Here's the full text of some reviews of Glass Hearts:

Library Journal
Academy Chicago, 1999. c.322p. ISBN 0-89733-470-1. $24.95

Based on the memories of Paul's aunt, who appears as the young narrator Serene, this debut novel traces the lives of a Hungarian Jewish family during and just after World War I. In the midst of World War I, Serene's father disappears mysteriously, leaving his wife and children to survive on their own. Serene herself keeps the war at bay through imagination. After the war, the family returns home to find their village destroyed, but just when life seems hopeless, Serene's father turns up, sending them money for their passage to America.
Throughout, the colorful characters and events flow dramatically from the perspective an endearingly innocent young girl. Readers whose forebears came to America as part of the great migration following World War I will find this book particularly meaningful. Recommended for most public and academic collections.

David A. Berond, Univ. of New Hampshire, Durham

Publisher's Weekly
May 10, 1999
Terri Paul. Academy Chicago, $24.95 (322p) ISBN 0-89733-470-1

Set mostly in Hungary during WWI, Paul's first novel offers an imaginative young narrator, an attentively depicted Jewish family and a chronicle of hardships endured. When her story begins, five-year-old Serene Spirer's father has just disappeared. Serene and her siblings hear rumors that Papa has gone to America, but their mother, Rosa, pregnant with her fourth child, refuses to talk about him. Mina, the eldest, rebels by spending her days at Catholic wakes, while Serene and her brother, Sam, begin having trouble at school. The birth of a colicky sister increases family tension and further taxes Rosa, who supports them by running a tavern. As fighting spreads through Hungary, the Spirers' poverty worsens, until they must flee their village. To Serene, the family's harrowing trials are part of an intricate, mystical plan to reunite father and daughter.

Serene dreams of him often and thinks she sees his ghost, who alternately comforts her and takes the blame for her family's misery: "At first, I wished Papa would come and take me away. Later, I imagined I would lose myself among the trees, and no one would be able to find me until the following spring, when nothing would be left but a pile of bones." Serene's ability to detach herself from the grim events around her invests this otherwise uninflected tale with an air of fantasy. Paul renders colorful supporting characters--from peevish Grandma Spirer to gentle Aunt Gizella. The heavy burdens the Spirers must bear, and the oddity of Serene's visions culminate in the heart-warming final chapter, in which Papa rejoins the family in America.

June 1, 1999
Ellie Barta-Moran

Paul has developed this novel from memories of her aunt and other relatives. The setting is Hungary during World War I. Serene, the young protagonist is a headstrong and imaginative girl who has lost her father to the immigrant's dream of America. Along with two sisters, a brother, and her mother, Serene struggles to eke out an existence in the war-torn countryside. Dreams and visions fill her days.

For several years, the "ghost" of her father is a daily companion to her. As she grows up, Serene takes comfort in her dream world, using it to soften, yet understand, the harsh realities that surrounding her. Serene is quirky and impulsive, and her adventures are, at times, hilarious, at others, painfully sad, but always engaging and interesting.

Columbus Dispatch
Thursday, August 5, 1999
By Margaret Quamme


"Papa melted away one night, like the butter in Mama's frying pan."

So begins an absorbing first novel set in Hungary during the years surrounding World War I.

The narrator of Terri Paul's Glass Hearts is named Serene Spirer, a 5-year-old girl in 1913.

When her father vanishes, he leaves behind a pregnant wife and three children (Serene and her older brother and sister).
The family belongs to a small Jewish community in a primarily Roman Catholic town. When the war begins, the mother and children become refugees living in a shack in a northern town outside the area of fighting.

Paul, who lives in Columbus, based her work on the memories of her aunt Sarah (Szerene) Grossman and other family members.

The novel has the strengths of vivid storytelling, but it also benefits from the author's shaping and polishing of her material.

Because she sympathizes with Serene but isn't directly involved in the events of her early life, Paul adds a needed sense of perspective that keeps Serene at the center of the story but doesn't slight the other characters.

The stories spun by Serene, like often-told tales, are distilled to their essences. They resonate with meanings captured only by the stories themselves, not by any glib morals.

Serene tells of the pink-glass heart she received from an enigmatic neighbor. She thinks the heart has the power to grant wishes but not always with the results she expects.

She also describes how she and her older sister, Mina, tried to lay their father's ghost to rest by taking it to another person's funeral.

She simply bursts with stories: of the jars of raspberry jam that she and her family struggled to take along when they were fleeing their home; of the teacher who ran off with a Russian soldier; of her attempt to run away from her cranky grandmother; and of the cat's-eye given to her by a Gypsy's daughter.

Serene lives in a world where the actions of adults seem as odd as any spell she can imagine. With magic, she makes sense of events she can't explain otherwise.

Her life is slightly out of kilter: The sisters often sleep on the still-warm dome of the oven in their baking shed. Mina takes any opportunity to attend a funeral, whether or not she knows the deceased, because she adores "the candles and the flowers and the singing." Their mother fills a baby buggy with beer bottles to transport them to the tavern she runs.

