What Is Written on the Tongue: A Novel

Lazurko, Anne

  • 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.


    Price may vary by retailer

    Check availability at your local Canadian independent bookstore:

    Remember that most stores can easily order books they don’t currently have in stock.


  • Anne Lazurko’s first novel, Dollybird, won the WILLA Award for Historical Fiction. She has short fiction and poetry published in literary magazines and anthologies and is an active teacher, editor, and mentor in the prairie writing community. An award-winning journalist and no-awards farmer, she lives near Weyburn, Saskatchewan.

  • Published: April 2022

    ISBN: 9781770416192

    Dimensions: 5.5 x 8.5 in.

    Pages: 328


“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

“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

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

“Though set in a specific time period about two specific wars, this story is timeless. It addresses questions still asked today: Who are freedom fighters, who terrorists? Who are occupiers and who peacekeepers?” — Historical Novel Society

“With palpable anxiety and despair, Parra delivers the interspersed journal entries Sam wrote during his imprisonment … Parra ends the novel with a hopeful attitude and heartfelt sincerity.” — AudioFile magazine

“Lazurko’s novel is not a simple war story; it reads as an ethical engagement in what it means to occupy and colonize, as told through the view of a young soldier who was barely home from a Nazi labour camp before being conscripted and sent to Indonesia.” — CanLit

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

“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

“Deeply moving, very informative, sincere, and solemn to the memory of all who were affected, this book really got to me. Its stage is war, but there’s so much more to this author’s writing and manner of conveying, so much human emotion; deep, unspoken, and respectful.” — Slightly Cracked Southern Belle blog

What Is Written on the Tongue is a compelling historical novel, with a lot packed in … The novel offers a harsh but factual condemnation of colonialism and the ways we justify it.” — The Miramichi Reader

What is Written on the Tongue is historical fiction at its finest. Beautifully rendered, character-driven, a force of family and love and war, Anne Lazurko's book shines with deep authenticity. The vivid imagery lingers long after the last page. The balance of firstand third-person narrative and the shifts between Holland, Germany, and Java across various years from 1943 to 1948 are smooth and masterfully handled. Character development is realistic and affecting right up to the poignant and melancholy ending. This author's control of her subject matter and of the story were exceptional.” — Saskatchewan Book Awards“Fiction Award 2023”

“Anne Lazurko’s writing is nothing short of remarkable . . . From the very first page, What Is Written on the Tongue hooks you with its gripping storytelling and holds your attention until the very last . . . A masterfully crafted historical fiction novel that offers a gripping account of one man’s journey through the horrors of war and the path to redemption . . . This book is a must-read for those who seek a profound exploration of human nature in the face of adversity and conflict.” — Canadian Cookbooks