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Lilli de Jong: A Novel Hardcover – Deckle Edge, May 16, 2017
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“A powerful, authentic voice for a generation of women whose struggles were erased from history—a heart-smashing debut that completely satisfies.”
—Jamie Ford, New York Times bestselling author of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet
“Beautifully written, emotionally resonant, and psychologically astute, Lilli de Jong is the story of an unwed mother in late 19th-century Philadelphia who, facing peril at every turn, will do almost anything to keep her daughter alive. Benton turns a laser eye to her subject, exposing the sanctimony, hypocrisies, and pervasive sexism that kept women confined and unequal in the Victorian era—and that still bedevil many women today. A gripping read.”
—Christina Baker Kline, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Orphan Train and A Piece of the World
“A stunning ode to motherhood. Lilli de Jong reminds us that there is no formula to being a good mother. Love is the essential ingredient, and only it gives everlasting life to our legacies. A debut of robust heart that will stay with me for a very long time.”
—Sarah McCoy, author of The Mapmaker’s Children
“Janet Benton’s remarkable novel Lilli de Jong is historical fiction that transcends the genre and recalls a past world so thoroughly that it breathes upon the page. From the first sentence, Lilli’s sensitive, observant, determined voice casts an irresistible spell. Benton combines rich, carefully researched detail with an imaginative boldness that is a joy to behold—though reader, be warned: Lilli’s story may break your heart.”
—Valerie Martin, author of The Ghost of the Mary Celeste
“[A] gorgeously written debut . . . Lilli’s fight to craft her own life and nurture her bond with her baby is both devastatingly relevant and achingly beautiful. A stunning read about the fierceness of love triumphing over a rigid society.”
—Caroline Leavitt, author of Is This Tomorrow
"A captivating, page-turning, and well-researched novel about the power of a mother's love . . . A great choice for book clubs and readers of Geraldine Brooks."
—Library Journal (starred review)
“The trials Lilli undertakes to keep her baby are heart-rending, and it's a testament to Benton's skill as a writer that the reader cannot help but bear witness. In a style reminiscent of Geraldine Brooks, she seamlessly weaves accurate historical detail as well as disturbing societal norms into the protagonist's struggles . . . An absorbing debut from a writer to watch.”
“A heartrending debut . . . Benton’s exacting research fuels Lilli’s passionate, authentic voice that is ‘as strong as a hand on a drum . . . that pounds its urgent messages across a distance’ . . . Lilli’s inspiring power and touching determination are timeless.”
“A harrowing look at the strictures of nineteenth-century American society. . . . [Lilli] is a full-fledged heroine, persevering despite seemingly insurmountable odds. . . her voice is distinctive, her fierceness driven by a mother’s love.”
“I loved this novel. Lilli de Jong is deeply moving and richly imagined, both tragic and joyous. Janet Benton has an exceptional ability to bring history to life . . . It's not only a compelling, beautifully crafted historical novel, however: it's also important . . . Lilli's life-and-death struggle is shockingly common to women even today.”
—Sandra Gulland, author of the internationally bestselling Josephine B. Trilogy
“Writing with a historical eye akin to Geraldine Brooks and incisive prose matching that of Anthony Doerr, debut novelist Janet Benton magically weaves a gripping narrative of hardship, redemption, and hope while illuminating a portrait of little-known history. The result is an unforgettable and important reflection on the maternal and, ultimately, the human bond. Stunning!”
—Pam Jenoff, author of The Kommandant’s Girl
“A confident debut . . . Sentence by carefully-crafted sentence, Benton ensnares the reader.”
About the Author
JANET BENTON’s work has appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Glimmer Train, and many other publications. She has cowritten and edited historical documentaries for television. She holds a B.A. in religious studies from Oberlin College and an M.F.A. in creative writing from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and for decades she has taught writing and helped individuals and organizations craft their stories. She lives in Philadelphia with her husband and daughter. Lilli de Jong is her first novel.
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Top Customer Reviews
Lilli de Jong is a 23 year-old teacher, a Quaker whose mother’s death a year ago, in 1882, has changed her, her family. Her mother, a woman whose faith was strong, whose words were wise, whose life was built on the tenet of compassion. Lilli can’t help but wonder what her mother would think of her situation as she sits with her roommate in the room with the birthing table at the Philadelphia Haven for Women and Infants. Had she remained home, she would have been shunned by the members, but would her mother have shown her the compassion she extended to others?
Johan, a friend of her brother Peter, is often in and out of their home, sees her grieving. In an effort to comfort Lilli, he offers to accompany her skating, and it is on that day that Johan becomes ”the pinpoint of light by which I charted my path. It may be that the explanation for my unwise surrender to him lies herein, that I couldn’t perceive my own guiding star, or find it in the Light everlasting.”
”When all else fell away, one shelter remained. I’ll call it now the house of Johan. I entered it gladly in spring last year, on a Fifth Month evening.”
He’s promised himself to her, and she to him, as well, but he is going away in the morning, along with her brother Peter to Pittsburgh, both looking for a life with a future that looks nothing like the one they have there. That evening they seal their betrothal with an act of intimacy reserved for those properly married in the eyes of God, and in the morning he is gone.
Months pass. No letters from Johan. She’s thrown out of her home when her body no longer hides the truth of the child she is carrying.
This is the story of Lilli de Jong, and her infant, and Lilli’s struggle for them to survive against all odds. She will do almost anything in order for her baby to survive, but in an era where almost every option to provide a life for a family was closed to her, she had very few options. Those that she did have were, for the most part, dangerous, disagreeable, and despicable. You’ll feel it all, the dirt and grime of Philadelphia, the self-loathing that is mitigated by looking into her baby’s eyes, and knowing that whatever act she’s just committed has brought her one day closer to a way out. Life lived one day at a time with eyes kept on that indefatigable hope she still manages to hold onto. The city, the people, the way outsiders look at her with disgust. The shame, but there is also a fierce self of preservation, she will stop at nothing to protect her child. Most of all, there is an abundant amount of love.
”To love is to risk. To risk is to suffer.”
Told through the pages of her journal, you’ll be privy to her thoughts and struggles with giving up her newborn, her thoughts on her faith and how that plays into some of the decisions she makes, her regrets and hopes for their future. All of her thoughts that go into her decision to keep her child.
Janet Benton’s debut is a remarkable and heartrending debut, a riveting view at the lack of prospects for unwed mothers in this place and time. It isn’t always a pretty picture, but Benton’s lovely writing and her mesmerizing story makes wish I were still inside these pages.
“The doctor cut the fleshly cord that connected us, but an invisible one has taken its place. I begin to suspect that this one can be neither cut nor broken.”
“As you wander through this troubled world
In search of all things beautiful
You can close your eyes when you're miles away
And hear my voice like a serenade
How long do you want to be loved?
Is forever enough, is forever enough?
How long do you want to be loved?
Is forever enough?
'Cause I'm never, never giving you up
Is forever enough?
'Cause I'm never, never giving you up”
Dixie Chicks – “Lullaby” written by Billy Joel
This book offers an extraordinary look back in time attended by genuine details that make the page come alive (Mother Hubbard dresses! John Stuart Mill! Kitchens full of women cooking together daily!). The pull a newborn has on its mother is beautifully depicted by Charlotte's pull on Lilli -- the overwhelming, exhausting, loving relationship described is undoubtedly, highly autobiographical ... and a gift to all us readers.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
In 1883, Lilli is banished from her Quaker community due to having a baby out of...Read more
Nan A. Talese, May 2017 ISBN 9780385541459
Picture yourself in a theater. The lights begin to dim and the audience quiets.Read more
1 star: Could not finish the book
2 star: Had to force myself to finish the book, did not care for the book, and will not be...Read more