded the ship for this new life.

“Write it down, Sam. All of it.”

He didn’t know what his father was referring to, the war he just left behind or the one he was heading to. They’d simply looked at one another, nodded, and Sam was gone, left wondering if his dad thought the gift would somehow fix things between them.


Editorial Reviews


“Teeming with life and drama, What Is Written on the Tongue is an ambitious, sweeping, riveting story of war, immorality, love and family. Spanning The Netherlands, Germany and Indonesia during and after the Second World War, Anne Lazurko's novel serves as a grim reminder that the oppressed sometimes become oppressors. The novel hooked me on the first page and captured me to the last.” — Lawrence Hill, author of The Book of Negroes and The Illegal

What Is Written on the Tongue is a gripping story of frailty and resilience. Anne Lazurko’s novel is a fully engaged, deeply researched study of one man’s struggle to retain his humanity amid the many tragedies of war.” — Helen Humphreys, author of Field Study: Meditations on a Year at the Herbarium

“In this deft and deeply moving novel, Anne Lazurko disperses the fog of war to shine a light on one soldier’s process of reckoning. As Sam confronts the enemy without and within, his creator honours the terrible vulnerability of our bodies, the essential balm of love and friendship, and the life-affirming beauty of the natural world, all the while lamenting the hell we so often make of this paradise we call home.” — Alissa York, author of The Naturalist

“This novel is the vivid and gripping story of a man caught in two brutal occupations: Sam is first a young victim of the Nazi occupation of The Netherlands in World War Two. He then becomes a colonial perpetrator as a Dutch soldier in the occupying army of Indonesia in the late forties. He suffers and then he deals out suffering. In this moving novel, Sam must search for a way to navigate his way through moral quagmires and find some kind of peace for himself and the ones he loves.” — Antanas Sileika, author of Provisionally Yours

What is Written on the Tongue isn’t an easy novel, but I highly recommend that you read it, because what it asks us to do is remember, not only the past, but also that the better angels of our own natures can transform into demons, given the right circumstances.” — Prairie Fire


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