Monday, December 02, 2019
Nine Open Arms
First sentence: At the end of Sjlammbams Sahara stood a house. We weren’t the first to live there or the first to give it a name. We had no idea yet about Nienevee from Outside the Walls and Charley Bottletop. But if it hadn’t been so windy that day, we surely would have been able to hear them signaling to each other, drumming with their bones deep under ground.
Premise/plot: John Nieuwenhuizen has translated this Dutch coming of age novel into English. Nine Open Arms is a historical middle grade novel starring the Boon family. Primarily we spend time with three sisters (Fing, Jess, and Muulke), their father (Antoon), and their maternal grandmother (Oma Mei). There are nine in the family in all. But the brothers seem to hardly make an appearance or impression.
So the plot?! The Boon family is moving. Again. The father is trying a new venture. Again. This time it is making cigars. He believes this is it—no more worries, no more new beginnings. But the rest of the family might take a bit more convincing. Especially Oma Mei. She, among other things, is a story teller. But she has to be in the right mood to pull out her crocodile, to pull out a photograph, to share a story. But when she does...it’s something. Family stories. Community stories. So many they’ve not heard before.
So about a third of the plot is a story she tells about the previous owners of the house. This is set not in the 1930s (like most of the novel) but several decades earlier (1860s). This story is fascinating all the more so because of how it connects with the present.
My thoughts: I really loved this one. I did. I love Oma Mei. I love the three sisters. I love the complexity of the family relationships. I love, love, love the crocodile—the holder of all the family photographs. I love the mini-mysteries. I love the stories. It is definitely a character driven novel, but those are my favorite and best kind. I would highly recommend.
© 2019 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews