A NoveleBook - 2014
From Library Staff
Magic realism and history mix in Burton's debut novel about a newly married young woman in 17th century Amsterdam.
multcolib_rutha Nov 21, 2014
Debut English novelist Burton writes a novel of 1600s Amsterdam in exquisite detail.
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Nella escapes her dreary dead-end future in small-town Netherlands via an arranged marriage to a successful merchant in Amsterdam. She enters the household of Johannes, his sister Marin, and their servants Cornelia and Otto. The big business deal on Johannes' plate is to sell a warehouse full of sugar. He'll split the profits with his former best friend, who is very eager to get the sale in motion even though it's not the best time of year to do so. He gives her a miniature house as a wedding gift. Soon thereafter, she begins receiving exquisitely created miniatures of the members of the household and the furniture in the house. Then the gifts begin taking on something of a magical predictive quality, i.e., the miniature dog develops a smear of red on his skull, and later the dog is stabbed in the skull and dies. Johannes is distant and often absent and seems to be disinterested in Nella as a wife. Turns out he's gay, which Nella discovers when she interrupts him in flagrante. His former best friend catches him, too, and turns him in to the police. It's a crime punishable by death to be gay in 17th century Amsterdam. He is "tried" and found guilty, and executed by drowning. Meanwhile, his sister Marin has given birth out of wedlock to a daughter fathered by Otto, the black servant ("a savage") Johannes brought back from his travels to Africa. She died in childbirth. So the story ends with Nella, Cornelia, Otto, and newborn Thea living together in circumstances created primarily by Johannes and Marin -- and the society of 17th century Amsterdam.
The mystery of the miniatures and their maker was not revealed.
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