A Garland of Emeralds describes the dying days of the Dutch Colonial Empire with its historical events, clashes of cultures and religions, nationalistic fervor and war. The novel covers events in the life of Jasmine Carter and her family. The story begins in late 1941 when Jasmine discovers that the island Java in the Dutch East Indies where she was born is not the safe place she had always believed it to be.
In 1941, while war raged in Europe, tension in South East Asia increased as danger loomed from the North when the Japanese pushed aggressively further south towards victory, their eyes on the rich oil field of the Dutch East Indies archipelago, popularly called a "Garland of Emeralds." Tension inside the Colony was caused by extreme nationalists striving for Merdeka, meaning freedom or independence from the Dutch Colonial rule. This movement has been secretly brewing for decades in spite of efforts to suppress it in various ways, including the exiling of its leaders. So the rule of the Colonial Dutch in the East Indies is threatened from two directions.
Jasmine's parents came to Java from Holland as missionaries, and Jasmine was born while they were on the Mission. She has two older sisters, Ellen and Yvonne, and one younger brother, Danny. Jasmine has become friends with a native girl, Sari. Even when Jasmine discovers that Sari's cousin Sukandar is a freedom fighter, the girls continue to be friends.
Holland has been occupied by the Germans since May 1940, and after the attack on Pearl Harbor there are three months of intense waiting for the Dutch in the Indies. Early March 1942 the Japanese invade Java and the Dutch army surrenders on March 8, signaling the end of the Dutch Colonial Empire. Jasmine is devastated when her father is arrested by the Japanese, and sent to a men's camp. The novel ends at the point where some months later all white women and children also enter their first camp. Jasmine has to say good-bye to the only life she has ever known, including Sari, knowing that she probably won't see her friend again.
Jasmine struggles with her emotional reactions to this cauldron of war and revolution and she does not realize that before all the trouble will finally be settled, she has lost her native land and her identity to this force she has not understood.
A Garland of Emeralds deals with cultural and religious differences, but also the natural tendency of the young to form friendships no matter what their backgrounds. By 1941 there existed an undercurrent of animosity against the Colonial Government expressed by a growing nationalist movement, with which the majority of the indigenous population did not generally concern itself. The Japanese occupation brings the situation to a point of no return for the Dutch Colonials. All these events are seen from the point of view of a young teen girl.
A Garland of Emeralds is a historical novel based on personal experiences. The names of all the characters are fictional, while the major cities named in the novel actually exist.