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16. The Orphanmaster, Jean Zimmerman


This book succeeded the most when I wasn't putting on my critical Early Colonialist Lifeways hat*, but it's a passable historical fiction cum mystery novel some of the time, set in New Amsterdam back when there was a wall and a canal instead of Wall Street and Canal Street and other fun stuff like that. Our heroine, Blandine, is an independent trader living in the relatively liberated atmosphere of the early Dutch colony, and Zimmerman is best when tackling some of the interesting social dilemmas that come with the period: characters struggle with faith (how can there be a god if the wilderness is so harsh and "empty" which is really more about a crisis of separation from social structures of control) and with freedom and with race (that last one just enough to be more than passably readable, but not quite enough to pass muster). Along the way our Blandine gets caught up in the justice system, deals with suitors, falls in love in the least implausible sex scene I've ever read in my life, and oh yeah, solves a mystery of the Algonquian's cannibalistic witika (a.k.a. the wendigo) that has been murthering lots of sad orphans, etc etc. The plot moves nice and fast, and there are some interesting side characters, and lots of really fun Dutch vocabulary (groot kamer! stadt huys!) and references to current places (the hills of Breukelen! The farms of the Bouweries!). There was also not quite enough character development, however, for me to go beyond a "meh, passable beach read" review. There you have it.




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* Zimmerman's book is #16 and all I'll say about #15 is that it is a pretty fucking racist book that I thought had been written in 1957 but was actually republished in 1957, originally published in 1898. That will teach me to be a lazy critical reader and skip the introductions! #15 is also technically a re-read but I think I must have only read some of it when I bought it years ago, most of it was pretty unfamiliar. I found out the real publishing date when I was only two or three chapters from the end, and with slow dawning horror realized I'd read the book all wrong. The author kept writing about "50 years ago" or "in our grandparents' time" and I thought she meant like, the 1920s, nope, she meant like the 1700s and the Civil War etc. I thought she was kind of charmingly old fashioned, but nope, she was just living in the 19th century. As one does. Anyway as a period piece it is a good reference for things like antiquated regional dialect vocabulary about weaving and making linen and other time-consuming things people used to do every day. Because I have read a bunch of books like #15, it makes a book like #16 look a little bit flimsy, I didn't buy that the protagonist would walk away from her house in New Amsterdam for a couple months and then return and just kind of...waltz in. Wouldn't there be ten thousand chores needing to be done? There was a certain social fabric of life in New Amsterdam that didn't ring true, thanks to #15. Anyway. End rant, please at least skim the intros in your nonfiction, don't make my mistake.

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