Tag Archives: Ellen Keith

‘The Dutch Wife’ by Ellen Keith

Marijke de Graaf and her husband are arrested for being involved in the resistance movement and deported to separate concentration camps in Germany. Marijke is given a terrible choice: to suffer a slow death in a labour camp, or have a chance at survival by volunteering to join the camp brothel. In Argentina, a political prisoner is also enduring captivity and searching to find ways to resist, even from his prison cell. The flyleaf promises that this novel is about “love, the blurred lines between right and wrong, as well as the capacity of ordinary people to persevere and do the unthinkable in extraordinary circumstances.”

Although this WW2 historical fiction offers a unique and candid view into the topic of war camp brothels, if it wasn’t a book club assignment, I might not have finished it. I found it hard to read because it felt gratuitously brutal and explicit in ways that were not necessary. The author makes the mistake of doing too much telling, rather than showing. I found the characters shallow, the Argentine thread out of step with the rest of the story, and the writing weak and immature, especially the ending. The whole ‘Stockholm Syndrome’ scenario just steps from where her husband was slaving away, made the book feel like nothing more than a cheap romance set in terrible times. In its favour, the author took on a weighty topic and made a highly readable novel that will appeal to many readers, and indeed already has, judging by numerous glowing reviews.