Tazelaar’s debut is a work of historical fiction that draws heavily from her childhood experiences under Nazi occupation in the Netherlands.
We meet Nella Koning, mother of three young children, on the eve of the German invasion, as she is roughly elbowed in the street by a uniformed thug belonging to the Dutch National Socialists. Tensions between loyal Dutch citizens and German sympathizers climb ever higher after the Dutch army’s swift defeat by the Nazi’s Wehrmacht, with Nella’s own father urging cooperation with the occupiers even as her husband Mark, an American expatriate, and his visiting brother Lincoln fall under Nazi suspicion. Through the use of a parallel protagonist, the part-Jewish teenager Joslyn, the author also explores the extraordinary lengths undertaken by righteous Dutch citizens to protect those in their midst who would otherwise fall victim to the Nazis’ abhorrent racial policies. Mark, Lincoln and Joslyn are each forced to deal with the indignities of a hostile occupation in different ways—the roguish Lincoln adopts an alias and eludes authorities using a number of disguises; Mark is arrested, removed to Munich and imprisoned; Joslyn poses as a Catholic among friendly nuns in a convent until mounting danger forces her to flee. Tazelaar’s clear, reserved prose crisply tells the story without calling attention to itself, efficiently and confidently setting scenes, introducing characters and fading into the background, making for an easy and accessible read. The dialogue is lively and engaging when characters interact with each other naturally, but has a tendency to go slightly tone deaf when called upon to deliver historical or military exposition. The author sometimes seems unsure how to parcel out this information, often relying on her characters to rush through factual recitations in a way dissonant to the rest of the narrative. Though numerous, such difficulties are thankfully brief, as Tazelaar returns to the task of intertwining Joslyn’s history with that of the Konings while the family—and their new, paranoid neighbors in the Dutch Nazi party—brace for German defeat.
A welcome, honest effort.