Image courtesy of Amazon.com
by Jessie Burton
This is a tale of Nella a young, Dutch, country girl who moves to the big city to be the wife of a prestigious importer. She is nervous, but determined to make her way in this new life. However, she is confronted by many obstacles.
There's her sister-in-law, a stern woman who, atypical for the times, has a hand in all of her brother's business transactions. This pious woman does not suffer fools gladly and believes that God comes before comfort. There are the servants, Cornelia, whom she has to decide is a friend or foe; and Otto, the first black person Nella has ever seen. Not to mention her new husband, who is not even home to greet her when she arrives.
The center of this dark story is a miniature of the home where the newly married Brandts reside. The artisan that Nella hires to furnish the diminutive house has an uncanny glimpse into what is happening inside the actual home. At first frightened by these strange gifts, Nella eventually is drawn to find out more about this person. How do they know these things?!
If you are looking for a happy beach read, keep going, you won't find that here. However, if you are looking for a dark and compelling, well written story about human nature, go no further. The imagery is vivid (and that includes good, bad and ugly!) and the prose is poetry. An example: in talking about the newly embroidered bridal linens, "the Bs have gobbled up her maiden name, their bellies fat and swollen." During a tense dinner conversation, "Nella offers a laugh, a shy burst that falls between them and lands on the tablecloth."
Book group felt that Burton wrote this book as a screenplay, I wouldn't go that far. I enjoyed getting to know these characters, although at times it was gritty. I would argue that Nella is the only true hero here, but I'm okay with that. She's strong enough for everyone.