The Dutch Wife – Ellen Keith

“Witness our judgement without judgement.”

Amsterdam 1943 – Marijke de Graaf and her husband have just been arrested by the Nazis for being part of the Dutch Resistance and thus begins a tale of horrifying choices for Marijke.  She is sent to a labour camp and then given the choice of staying in the camp and most likely dying there or of going to a different camp to work in a brothel as a prostitute to reward the camp’s workers for their efforts. She chooses the brothel as she thinks her husband is at that camp and she will be able to find him.

Karl Muller is the SS officer who comes to the camp to live up to his father’s expectations of him and his military career.  As Karl grapples with the horrors of the torture and punishment he is to oversee he discovers Marijke and changes her life.

Paralleling this is the story of Luciano. Luciano is arrested in 1977 in Argentina during the Argentinian Dirty War. He is imprisoned, tortured but still manages to find the courage to resist the oppressive regime in any small way he can.

Woven into this story are the lives of three people who are connected by choices and their consequences.

Marijke: to have to make the choice of being a prostitute, to have feelings for someone who epitomizes evil, and to pay a penance

Karl: To lose his moral centre, to hate yet not want to hate, to not stand up for what he believes in knowing what he’s done is wrong and to pay a huge penance

Luciano: the hero who wants his father’s acceptance, for his father to see his worth and courage and who pays for everyone’s sins

This is an incredibly well written story that follows you after you’ve finished like a stray cat asking, “Who are you to judge?” and “What would you do?”

Stars: 5+

The Lost Ones by Sheena Kamal

This is Sheena Kamal’s debut novel and it was a tough, gritty and violent read. I loved it!  It is set in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside where Nora Watts, an Indigenous woman,  works for a small private investigative company. She is a product of BC’s foster care system and a survivor of a horrible, violent rape that leaves her almost dead as well as pregnant. She is in a coma for months and when she awakes discovers she is pregnant and it is too late to terminate the pregnancy. She is forced to carry the child to term and after delivering a healthy baby girl, gives her up for adoption. Nora is not motherhood material.

Some fifteen years later she is contacted by the adoptive family because the girl, Bronwyn (Bonnie for short) has gone missing thus setting in motion a string of events that test Nora’s beliefs about herself, force her to relive some of her past and make the reader either love her to bits or at least have a great deal of sympathy for her. I loved her.

Through this gritty, violent story, Kamal brings to focus the plight of Indigenous women and girls, foreign investment, drug/alcohol addiction and ecological issues such as mining which have all been news-worthy topics and social issues in British Columbia. She also managed to contrast the natural beauty of B.C. with the dark, seedy side of the Downtown Eastside. It had a shocking ending to the part of Bonnie’s disappearance and a touching ending to the story. I wanted a sequel…How is Nora?…How is Bonnie and…??

It is truly wonderful to have found such a potentially great newbie Canadian author to add to my growing list of “OMG another book by….”!