In 1943, a Dutch woman, Marijke, is arrested with her husband in Nazi-occupied Amsterdam. They are both sent to camps—her to Ravensbrück, him to Buchenwald—as political prisoners, a higher echelon of inmate. When Marijke is offered a chance to be a prostitute at a new prisoners’ brothel at Buchenwald, she goes—hoping that she will find her husband. Instead, she finds Karl, an SS officer who finds her to be the distraction he needs from the unseemly duties of overseeing torture and executions. Thirty years later, a young man in Argentina, Luciano, is taken by the Peronist regime for attending student protests. Among the historical “disappeared,” Luciano struggles to make a difference, and reconcile himself to his European father’s cold and aloof behavior.
This book is a good reminder of what hard choices mean. Where is the line between survival and collaboration? The tragedy of well-written books about atrocities is that they can sometimes be a challenge to get through. The Dutch Wife is vivid, gripping, and well-paced. However, this is not a beach read. Some passages are stomach churning, not because of the characters that experienced the torture, rather because we are sometimes in the perspective of the character perpetrating it. I recommend this book, but it is not for readers with a delicate constitution.
**A comment today, not a part of the original review–this is one of those books that I had a hard time sticking to my word count. I meant it when I said it was “vivid, gripping, and well-paced.”
You can find Ellen Keith on her website.
The purpose of these reviews can be found on this earlier blog post.