A historic family drama based in and near 1640 Amsterdam, the wealthiest city on earth at the time, The Seventh Etching tells the story of two families over a one-year period. Both Griet and Johannes Verhoeven, farmers, in their early 20’s and Jos and Myriam Broekhof, wealthy merchants in their 30’s, face devastating losses that threaten their livelihoods and their marriages. After a major flood, Griet and Johannes attempt to rebuild two combined family farms – a unique, promising inheritance that initially brought them together, but now overwhelms them. Myriam secretly sells her husband’s valuable art collection to build a hidden monument to her deceased daughter. Jos suffers despair and defeat as he combs every corner of the city in his obsessive attempt to complete a set of playfully erotic etchings. It is a six-year old Gypsy orphan, Nelleke, who connects the two couples. Sprightly and spirited, Nelleke both delights and exasperates. Might this mysterious child have the power to heal struggling adults and find the permanent home she seeks? Does she, innocently and unknowingly, hold the clue to the missing etching, as Jos suspects?"
A few months ago author Judith K. White offered me a copy of her book - The Seventh Etching - but, due to some personal problems, I only managed to pick it up very recently.
I had no real expectation about what I was going to find when I opened this story and I am glad to report that I did enjoy it. Although at first it seemed that the action was going to be about the seventh etching of the title and Jos Broekhof search for it. I think that, in the end, it is much more a portrait of the dutch society at the time. Both in the city and in the country with its different occupations and worries.
The little orphan Nelleke is the one who connects both worlds. We get to know about her when she is living with the aunt and uncle in their farm. When they start feeling she is too much for them to handle, her uncle takes her to Amsterdam's orphanage. The adaptation is not smooth but Nelleke soon continues to be the curious, lively child she has always been. I have to say that she was so lively, so full of questions, so full of life that at times I found her a bit annoying, she seemed a bit too perfect. But I really enjoyed reading about Amsterdam in the 17th century.
In the orphanage she meets Isabella, a young Spanish maiden who serves as a Big Sister to the children in her care. Isabella ended up in the orphanage after the ship where she sailed with her father went down at sea. Although she maintains a discreet presence due to the dutch /spanish wars she has no wish to go back to Spain and the arranged marriage that awaits her there.
She also meets the Broekhofs. Jos Broekhof is on a quest to find the missing etching of a prized collection that he bought from Nelleke's father. His obsession with the artistic designs will lead him to Rembrandt himself. But the little girl will also be his way back to the heart of his wife.
I really loved reading about these characters and the people they meet. White gives a lot of attention to detail and it's like we are seeing the action unfold in front of us. In the end I think my main complaint about this story is that I felt I only glimpsed a bit of their lives and I wanted to know what hapened next in their lives. And if the small baby we meet at the beginning of the story will ever find out about his true parents.
A very pleasant read!