After the fast-paced detective story I had completed (9 Dragons by Michael Connelly), I was ready for a more serious novel and picked up my signed copy of The Dutch Wife by debut author Ellen Keith. The story interested me as I have some Dutch background and had heard my family tell a few stories of the second world war as well as the Dutch Resistance against Nazi Germany.
The Dutch Wife begins its story in Amsterdam, May 1943, with the arrest of Marijke de Graaf and her husband, both members of the Dutch Resistance. They are deported to separate concentration camps in Germany. once there, Marijke is faced with a terrible choice: to accept a slow and certain death in the labour camp, or to join a camp brothel for a chance of survival.
The reader is also introduced to Karl Muller, an SS officer who arrives at the camp hoping to live up to his father’s expectations of war time glory. Faced with the brutal routine of overseeing punishments and executions, he longs for an escape. When he meets the newly arrived Marijke, the meeting changes both of their lives forever.
The narrative set in an SS labour camp is interwoven with that of Luciano Wagner and his 1977 experience during the Argentine Dirty War. In his struggle to endure military captivity, he searches for ways to resist from a prison cell that he may never leave.
The Dutch Wife is a novel about love, resistance, the blurred lines between right and wrong, as well as the capacity of ordinary people to persevere and do unthinkable things in extraordinary circumstances. It is a novel that is more than just an historical retelling of two of the most oppressive reigns of terror in history. Instead, it is a story that captures the heart of humanity – its demonic side as well as its inexplicable capacity to fight for survival against all odds.
I loved this well written novel. The words captured my interest and held me enthralled. Keith made me feel the emotions of her characters: their pain, their suffering, their desires. She describes with empathy the choices they are faced with; and encourages us to understand the choices that they eventually make. The author does not hold back, and does not sugarcoat any of the events she describes in her story. She must have experienced some dark moments in the writing of this tale.
The Dutch Wife is an historical novel which I would highly recommend. There is a reason why it was listed as #1 on the Globe and Mail Bestseller list.
I gave this novel ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ 5 stars on Goodreads. If I could, I would give it more stars!
Do you enjoy reading historical novels?
© Colline Kook-Chun, 2018
(This novel was the 30th in my 50 book pledge for 2018)