The Orphanmaster attracted me because it promised a feisty female heroine, the setting of New Amsterdam (back when New York wasn't even New York y...more2.5
The Orphanmaster attracted me because it promised a feisty female heroine, the setting of New Amsterdam (back when New York wasn't even New York yet) and an intriguing mystery surrounding the disappearance of orphans from the colony. While I got the first two, unfortunately I didn't get the third. Blandine van Couvering is a beautiful young woman who, unwilling to settle down into the life of a good obedient house wife, ventures into the trade business and finds her true calling. As this is an occupation that is frowned upon for a woman (even though the Dutch are more accepting than most) Blandine struggles to be accepted in the business. Blandine is also an orphan who grew up under the care of Aet Visser, the town Orphanmaster. While Visser has his own demons (drinking and corruption among them) he is the only father figure she has known. When Aet becomes suspicious over one of his orphan's he enlists the help of Edward Drummond, an Englishman newly arrived to the colony. What begins as a half hearted inquiry into the fate of a few missing orphans soon evolves into a partnership between Blandine and Edward to find out what is really going on in regards to the missing children and that discovery is gruesome and full of danger.
First, I loved both the characters of Blandine van Couvering and the soldier turned spy Edward Drummond. Unconventional heroines are often my favorite characters in books and this was the case here. Blandine is tough enough to take on the boys in business but also has a soft spot for kids, as it seems she is just about the only one who cares that the orphan kids are disappearing. Edward is in the employ of Charles II and while in the Dutch Colony under the guise of grain merchant, his real purpose is to hunt down the regicides who sent Charles I to the scaffold (this is NOT a spoiler-it is revealed in the beginning of the book).
Second, you can tell the novel is well researched from the level of detail it contains about life in New Amsterdam. The social hierarchy, the layout of the town, the principle occupations, are all included and were quite interesting to read.
Unfortunately, I had several problems that kept me from enjoying this book. The story jumps around from character to character with absolutely no transition whatsoever. First we are following Blandine on some excursion and next it will be talking about Aet Visser or Kitane (Blandine's Indian friend) or Lightning (the half-Indian man everyone in town is scared of) and it seems at times there is nothing connecting these different occurrences. Also, for the first half of the novel the pacing is really slow. I kept wondering where the novel was going and when the story would pick up with a little more action. I think at half way through the novel the reader should have at least some indication. This combined with the flipping between characters made for awkward and slow reading. There were a few side stories going on that slowed down the reading even further. One involved the aforementioned concern of Aet Visser for one of his orphans that brought Edward Drummond into the mix in the first place. It seems the Orphanmaster is convinced that William Turner, the orphan he placed with the Godbolt family is not the same little boy he originally placed with them even though the Godbolt's say he is. There is also a dirty secret haunting Aet Visser, and Edward's involvement tracking regicides.
There are several instances in this book involving violence against children that I think readers may find disturbing. Concerning the actual plot of figuring out who is snatching the orphan children and why-the description says suspects abound but the author reveals the culprit in the first half of the book so there is absolutely no suspense built up in figuring out who was responsible for these vile deeds. The reader already knows! It is the townspeople who have the long list of suspects. I think the novel would have read much better had the reader been kept in the dark as to who the killer was. When the action finally did pick up in the last 50 pages of the book and the reason why the killer did all these things was revealed there wasn't much excitement surrounding it because you already knew the person's identity. It seems like the shock value of the grisly killings was supposed to take the place of the tension building aspect you normally get in a novel surrounding a mystery/thriller. The author does add in an interesting element by having the townspeople believe that the killings are the result of Witika madness (i.e. the killer is some Indian-demon who is kidnapping and eating the orphan children). Even with this thrown in the book didn't work for me.
Amidst all the violence and strange happenings, there was the romance between Blandine and Edward which I did enjoy. Overall though I found this story to be one of the most bizarre I have read in awhile. I did like Zimmerman's writing style but the disjointed narrative and really strange plot made The Orphanmaster a book that was really hard for me to get through.
Although a little complex with the multiple time periods and narratives, Glow is an engrossing novel which convincingly captures the essence of the...more3.5
Although a little complex with the multiple time periods and narratives, Glow is an engrossing novel which convincingly captures the essence of the time period, especially the parts taking place in Hopewell County, GA during the mid-1800's. While the novel touches on the forced removal of the Cherokee from Georgia and also slavery in the county, the focal point of the story is the family connections which are related by a fascinating and varied cast of characters.
"No matter what trouble he stirs up, what law he breaks, Obidiah Bounds will always be her cool sip of hyssop nectar on a sunny day."
This quote opens the novel which starts off in October of 1941 with an adult Amelia McGee putting her daughter Ella on a bus to her brother Buddy in the middle of the night after the arrest of her draft dodging husband Obadiah and the receipt of threats for her work with the NAACP. Things do not go as planned and Ella encounters trouble with two unsavory characters who leave her badly injured. Fortunately she is found by Willie Mae Cotton and Mary-Mary Freeborn-two old former slaves who take her to their cottage in the mountains to nurse her back to health. Here the story shifts back and forth between Ella and her saviors in the 1940's to her mother Amelia's childhood growing up in those same mountains. As the novel continues on we are led into Willie Mae's story and through her comes the connection to Riddle Young and Solomon Bounds who also feature prominently in the story. Glow also has a bit of a supernatural bent featuring ghosts or "haints" and hoodoo magic woven throughout the tale.
The writing here is wonderful and really sucked me in. There were a few things that did make reading a little difficult though. The biggest issue is that while the stories of each of the characters are connected, there is nothing to ease you from the narrative of one character into the narrative of another. A section will deal with Ella, then her mother as an adult, then Ella again, then Ella's mother as a girl and then it moves onto Willie Mae's story. Because the book is written in this manner the family tree in the beginning is essential to being able to follow the book fully and I found myself referring to it often. The good thing is that I found myself liking each character and their story arc so well that I started not to mind this eventually. it did prove distracting at first though and if I didn't have to keep pulling myself out of the story to refer to the family tree I probably would have given this book a 4/5. As the accounts of Willie Mae, and the McGee, Young, and Bounds families unwind the reader eventually begins to see the connection between them. Interspersed throughout Glow are US Census instructions for the different eras covered in the book which was a unique way to illustrate the view of the different races for the time period being written about. I have always been a big fan of family sagas and historical fiction set in the US and I really enjoyed this debut by Ms. Tuccelli. I was entertained from the moment I started reading of Ella's encounter with the drifters, through the multiple lives of the other characters, and all the way to the end when we finally find out what happens with Ella. I will definitely be checking out her work in the future.