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Coming of age the hard way
on September 6, 2011
The inspiration for this story was the author's own grandmother, who was "hired at fifteen to tend a dying relative in the home of my then thirty-five-year old grandfather, that he took her to South America to start a store there, that their union was a scandal in the tiny town where she lived, that he ultimately abandoned her with four young daughters ...."
In this novel Sander DeVries pays a visit to the home of Minke van Aisma in the Netherlands. It is 1912, and Sander's wife Elizabeth is very ill. Minke's parents know that he needs a nurse for his wife, and their belief is that Fenna, Minke's 16-year-old sister, will be the daughter that goes with him to Amsterdam. Minke, however, is caught out as she tries to listen in on the conversation, and Sander decides to take her instead, leaving Fenna resentful as always.
Minke quickly grows fond of Elizabeth, however, when Elizabeth suddenly dies, Minke is made to suddenly leave, returning to her parents' home with more questions than answers. When Sander asks her parents to marry her, Minke is not certain what to think, but in the end, she agrees and the couple travel to Comodoro Rivadavia in Argentina with Sander's friend Dr. Cassian Tredegar.
In this far-flung new country, populated by gauchos that don't quite meet up with Minke's romantic ideals, Minke gives birth to a son named Zef, who is kidnapped while they are playing together. When Sander's business interests collapse, she must journey to America, leaving behind her hope of gaining Zef back.
This is a story of love, betrayal, lies, and the ultimate deceit. I felt for Minke, a young, gullible girl taken in by an older man. Her friendship with Cassian, her loneliness in her new country, and then the poverty and hard work in her next new country, all combine to make her, in the end, an admirable, strong woman. There are some extremely difficult surprises, some twists and turns, and a tale that kept me interested. The imagery is vivid, bringing to life the desolation and barrenness of the new Argentina, as well as the struggles in America, where everyone in the household has to work to pay the bills.
I would definitely recommend this for lovers of character-driven fiction, as the personalities here make the story even more than the action.
"We came here to Argentina. WE act as though the laws of the place we are from protect us, but they don't exist here. There are no real laws yet. no shared laws. Don't you understand? In order to have law, everyone must agree on the rules. Here there is no such thing."
Why hadn't she seen his character before? The signs had been there. Now they swung up and practically slapped her across the face. He'd married Minke because she was present in his house. He hadn't had to miss a beat from one wife to the next.
Fenna had won this one for sure. Sander hadn't the backbone, and Minke was tired of fighting for a man she didn't want.
Writing: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Plot: 4 out of 5 stars
Characters: 3 out of 5 stars
Reading Immersion: 3 out 5 stars
BOOK RATING: 3.5 out of 5 stars