Such small oddities are grounded by the homey details -- Serene's motion sickness (she never remembers the scenery, only the floor of the train), her sneaking of her mother's bean soup until half the pot is gone, her trouble learning to read.

Her life is set in the context of larger political and religious movements, but Paul doesn't let them overpower the story.

Serene is a little bothered about the services at a Catholic school she attends after her family is displaced, and she is curious about the war.

Just as important to her, though, are her fear of her grandmother's storage shed and her pleasure in a new friend's lemon cookies.

Paul nicely balances sweet and sour in describing Serene's complicated relationships with her mother, her vanished father, her grandparents and aunts, and especially her brother and sisters.

They are most important to her, but they're always threatening to disappear and, when they're around, always driving her crazy.

Her brother, Sam, tells stories about flesh-eating bats; at 13, Mina falls in love with a rabbi; baby sister Kati wails endlessly.

A measure of the story's power is that, although the novel reaches a satisfying conclusion, one can't help wondering what will happen to the characters.

Will Sam, who has shown an unexpected talent for healing with herbs, become a doctor? Will Mina finish her education or run off with someone new?

And what will happen to dreamy Serene?

Like any other good storyteller, Paul leaves readers hungry for more.

Ohioana Quarterly
Fall, 1999
GLASS HEARTS by Terri Paul
Academy Chicago, 1999. 326pp. $24.95

Terri Paul has listened well to the stories her ancestors told. She captures life in pre-WWI Hungary and takes it forward through the war until the main characters arrive in America in 1919. Serene is only 5 1/2 years old when the story begins in 1913. Her father is gone, and no one will tell her where he is. It's as if he had just melted away. She feels certain that he's dead because his "ghost" comes and talks to her. Papa's ghost reappears suddenly and disappears just as suddenly. She believes in ghosts and magic and the powers of charms and amulets and a certain neighbor's ability to cast spells. Serene's family manages to live through the war, despite all of the terrible things happening. When the war is over, they have nothing and are living with relatives when a letter comes from Papa.

He is in America, in a place called "O-hi-a" and has saved enough for them to join him in this new land. It has been almost seven years since he left. The children and their mother are almost afraid to join him because he's now a stranger. But they journey across the sea in a second-class cabin. (My family all came in steerage.) And when they land, they get new names and discover that Papa is now old, but he is Papa. One of the best "Coming to America" stories I've ever read. Paul also deftly captures the growing up phases that young girls go through--the crushes, the stubborn behavior, the rejecting what you know, the fascination with other religions. (I also discovered why there is a formal photograph of my grandmother, my father at age four, and his eight year old brother. The family member waiting for them in America used it to prove to immigration officials that these truly were his relatives.)

Chicago Tribune
Nov 7, 1999
Tammie Bob
Tammie Bob teaches English at the College of DuPage



There are plenty of familiar elements in "Glass Hearts": a Jewish family in a small European town during World War I, young people at odds with tradition, a world that is about to disappear. Rich turns of phrase and colorful imagery evoke settings that are most familiar from the darkly humorous tales of Sholom Aleichem or Isaac Singer. But the simple and direct story-telling voice also brings to mind the "Little House" books of Laura Ingalls Wilder. Like Wilder's tales of an American pioneer family, "Glass Hearts" is told through the insights of a child who perceives and misperceives the realities of love, death, faith and hardship. At the same time, elements of magic and embellishment echo traditional Jewish folk tales.

Full Text:

There are plenty of familiar elements in "Glass Hearts": a Jewish family in a small European town during World War I, young people at odds with tradition, a world that is about to disappear. Rich turns of phrase and colorful imagery evoke settings that are most familiar from the darkly humorous tales of Sholom Aleichem or Isaac Singer. But the simple and direct story-telling voice also brings to mind the "Little House" books of Laura Ingalls Wilder. Like Wilder's tales of an American pioneer family, "Glass Hearts" is told through the insights of a child who perceives and misperceives the realities of love, death, faith and hardship. At the same time, elements of magic and embellishment echo traditional Jewish folk tales.

Terri Paul's first novel, based on the early life of her aunt, has the authority of memoir infused with an artist's imaginative vision. Overall, there is the poignant situation of an impoverished young family whose father has vanished. As narrated by Serene, who ages from 6 to 12 during the story, every new trial becomes an adventure, mined for its dramatic possibilities. Throughout the book, Serene's encounters with witches, gypsies, ghosts and other odd figures help her develop strength, maturity and a talent for bringing people together.

