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Corrie, the author and narrator of The Hiding Place, rises on the day of a party to celebrate the 100th “birthday” of her father’s watch shop in the Dutch city of Haarlem in 1937. As Corrie describes the party preparations, she also describes their home, the Beje, which is a multi-level building that contains both the shop and the family’s rooms. All morning, bouquets of flowers are delivered to the house from people who love Corrie’s father, and she and her sister Betsie arrange them for the party. Hans, the apprentice, and Toos, the bookkeeper, arrive.
Soon, Father appears at the dining room table, complimenting his daughters’ colorful dresses and reminiscing about his childhood in the house. Only Corrie and Betsie still live at home. Their siblings Nollie and Willem have homes and families of their own, and their mother, Mama, and several of their aunts, including Tante Jans, have died. Father reads from the Bible and asks about Christoffels, another employee, who soon arrives. Corrie bikes to Nollie’s house to borrow cups as dozens of guests show up. Soon, Nollie’s family, Pickwick—a wealthy customer and friend—and the Kan family, owners of the town’s other watch shop, arrive. When Willem arrives with Herr Gutlieber, a Jewish man who escaped Germany in a milk truck, discussion turns to Germany and its current frightening events.
Community created by the caring bonds between human beings is a key theme of the book. The first two chapters provide a detailed portrait of the ten Boom family in the frame of their home and community. The opening scene, in which the family celebrates the one hundredth anniversary of their watch business, shows how the ten Booms are firmly established in the city of Haarlem. The many bouquets sent to the shop, and the many visitors to the house, show their broad social connections to people of all classes, from the wealthy “Pickwick” to the florist’s delivery boy. By digressing briefly to sketch out other figures, the narrative also includes the members of the family and business who are no longer living by the anniversary date.
As the narrator, Corrie seems unconscious of some revelations she makes about her character. Her carelessness about her own appearance shows her lack of personal vanity. Her willingness to make a run on her bicycle to pick up extra cups indicates her habit of working for the benefit of the family, as well as her thoughtfulness and concern for guests. Her admission of jealousy towards the Kan family, who are business competitors, shows her self-awareness and her willingness to admit a fault.
The party scene also sketches out the physical and social setting that form Corrie’s secure background, now beginning to be threatened by news from Hitler’s Germany. Her home, the Beje, anchors the family in the center of Haarlem, a very old European city. Corrie’s description of how the city used to take its time from the church bells of St. Bavo is a metaphor for the city’s deeply ingrained, religious, and unified culture. The ten Booms are uncritical members of this culture, following old traditions happily and with pride, as their celebration shows. Multiple details, including Christoffels’ background as an itinerant clock repairer, the daily Bible reading, and Mother’s habits of charity and hospitality reinforce this impression of a life lived in accordance with custom. Corrie perceives beauty and comfort in this little-changing world but fears the results of the German persecution of the Jews. The contrast between this ordered past and the drastic changes of wartime is a repeated motif throughout the book’s action. In future chapters, Corrie will discover that faith and family remain when change has removed every custom in her world.