Wednesday, 4 July 2018

The Dutch Wife

Author: Ellen Keith
Genre: Historical Fiction (WWII)
Type: Trade Paperback
Pages: 336
Source: Local Public Library
Publisher: Patrick Crean Editions
First Published: April 24, 2018
First Line: "The infant in the baby carriage opened her eyes and saw that I was not her mother."

Book Description from GoodReadsAmsterdam, May 1943. As the tulips bloom and the Nazis tighten their grip across the city, the last signs of Dutch resistance are being swept away. Marijke de Graaf and her husband are arrested and deported to different concentration camps in Germany. Marijke is given a terrible choice: to suffer a slow death in the labour camp or—for a chance at survival—to join the camp brothel.

On the other side of the barbed wire, SS officer Karl Müller arrives at the camp hoping to live up to his father’s expectations of wartime glory. But faced with a brutal routine of overseeing executions and punishments, he longs for an escape. When he encounters the newly arrived Marijke, this meeting changes their lives forever.

Woven into the narrative across space and time is Luciano Wagner’s ordeal in 1977 Buenos Aires, during the heat of the Argentine Dirty War. In his struggle to endure military captivity, he searches for ways to resist from a prison cell he may never leave.

From the Netherlands to Germany to Argentina, The Dutch Wife braids together the stories of three individuals who share a dark secret and are entangled in two of the most oppressive reigns of terror in modern history. This is a novel about the blurred lines between love and lust, abuse and resistance, and right and wrong, as well as the capacity for ordinary people to persevere and do the unthinkable in extraordinary circumstances.

My Rating: 2.5 stars (aka 'just ok')

My Review: The Dutch Wife is a Historical Fiction novel that tells the story of three people during WWII in dual story lines. The reader is privy to the points of view of Marijke de Graaf, a Dutch prisoner in the Buchenwald concentration camp and SS officer Karl Muller whose job it is to run the camp. The other story line, decades later, follows a young man named Luciano Wagner in Buenos Aires.

I'm all for dual story lines in books. I like getting a better look into different characters but the story lines weren't balanced well here. Luciano's POV felt so different and vague compared to the other two that I struggled to stay interested. Readers are kept in the dark (much like Luciano himself) about how Luciano fits into the main story line and it was frustrating being strung along for so much of the book. When the answers are finally given, it's late in the story and the connection wasn't much of a surprise. 

As a big reader of WWII fiction, I always welcome learning more about it. Keith taught me about aspects of life within the concentration camp that I hadn't known before, specifically for non-Jewish women. But I wanted more depth, stronger character development and more backstory, especially for Marijke. Why was she involved in the Resistance?  And I could have done without the romance angle which felt sudden, more than a little icky and I didn't feel I was given enough reasons to get behind it. With these issues and the abrupt ending leaving readers with unanswered questions, I thought The Dutch Wife was an okay, lighter Historical Fiction read, but not a book I'd be encouraging everyone to pick up. 


reeca said...

Great review. I am a huge WWII fan as well. May pass on this one.

Laurie@The Baking Bookworm said...

My mother-in-law just read it and loved it. You never know, this book just might not have been my cuppa tea. :) I'm currently reading The Lost Vintage by Ann Mah and loving it. It's set in a French vineyard during WWII. You may like that one!

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