Each character, whether a lead or a walk-on player, is delightfully idiosyncratic, sketched with a few well-chosen images. Serene's sister, Mina, at 13, goes to any funeral she can get to. The mayor's daughter is called Domino "because she had coal black hair and eyes and white skin and because all she had to do was push a little bit and one thing after another fell over in her path until she got whatever she wanted." A snobbish wealthy woman is characterized by her choice of head covering, "not like Gradma's wig, which looked as if it had been pieced together with straw. . . . The front formed a perfect wave, and not a single strand was out of place. The hair was dark and shiny, and I thought the wig was the most wonderful thing I had ever seen. It was too bad Mrs. Kaufman wore such a sour expression on her face because it spoiled her beautiful hair."

But the precisely detailed characters, their actions and dialogue do not necessarily result in an exact understanding of the events of Serene's life. Near the book's middle, Rosa, Serene's mother, tells her that she decided years ago that "facts are slippery. They change with the teller." That far into the story, readers will surely recognize this sentiment as the novel's organizing principle. The facts of Serene's childhood surface in vivid flashes, but the hows and whys of events shift and sift, slippery, through Serene's memory, dreams and naivete.

In this way it makes perfect sense that Serene, running away from her nasty grandmother one night, is assaulted and robbed at knifepoint by a gypsy woman she has met, even when we are quite certain the assailant is not the same woman at all. Moments later, Serene's father appears and whispers encouragement in her ear, despite the fact that he has been missing for years. This is not magical realism exactly, but a close approximation of the way a child perceives through a haze of inconceivable incidents.

The truly inexplicable is delineated more specifically. For example, after Serene's infant sister recovers from an illness so dire that their mother had already bought a small coffin, they plant roses in the unused box:

"The first blooms were yellow like the pale sun in the early summer sky. The second blooms were the same purple as the ribbons on Uncle Mihai's uniform, and the last ones were as red as the blood that ran in our veins and bound our family together. All from that one magical bush. . . . (P)eople from around the village came to tell us that no single plant could bring forth so many wonderful colors."

While Serene's attack is experienced through confusion and fear, open to a reader's interpretation, who could doubt the authenticity of her memory of those magically hued roses?

As the story proceeds, its magical elements diminish, perhaps reflecting Serene's greater maturity during the family's most difficult years. They are forced to flee their Hungarian town after it is invaded and annexed by Romania. At this point Serene's limited perspective becomes a handicap to the novel. During the family's exile, it is her sister Mina's story that offers more dramatic possibilities as she struggles rebelliously through a torrent of religious and romantic crises that are never fully explained nor resolved beyond Serene's understanding of them.

Ultimately, the book regains its charm as the family falls into better circumstances and immigrates to America. Their voyage west is richly entertaining, particularly the story of a suit made from a horse blanket, which mirrors the beginning of a transition from Old World to New. At the end, the family is in New York, where Serene is confronted by a spectacle that not too subtly manages to unify every element of the book. The final image reveals that magic can exist in the New World too.

Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner.

Cleveland Jewish News

March 17, 2000
Ohio author captures flavor of Old Hungary in 1st Novel
Reviewed by Beth Friedman-Romell
Staff Reporter

Ohio author Terri Paul's debut novel, Glass Hearts, weaves a compelling narrative of a strong family's response to hardship. It is set in the "Old Country" and told in the authentic voice of Serene, a young Hungarian girl. Serene and her family struggle to survive and stay together after her papa's mysterious disappearance at the outset of World War I.

The absent father haunts the heroine both literally and figuratively in this tale spun in the tradition of magical realism. Ghosts, gypsies, prophetic dreams and magic talismans entrance the imagination of the sensitive Serene. Yet the read will also recognize in this story some universally familiar childhood tropes: The mean old lady down the block. The school bully. The teasing older brother. The colicky and annoying baby sister.

Characters and events in the novel are loosely based on the childhood recollections of Paul's ninety-year-old aunt, Sarah (Szerene) Grossman, who recently passed away. The screaming baby grew up to become Paul's mother.

In an interview from her Columbus, Ohio, home, the author told the CJN that after her aunt became ill some years ago, Paul asked her to record her memories for the purpose of transcribing them into a memoir for the family.

"Aunt Sarah had a great memory," the author relates. The resulting hours of tapes "woke me up every morning," until she felt compelled to write chapter one of what would be her first novel. She used the basic facts of the story, but conducted further research to fill in the rustic details of everyday life for this impoverished Jewish family.

Growing up in Dayton, Ohio, Paul attended a conservative congregation. Her own mother was reluctant to discuss the few memories of Hungary she retained. While working on the book, Paul was surprised to discover how many Ohioans shared her ethnic roots.

A former English professor and computer programmer, Paul is finally able to devote herself to writing full-time, thanks to grants and awards garnered. She lives in Columbus with her husband, near their adult daughter.

The author recently won the Friends of American Writers for Glass Hearts, and she has been named a finalist for this year's Ohioana Library Association award in fiction.

A rich and enjoyable read, Glass Hearts leaves the reader hoping for a sequel detailing the family's further adventures in America, which Paul promises is in the works.

Visit my web site for more information about my writing.