In the Comfort of Shadows
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In the Comfort of Shadows follows main character Ann Olson as she searches for the truth about her birth parents and her adoption. After her adoptive dad dies, she finds a letter from his rural cousin Emmett, who inquires about Ann and her sister. Ann finds the well-written letter suspicious because family stories have portrayed Emmett as a crazy, uneducated old recluse. And, since her adoptive dad quit writing to Emmett years ago, Ann suspects Emmett knows the truth behind an adoption no one ever wanted to talk about and that he may be the father she’s been trying to identify. Against her sister’s wishes, Ann drives to Emmett’s farm home in north central Wisconsin where she finds him dirty, poor, cold, stubborn, and in frail health. She does her best to warm up to the old man, hoping to hear a father’s confession. But because it’s winter, Emmett’s freezing alone in his old farmhouse, and there’s no one else to help him, Ann dutifully gets him settled in a warm residence for the elderly. With his house empty, Ann begins to search his empty house in earnest. She can’t believe her luck when she finds his WW2 diaries that include brief passages about his love for a young Austrian woman. Since the only thing Ann and her sister know about their birth mother is that she came to the United States from Austria after the war, Ann is determined to know more. As her searching continues, she discovers unfinished adoption documents, a will, and old letters from people who knew her birth parents. With Emmett’s health fading fast and her discovery of a woman’s photo and jewelry among his things, Ann is more anxious than ever to know the whole story of her father, her mother, and her childhood adoption. And when Emmett finally reveals the truth, it is not a truth Ann wants to face.
While the book is fiction, it includes actual excerpts from the WW2 diaries of the author’s elderly relative, who inspired the Emmett character and influenced the novel’s themes of love, loss, and forgiveness.