The Bowl with Gold Seams

Written by Ellen Prentiss Campbell
Review by Viviane Crystal

Hazel Shaw, a Quaker living near Bedford Hills in Pennsylvania, falls in love and has a very brief marriage, as her new husband is whisked off to fight in WWII. She and her neighbors, both Quaker and not, are shocked to hear that the Bedford Springs Hotel is going to house prisoners of war, in particular Japanese diplomats. They definitely will not be granted special favors, and their lives will be substantially restricted. Hazel accepts a position as secretary to the head of the hotel-prison. This is the story of her experience not only in that role but also as a human being who recognizes both the hurt and love between a Japanese ambassador and his British-born wife, which deeply scars their child.

Music, poetry, and books fashion bonds that surpass nationality. Loss touches every character and elicits stark questions about loyalty, betrayal, victory and defeat. Hazel survives an astonishing act and its aftermath at the end of this forced detention. Years later, she returns to the Bedford Springs Hotel with one of the former detainees, culminating in scenes of healing after confession. It also introduces a wonderful bowl and an artistic technique that literally and figuratively bespeaks power in brokenness.

It’s been a long time since I couldn’t put a book down because I was so engrossed in the reading. The story elicits cycles of tender compassion coupled with vivid anger, parallel reactions to those experiencing the war from the American and Japanese sides, a manifestation of war wounds that still exist within many to this day. This is a poignant, beautiful gem of a historical novel written by a skilled author.